USMNT at Concacaf Nations League: Three things to watch for USA against Honduras in semifinals

A busy summer for the United States men’s national team rolls on this Thursday in Denver with the Concacaf Nations League. The newly formed competition will see the inaugural champion crowned this weekend, building even more momentum ahead of July’s Gold Cup.

The U.S., fresh off losing 2-1 to Switzerland in a friendly, plays Honduras on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET. If the Americans win, they’ll face either Mexico or Costa Rica on Sunday in the final. You can see the games on Paramount+, and the USMNT matches will also air on CBS Sports Network.

Ahead of the match, here are three things to watch:

Who will be the USMNT’s striker?

While this squad will look different than the one that competes in the Gold Cup later this summer, there are two true strikers on the roster in Josh Sargent and Jordan Siebatcheu. Timothy Weah, while he can play that role, is more naturally a winger or a secondary striker. So it’s Sargent or Siebatcheu that will lead the front line unless manager Gregg Berhalter switches things up.

We’ve seen the success teams have had lately without using a true striker, like with Champions League finalists Chelsea and Manchester City. If Gregg Berhalter were to go that route, using Gio Reyna, Christian Pulisic and Brenden Aaronson could make for something super interesting as each have fantastic technical ability. 

What the U.S. needs is a confident striker who can put themselves in those dangerous positions. What they don’t need is a body putting up mediocre performances just for the sake of saying there’s a striker on the field. Sargent probably deserves the first shot at making the role his and while he hasn’t performed consistently, part of that is because of the poor service around him. He has the clear advantage to take command of the position as the more experienced international player, but these games could go a long way in deciding which of these players, if either, will be the man leading the attack come World Cup qualifying.

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Wanted: Defensive midfielder

Not having Tyler Adams against Switzerland was a problem. After picking up an injury at the end of April, he didn’t play in the German Cup final last month, which RB Leipzig lost against Borussia Dortmund. He also didn’t feature against the Swiss. Without him, the team lacked somebody to sit deep in the midfield, recover the ball and get the attack going. We saw Switzerland possess more of the ball in the middle and have their way in getting to the attacking third. Without Adams potentially, what will the team look like?

It’s unclear if Adams will be fit to play, but if he doesn’t, a similar result to the Switzerland wouldn’t be all that surprising. 

Does Weston McKennie drop a bit deeper to take on that role? More questions than answers entering Thursday.

Defensive cohesion must improve from Switzerland showdown

John Brooks and Mark McKenzie were the starting center backs against Switzerland, and the duo held their own. As soon as Brooks came off, it all went down hill. Nobody is questioning Brooks’ ability as he’s the best defender this team has, but without him, the defense is average, even for Concacaf standards. He’s a sure-fire starter, but will we see McKenzie with him or Matt Miazga? Bayern Munich’s Chris Richards seemed like he might have been a strong option after getting lots of minutes on loan at Hoffenheim this season, but he isn’t on the roster.

Brooks brings that physical play and calmness on the ball, and is center back who has the quickness to close down chances, which is desperately needed. It feels like McKenzie is the most like partner for him for now, but the USMNT is left hoping that he can develop into a reliable foil for Brooks.

Honduras has some real pace in the attacking third and the technical ability to really give Berhalter’s side trouble. Don’t view this match as an easy win for the U.S., because it won’t be. The defense must be at their best, and it feels like the best duo that Berhalter has right now would be Brooks and McKenzie, who gave up very little to the Swiss in their 61 minutes together. 

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