Pulisic returns and Pepi up front: How the USMNT could line up against Saudi Arabia

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Pulisic Pepi Berhalter USMNT GFX
After being crushed by Japan, the USMNT will need to make one final pre-World Cup statement.

This is it, the U.S. men's national team's final game before the World Cup. And, if their last game is anything to go by, there are still plenty of questions swirling around the USMNT.

Many of those questions center around personnel. Who is the starting No. 9? What's the centerback pairing? Who will start in goal?

But there are also questions about the team as a whole after a shocking 2-0 loss to Japan that saw Gregg Berhalter's side played off the field.

Fortunately for them, friendlies don't determine much in the grand scheme of things and, fortunately for them, there's still one more friendly against Saudi Arabia ahead of them to prove that the real USMNT didn't show up against Japan.

We already know two starters, as Berhalter has confirmed that Christian Pulisic and Ricardo Pepi will start. But here's a look at how the rest of the USMNT could line up against Saudi Arabia...

  1. Most likely XI

    Most likely XI

    We already know two starters in Pulisic and Pepi.

    The decision to start the former makes sense after he was held out of the last game as a precaution due to an ever so slight knock. The latter, though, is the big one considering where he sits on the depth chart.

    Pepi's club form will play a massive part, but so too will how he performs in this camp.

    And what way to give him a real chance than to start him with some of the USMNT's top attackers? Facing a Saudi Arabia team likely to play a bit more defensive, Pepi will have the creativity around him to show that he still can put himself in position to finish.

    The No. 9 position remains a question, and this game won't answer everything, but it could show whether Pepi should remain in the conversation going forward or if Jesus Ferreira, Josh Sargent and, perhaps, Jordan Pefok are the strikers on the way to Qatar.

    It may sound somewhat counterintuitive, but aside from those two, Berhalter may want to start something close to the same XI that lost to Japan.

    The lineup against Japan featured plenty of players that should start in Qatar and, by and large, they all fell flat. This game against Saudi Arabia gives them a chance to rectify that while also building some much-needed chemistry following a performance that lacked any sort of flow.

    Still, there should be some changes.

    The obvious one is in goal, where Matt Turner has done more than enough to seal his spot in camp. Knowing that, Sean Johnson or Ethan Horvath should start as they battled for that third goalkeeper spot.

    And, in defense, Walker Zimmerman should start again, even after a bad outing, but Aaron Long, the one who started alongside him, should not. Give Mark McKenzie or Erik Palmer-Brown a runout to see how they fit as they, like the rest of the centerbacks, look to make a statement before the roster is selected.

  2. Aaronson and Reyna start

    Aaronson and Reyna start

    In the lead up to the Japan game, Berhalter acknowledged the fact that we could see either Aaronson or Reyna in midfield.

    By and large, he hasn't used those options, mainly because he hasn't had to. With the MMA midfield of McKennie, Musah and Adams being generally locked in, he's been able to use Reyna and Aaronson in the attack more often than not.

    But, with Musah not in camp, it is a good time to throw one of those two in the midfield to see how they can play alongside McKennie and Adams.

    One can start in midfield with one on the wing in a lineup that, by and large, gets the USMNT's best players on the field together. It's a tantalizing though, considering two of Reyna, Aaronson, Pulisic and Tim Weah will have to come off the bench if all are locked in to wing roles.

  3. Midfield shakeup

    Midfield shakeup

    Against Japan, the USMNT midfield was, to put it bluntly, awful. And the final friendly may not be the time to send a message, but it also could be the perfect time.

    Among the USMNT's poorest performers against Japan was Weston McKennie, a player who, on his day, may just be the team's best. It was a shocking performance from the Juventus star, who was both sloppy on the ball and lazy off of it.

    Now, McKennie isn't going anywhere. If healthy, he starts every game for the USMNT. The same with Tyler Adams, who wasn't bad, but certainly wasn't good, against Japan.

    With that in mind, could Berhalter use this as an opportunity to bring in some other players? It would fulfill two purposes: to assess different options that could end up playing in Qatar and to remind those that will be definitely playing in Qatar that nothing is given to you on the international level.

    Malik Tillman and Johnny Cardoso are both on the fringes and could use this moment. Kellyn Acosta, meanwhile, is a lock as Adams' backup.

    Look for some combination of those three to play big roles.

  4. Scally gets a go

    Scally gets a go

    It may not be as pressing as the battles up top, at centerback or in goal, but there are questions at the fullback positions.

    Not the starters, though. Those are locked in. Sergino Dest and Antonee Robinson are these guys. Write it in Sharpie.

    However, the backup situation is a whole other mess.

    Berhalter called four right backs into camp: Dest, Reggie Cannon, DeAndre Yedlin and Joe Scally. Dest is the guy, Cannon is injured and we know what Yedlin can do. That leaves Scally as the big wild card.

    So why not give the Borussia Mochengladbach defender a run out at right back? Perhaps the best pure defender of the bunch, Scally also has the versatility aspect to his game.

    The beauty of both Scally and Dest is that both can also play on the left if needed. It isn't ideal but it would free up a roster spot if the U.S. wanted to use that elsewhere.

    As for the left side in this game, Berhalter could give Vines another chance to shine and prove he deserves to be Robinson's backup, or he could give Dest a run on the side as the AC Milan defender could use the minutes to push him towards bigger things on the club level.