As Gregg Berhalter, Thomas Tuchel, and Christian Pulisic figure out the best way to use the healthy United States men’s national team and Chelsea attacked in World Cup qualifiers against Mexico and Jamaica, it’s likely that other match-ups will play a huge role in determining whether the USMNT joins El Tri atop the CONCACAF table.
The Yanks are three points back of Mexico through six matches and faces its stiffest test yet when Tata Martino brings his stung team to Cincinnati on Friday night.
Mexico has lost two-straight finals to the USMNT and would love a measure of revenge in Ohio, where it’s had its fair share of struggles over the years.
Here are five things to watch in the USMNT vs Mexico.
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How often will Gregg Berhalter start Christian Pulisic?
The now-healthy Chelsea star has just returned to the pitch and looked lively in his lone appearance for the Blues, but U.S. fans will be angling to see Pulisic in a more prominent role against two big opponents.
All Thomas Tuchel said was that Pulisic is still feeling a bit of pain and that he knows the American will be antsy to feature in important matches, the man nicknamed Captain America overseas happy to take on that mantle.
Is it better for him to come off the bench in both games? Should he be starting one but not the other? And if it is just one, should it be tangling against physical Mexico at home or going up against Jamaica on a less-than-ideal pitch?
One thing’s for sure: The more we see of a healthy Pulisic, the more encouraging it will be for the Yanks and Chelsea.
Who will best handle Raul Jimenez and Mexico’s attack?
John Brooks isn’t even in the squad, showing both how far Berhalter feels the Wolfsburg back has fallen and how much faith he has in his corps of center backs.
Walker Zimmerman has consistently been pretty darn good for the United States especially when it comes to physical play, and he feels like the best bet to stick with Jimenez when the big services comes into the box.
But Miles Robinson’s instincts and speed over distance will loom large, too, as Mexico can attack with vigor.
Sergino Dest’s absence out wide takes away an element of attacking danger than won’t be replaced easily, but Antonee Robinson and whoever plays right back will likely be a net-positive when it comes to how the Yanks deal with El Tri‘s attack.
Is there a No. 1 goalkeeper for the USMNT?
We know Memo Ochoa is a legend between the posts for Mexico, but we’ll learn a lot about how Gregg Berhalter feels about his top goalkeepers depending on usage over the next week.
Now whether or not you agree that Man City No. 2 Zack Steffen or New England No. 1 Matt Turner is a clear-cut first-choice USMNT goalkeeper, we don’t yet know how Berhalter feels about the situation.
That’s mostly because Steffen’s compromised status during the last window meant two starts for Turner and one for Steffen. Would the Man City man have started if he was available for the second match, or the first one?
Turner is a magnificent shot-stopper. Steffen’s starred at the same level as Turner and impressed in both the Bundesliga and Premier League. Does Berhalter have a favorite? If one of these guys plays both games, that’ll speak rather loudly.
Is the USMNT’s midfield ready to take the “CONCACAF’s best” mantle?
Mexico’s had the U.S. number in the midfield for years, yes even when Michael Bradley was at his elite best.
The scales have been tipping due to age but Mexico’s central men are still wonderful. Andres Guardado (35) and Hector Herrera (31) are the names everyone knows but Edson Alvarez, Orbelin Pineda, and so many others are becoming big parts of the mix.
Still, when Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie are healthy and at their best, they represent the best 1-2 punch of game-reading and pure impetus that CONCACAF can offer. Will the other parts of the puzzle, namely Yunus Musah, Gianluca Busio, or Brenden Aaronson (should he operate inside), give the Yanks the edge on Friday? Or will Mexico’s big-game savvy stifle the U.S. in Ohio?
Who is going to score the goals?
Let’s say Pulisic doesn’t play a ton and McKennie can’t plow forward with abandon due to Mexico’s strength in the middle of the park.
Who is going to step up?
Timothy Weah looked good in spot duty, and Ricardo Pepi is going to be ready to show Mexico what they lost when he committed to the United States, so that’s an easy place to start.
But Aaronson has also looked like a willing deputy in the absence of Pulisic, while Jesus Ferreira is a wild card in the bunch and Paul Arriola definitely knows the Mexican players very well.
Someone’s gotta find the finish to bring three points home, and it’ll likely take multiple goals to do so. It’s a big question, and Berhalter has to put the right ingredients on the field to produce a meal befitting of USMNT vs Mexico.
Five things to watch in USMNT vs Mexico in World Cup qualifying originally appeared on NBCSports.com