The U.S. faces Mexico in Nashville, Tennessee, on Tuesday (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET) in a friendly but with seemingly plenty still on the line. How will Dave Sarachan, Tim Weah & Co. fare against El Tri in their first meeting since June 2017? Jeff Carlisle, Arch Bell and Jason Davis pick out what to look for on the U.S. side.
The goal is clear: Create more in attack
Friday's 2-0 defeat to Brazil witnessed the kind of U.S. attack to which we've grown accustomed over the years: huff, puff and hope to score on set pieces. Granted, that's often the case when you're limited to 35.4 percent possession, but heading into Tuesday's grudge match against Mexico, the aim for the U.S. will be to show that its corps of young attackers can threaten the opponent in a wider variety of ways.
U.S. caretaker manager Dave Sarachan admitted as much in Monday's news conference, though to hear him tell it, the key for an improved offense will be a more cohesive, aggressive defense.
"In terms of just the movement off the ball, when we do look to step and apply pressure, it has to be a little more of a collective effort as opposed to individuals on their own because what happens is now space opens up for teams that are good with ball that can pick you apart a little bit," he said.
Where that happens will be interesting to watch. Mexico isn't on par with Brazil, mind you, but El Tri is plenty adept at playing a possession game and threading passes into dangerous spots.
So will the U.S. press high or retreat into a low block? It'll certainly have to do plenty of the latter at some point, and it seems sensible to go for that option rather than press high. But if the U.S. needs more of a collective effort in defense, it will need the same in attack.
That process starts by taking better care of the ball when possession is gained, which in turn should allow some of the faster wide players like Antonee Robinson, DeAndre Yedlin and Shaq Moore the chance to break on the counter. Central midfielders like Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams will need to contribute to the attack as well. It's the best way for this crop of young U.S. players to get back on an upward trajectory. -- Jeff Carlisle
How will the defense shape up without Brooks?
Arguably the best performer for the U.S. in Friday's 2-0 loss to Brazil was center-back John Brooks. This was the Brooks who was very good during the 2016 Copa America Centenario, not the error-prone player from 2018 World Cup qualifying. But Brooks won't be available on Tuesday against Mexico, leaving a pretty sizable gap in the middle of the U.S. defense.
Fortunately for kinda-sorta interim boss Dave Sarachan, Matt Miazga will be around to anchor the back. The Nantes man ranked right up there with Brooks for man of the match honors against the Selecao and he is fully deserving of another start against El Tri.
But who will fill in for Brooks on Miazga's left? Perhaps a pairing with New York Red Bulls defender Aaron Long might be in the making. Long has been good this season, and having the experienced Miazga (even though Miazga is two years younger) alongside him would temper any nerves.
Viral moment aside, DeAndre Yedlin did little of note in attack for the U.S. and was plagued by a few too many giveaways at right-back. Still, he's the most experienced player on the current squad and should get the nod over alternatives like Moore or Eric Lichaj. Because of club issues, Moore has yet to play a single official minute for Spanish second-division side Reus, while it is at the other full-back position that Lichaj could get the nod.
The question is whether Sarachan should continue with Robinson, who struggled against Brazil, or play it safe with the versatile and more experienced Lichaj. It's no secret that left-back has been a weakness for the U.S. for pretty much forever and Robinson has the wheels to help in attack, something that is sorely needed as evidenced by Friday's blunt performance.
It might not be popular with fans, but sticking with Robinson and instilling some confidence would be worthwhile in the long term. -- Arch Bell
A leader must emerge from this young U.S. group
With so many new faces getting their chance at the dawn of a new cycle, we're not lacking for areas of focus with a young U.S. national team. Everything is a work in progress, including the Americans' confidence. Before they earn their way back to the World Cup -- the most obvious goal during this "reboot" -- they'll need to re-establish a place among the elite of CONCACAF. Mexico represents the best the region has to offer even as El Tri goes through its own process of injecting younger players into the national team mix.
Beating Mexico on American soil could set the tone for the next four years and build the crucial belief the U.S. needs for the new cycle. The rivalry has long been a part of the identity of the United States and falling behind the Mexicans so obviously has been damaging to the national team's psyche.
Players who are expected to be part of the core for the next four years for the U.S. will have their first chance to strike a blow against the country that the Americans are most often measured against. The lack of competitive stakes makes it tough to pin down the value in most friendlies, but games against Mexico in any context mean more. For players like Zack Steffen, McKennie, Adams and Miazga, Tuesday's match will ramp up the nerves and serve as a test of their ability to rise to the occasion. The next head coach, still unknown at this point, could use the information provided by Tuesday's performance in determining whom can be trusted when the games actually matter.
Without a significant veteran presence in this current squad, it is incumbent upon someone to step into a leadership role. Yedlin is the most experienced and Wil Trapp has been given the armband; they, or others, must take charge and help maintain composure and focus in a game where emotions will be running higher than they might in the average friendly.
The Americans don't have a match that means anything competitively until next summer's Gold Cup. For the time being, the closest they can get to a game that matters is any match against Mexico. Can the young group with the interim head coach beat Mexico and use the victory to launch into the new cycle? -- Jason Davis