USMNT World Cup mailbag: What roster changes should Gregg Berhalter make for England game?

CBS Sports football analyst Grant Wahl is in Qatar to cover his eighth men’s World Cup. He will do mailbag columns for CBS after every USMNT group stage game. The rest of his writing, including magazine-style stories, interviews and breaking news, can be found at GrantWahl.com.

Doha, Qatar — Greetings from the World Cup! I’m excited to do mail columns for CBS around US games, and appreciate all of you who provided the questions. Let’s dive in:

“Do you think inexperience got the better of the USMNT, or does that understate Wales’ willingness to bounce back?” — @8bitSerge

One of the few things that I think showed USA’s inexperience was the two yellow cards received early in the game by Sergiño Dest and Weston McKennie. I had no problem with the other two American yellows for Tim Ream and Kellyn Acosta because I thought they were smart to have them. But give Wales credit for making changes before the second half and controlling the game much more afterwards. In terms of inexperience, Walker Zimmerman is 29, but it was his first World Cup game, and going to ground in the penalty area like he did against Gareth Bale is something I don’t think which he will do in the future once he has more World Cup matches under his belt.

“Are we running too much? No, seriously. MMA needs to cover outside backs laterally and push forward for late runs in the box.” — @UsmntReactions

The thing is, among American midfielders, Tyler Adams has the fitness and the Energizer-bunny engine to be able to run as much as he did against Wales and still look good at the end of the game. This was not the case for Yunus Musah, who was working before going off in the 74th minute, and McKennie, who came off in the 66th minute and is not yet fit to play 90 minutes after his thigh injury in the Juventus. I don’t think American midfielders necessarily run toobut we ask a lot of them.

“Will Berhalter’s loss be due to his lack of roster? USMNT fans are pretty excited about how he handled yesterday’s game, I’m curious what you think of his tactics. — @EdricAlexi

I thought Berhalter got the big calls on the starting lineup against Wales. Tim Ream was the top pick over Aaron Long, and Tim Weah turned out to be the top pick ahead of Gio Reyna and Brenden Aaronson. I don’t expect USA to have a fixed starting XI at this World Cup, nor do I think Berhalter should. Aaronson and Reyna should start at some point in this group stage, and I think they will. Rotation in these cases is smart. I think you could definitely say replacing Jordan Morris instead of Reyna when USA needed a goal is a total headache, though. It made no sense to me. But I also know that Berhalter is a big Reyna guy and he certainly has nothing against him.

“Should Pulisic be an automatic starter and if not would Gregg have the guts to start someone else in the World Cup?” @MikeDeCicco

I don’t think anyone should be a 100% automatic starter, and there were times during qualifying (Mexico at home, Honduras at home) where Berhalter brought in Pulisic as a substitute. (He scored in both of those games.) I expect Pulisic to continue to start this World Cup because he is one of the best players in the United States and he had a good game against Wales despite some good catches otherwise.

“Have you ever seen a good stadium screen?” @daarau

So far the World Cup has been mediocre for stadium food. The only thing I saw last night that looked semi-edible was potato chips that tasted like “French cheese”. We spent some time trying to figure out which “french cheese” was the base for the chips, but we had a hard time figuring it out in the end.

“Can you get a sense of the general Qatari reaction to the statements (such as your rainbow shirt) and the global outrage at the handling of these statements or protests? Glad you came out of this unscathed !” — @cbmackey

Thanks! Honestly, I don’t know what the general reaction of Qatari citizens was to my jersey, because it’s quite difficult to meet ordinary Qataris here. Over 90% of the country’s workforce are migrant workers from other countries, and they’re easier to come across here, often as Uber drivers, domestic workers, and more. I feel like the Qatari regime/royal family feels like the victims of some sort of western anti-Arab sentiment. But they are not victims. They are in fact among the perpetrators of the human rights violations that have taken place in this country.

“How can we prevent FIFA from continuing to put its financial interests ahead of what is best for the game?” — @RikoSuave27

That’s the eternal problem: the average football fan in the world really has almost nothing to do to force FIFA to change their ways. FIFA’s choice to host this World Cup in Qatar (and the 2018 World Cup in Russia) was corrupt, and the US Department of Justice said just that, citing extensive forensic evidence. Qatar and Russia deny it. I’d suggest watching “FIFA Uncovered,” the four-part documentary series on Netflix that details the rise and fall of FIFA, in addition to the US DOJ investigation. In the end, the only entity that scared FIFA leaders was the United States government. I’m glad the United States conducted the FIFA investigation and undercover operation in 2015. This should be a point of pride for every American citizen.

“The midfield is supposed to be our strength, but the touch maps of the Wales game suggest a lot of wing play followed by poor crosses. What can the United States do to make it more central?” — @AJShaughnessy

Well, it would definitely help if the crosses were better! It’s hard to apply lessons from the Wales game to future England or Iran games because Wales have been deployed in a 5-3-2, and it won’t be the case with US adversaries moving forward. USA’s goal streak against Wales was actually an example of what the team had been trained to try and achieve during the preparations. Josh Sargent dragged defender Joe Rodon with him and handed the ball to Pulisic, who raced into the space left by Rodon before passing Weah for the goal. The United States didn’t do enough against Wales, which meant there was little use of the ball in the middle of the pitch. I expect the United States to have much less of the ball against England and look to strike on the counterattack.

“Your thoughts on whether there’s anyone better than Pulisic to take set pieces?” — @unc8689

The two players I would like are Aaronson and Acosta, who have proven to be better from set pieces than Pulisic for some time now. But one of Aaronson and/or Acosta has to start for that to happen. I think we will see Aaronson in a starting role against England.

“What is the ratio of USMNT male and female fans in Qatar? Or the fans in general that you see?” — @spolich77

There are probably a majority of male fans among the USMNT group here, but not that many since there are a number of women, including regulars that I see on just about every trip. I’m also intrigued by the fans of North African and Middle Eastern teams and how many women are in those groups. There was not a single woman I saw in the die-hard Qatar supporters section in the opening game. But I saw a lot of women in the Tunisian fan section today.

“Obviously we had a starting XI designed to do specific things against Wales. What are the changes/tactics against England?” — @Todd9115

I think we’ll see Aaronson or Reyna in the starting line-up against England, although one question I still have is whether Weah could start as a No.9 in this game. We’ll see if the knock that sent Yunus Musah out of the game against Wales becomes a lingering issue. If so, then Acosta might be an option to start with. But I don’t foresee any changes on the back line or in the goals.

CBS Sports football analyst Grant Wahl is in Qatar to cover his eighth men’s World Cup. He will do mailbag columns for CBS after every USMNT group stage game. The rest of his writing, including magazine-style stories, interviews and breaking news, can be found at GrantWahl.com.

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