USMNT World Cup mailbag: Dest meets Netherlands, Pulisic’s set pieces, Mexico’s reaction, USA line-up selection

CBS Sports football analyst Grant Wahl is in Qatar reporting on his eighth men’s World Cup. He will write mailbag columns for CBS after each game of the USMNT group stage. For the rest of his writing, including magazine-style articles, interviews and breaking news, see GrantWahl.com.

Doha, Qatar — All eyes are now on the USA’s World Cup Round of 16 showdown against the Netherlands on Saturday. Any questions. i have answers Let’s go!

“What is the ideal line-up/formation against the Netherlands? Who are the main bench players for this game? What is the most likely USMNT tactic?” @JaimeKTMD

I think there are some similarities between the Netherlands and England so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a US line-up not dissimilar to Game 2 at this World Cup. I expect:

Matt Turner; Sergiño Dest, Walker Zimmerman, Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson; Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie; Tim Weah, Haji Wright, and Christian Pulisic.

It’s the same line-up we saw against England. I expect Pulisic will be healthy enough to start and I think Zimmerman will come back. Wright wasn’t great as a substitute against Iran but Josh Sargent is an injury concern. It’s possible we’re seeing Jesús Ferreira for the first time, but his goosebumps over playing time in this tournament tell me something.

In terms of tactics, we could see the US defense in the 4-2-2 we saw against England to give Frenkie de Jong and his teammates a hard time in the middle. The Dutch should have the majority of possession and I think the USA will try to hit on the counterattack. Honestly, I think the US will be better at that than trying to break a low bloc like they did against Iran.

“Excuse me! Excuse me! Grant? Have you seen Gio Reyna? *holds up picture* He’s about this height, brown hair, brown eyes. @PiersonMcD

I get it. It’s the tournament’s most confusing US history. Why didn’t Reyna play more than the seven minutes we saw in Game 2 against England and was a DNP coach’s choice the rest of the time? Here’s what I was told: Reyna is healthy. There was no incident between him and Berhalter that would have resulted in less playing time. Reyna’s team-mates are confused by this, as is Gio, who is deeply disappointed but hopes he gets some playing time against the Netherlands. I don’t expect him to start, although I’d like to see Weah at No9 and Reyna on the wing, but I’m hoping Reyna comes in in the 60th minute. He has special attacking and scoring chances that no other US player who is not named Christian Pulisic has. Reyna could make the difference against the Dutch.

“What are the chances that Gregg can finally ditch his misguided lust for MLS players if he’s somehow hired for another cycle? The results from the group matches are clear: MLS just isn’t good enough for this level and there are a lot of players in Europe waiting to join this team.” @BarcelonaBatma1

I hope we get away from the frankly naïve notion that all MLS players are bad when it comes to the World Cup. Zimmerman and Kellyn Acosta could move to Europe tomorrow and do well, but they wouldn’t be much different as players than they are today as MLS players who are doing reasonably well at the World Cup (apart from Zimmerman’s penalty in the first game). I expect there will be fewer MLS players on the US team in 2026. And I always wonder why part of the USMNT fanbase is always so knee-jerk anti-MLS players when it’s the other way around, for example with Brazilian fans going over the top in their love for homegrown players who make up Brazil’s World Cup team.

“If the USA fall to the Netherlands on Saturday, would you still consider it a successful World Cup for the USA?” @figueras_family

That depends on how the USA play on Saturday. We are still at a stage in the development of the USMNT where we judge World Championships by raw results most of the time and the case has usually been that reaching the round of 16 meant living up to expectations while not being able to get out of the Group was considered a failure. I don’t think that will be the case in 2026 when the home team will reach the quarter-finals.

And I think we’ve reached a point in the growth of USMNT where we shouldn’t just be talking about results, we should be talking about achievements at the Worlds. Take 2014. The raw results for the US were pretty good: Out of the Death Group. But in terms of performance, the USA only had two good rounds of 16 in 2014 – the first half against Ghana and the second half against Portugal – and were blown away in terms of performance by Belgium in their round of 16 defeat. If this were to happen again on Saturday (although I don’t expect it to) we could have a reasonable debate on the performance side of things.

“Thinking back to the Berhalter signing period, I felt Tata Martino’s appointment was much more positive for Mexico. Given your respective World Cup performances so far, are you surprised at how things have actually turned out?” @darau

I was surprised that Tata Martino wasn’t even interviewed for the US job back then (he was interested) and I’m surprised that Martino (who is a good coach) failed so clearly with Mexico. My reaction to Berhalter’s hiring was that he might be the right choice, but the process US Soccer used to find him was flawed. Look, USA have been consistent at this World Cup, defended well, have great team chemistry and they made it to the knockout rounds. Berhalter’s tactics were good, even if his substitution patterns were patchy. Overall, he deserves credit for what has happened so far.

“Set pieces. Pulisic doesn’t seem to create any chances from the corners. Where is the creativity and why doesn’t one of the balls seem playable from his foot?” @batensmack

I’m surprised Pulisic wasn’t any better from set pieces here – his corners improved against England but that’s about it – although it’s clear that Brenden Aaronson and Acosta are better at this task. They just haven’t started games here yet, so Pulisic was the guy. Set pieces could be a big factor in Saturday’s game and they need to be better at delivery and execution.

“How will this game be for Dest on Saturday?” @JamesWAVL82

Probably similar to how Musah felt playing against England. It’s interesting. Dest gets quite a bit of criticism on Dutch TV, and I think part of that has to do with him choosing the US over the Netherlands. Dest played well against Iran and worked brilliantly in front of the US goal, and he hasn’t had any absolute roars in defense yet (which isn’t always guaranteed). I think he could have a big game against his native country here.

“How and when did Ream become so good?” @flashmanoly

Great question. Despite being 35 years old, I think Ream has had a year of transformation at club level that is now carrying over to the national team. If we’re honest, Ream struggled in Fulham’s previous seasons in the Premier League and he’s been great in the Premier League for the first time this season. Something has changed. And he carries supreme confidence to this World Cup and plays for the USMNT. He’s not much behind Tyler Adams as my top US player to date.

“I think I know the answer to that, but, ‘With hosting in the US four years from now and a lot of these guys hitting their prime at that time, you get a sense that we’ve accomplished what we set out to accomplish , the rest is gravy? Or do you sense the boys feel it’s wide open? @raiderfanmarc77

From my conversations with the US players here, they don’t want to talk about 2026. They have told me there is no guarantee they will be on the 26 team and they are completely focused on the here and now. McKennie said the other night that he believes the USA could reach the finals this year. I’m sure other players think the same way.

“If the USA could get a result against the Netherlands on Saturday, do you think that would be a bigger achievement than the team from ’02? And did the manager just earn his extension for 2026?” @GeneVorobyov

I think it would be a little bigger achievement than reaching the quarter-finals in 2002, simply because the Netherlands are a better team than the Mexico team that beat the USA in the round of 16 20 years ago. As for Berhalter, he makes a good case for staying in 2026, but I hope it’s not a done deal at this point. Let’s see how they do against the Dutch. And in general, my research has shown that the second four-year cycles for national team coaches tend not to go as well as their first cycles.

“Have you found one or more stories about a single person who took part in each march?” @BEATsc

It’s funny. I recently met Carlos Cordeiro, the former US Soccer President who is now a close adviser to FIFA President Gianni Infantino. Cordeiro and Infantino go to every single game of the tournament. I asked if he had a helicopter and he said no. But they have VVIP lanes on the streets here.

“How’s the infrastructure holding up? Hotels, transit, etc. Apart from the one story that the FIFA officials’ hotel isn’t ready yet, I didn’t see anything that went wrong.” @atlemar

In general, the infrastructure is good here. Despite having a water leak in our home, water came through my bedroom ceiling last night.

Enjoy the games!

CBS Sports football analyst Grant Wahl is in Qatar reporting on his eighth men’s World Cup. He will write mailbag columns for CBS after each game of the USMNT group stage. For the rest of his writing, including magazine-style articles, interviews and breaking news, see GrantWahl.com.

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