Tonight is do-or-die time for the U.S. men's Under-23 national team. A win tonight against El Salvador and the Americans stay alive in the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament. Anything less than a win and the United States will see the dream of an Olympic berth eliminated.
U.S. head coach Caleb Porter has the difficult task of trying to pick the starting lineup he believes can deliver a result, and with the team facing its third game in five days, he will have no choice but to consider some changes to his squad.
Tonight's match should be a wide-open encounter. El Salvador isn't a bunkering team, and will almost certainly go after the U.S. defense if given the chance. That works into the USA's favor because they have the weapons to burn El Salvador. The question at this point is what changes will Caleb Porter make to his lineup.
Which changes should we expect? You can look to the team's upset loss to Canada for disappointing performances that should lead to some switches. From Teal Bunbury at forward, to Jared Jeffrey in central midfield, and Zarek Valentin at right back, there were some players who didn't make the grade against Canada who could be good bets to be subbed out.
What lineup can we expect Porter to go with tonight? Here is one lineup I could see him going with, along with a lineup I would consider turning to:
PROJECTED U.S. Under-23 LINEUP vs. EL SALVADOR
The most glaring absence from this group is Joe Gyau, who has looked dangerous coming off the bench in the team's previous two matches. It is that effectiveness off the bench, along with Porter's seeming hesitation with starting him in either of the first two matches, that makes me wonder if Gyau is someone Porter sees giving the team extended minutes.
Bill Hamid returns in goal and while it may be a surprise to some, the fact is he is still the most highly-regarded player at the position and one bad game isn't going to lead to him getting yanked.
Terrence Boyd should the call up top and it shouldn't come as a surprise. Teal Bunbury was largely ineffective against Canada and Boyd is just a better option.
Kofi Sarkodie makes sense returning to the lineup to give the team some speed and fresh legs on the flank. Jorge Villafana returns for a second start and he did give the team a few effective runs forward vs. Canada. Valentin started the first two matches and looked very fatigued in the Canada match.
Amobi Okugo gets the nod here over Jared Jeffrey, who just looked tired vs. Canada. Okugo is the kind of imposing physical presence in the middle that could help disrupt El Salvador's attack.
So what lineup would I trot out there if I were putting a team together to beat El Salvador? Here's the group I would go with:
The only change I'd make is starting Gyau for Diskerud, though that would mean sliding Adu into a playmaking role and potentially flipping Shea to the right. If Porter doesn't go with this lineup, I still think it's a group we could see at some point in the second half.