Ahead of Thursday’s critical World Cup qualifier in Mexico’s Azteca, USMNT captain Tyler Adams sees his team’s midfield versatility as a strong advantage that could be the key to an important and historic victory.
The recent injury to Weston McKennie, arguably the most influential midfielder on the team, and the absence of Brenden Aaronson, have raised an endless sea of questions about how head coach Gregg Berhalter will set up his middle-three on Thursday night, in what might be their hardest test of the current cycle.
While the other two preferred starters – Adams and Yunus Musah – are both healthy and available, the widely-suggested options for the third spot, namely Gianluca Busio, Luca de la Torre and Kellyn Acosta, all offer a different set of skills than McKennie, which mean the overall tactical approach of the three-man midfield will see some shift come gametime.
Commenting on this point ahead of the team’s departure for Mexico City, the USMNT captain suggests that the ability to have this tactical flexibility dependent upon the particular situation is strength of the team, rather than a problem to be solved.
“When you look at the structure of how our midfield has been set up throughout this whole qualifying cycle, we’re so fortunate that we have such a deep team with so many different qualities,” the 23 year-old assessed.
“It’s really exciting because you know a lot of guys can get different opportunities, and we have so many different ways of breaking down opponents, or structuring ourselves to be successful against opponents.”
He elaborated, taking care to detail what he sees as the tactical roles and strong points of the players who will be in contention to start alongside him on Thursday.
“[We] have guys like Busio and Luca, that are those final-play guys that put in a pass and break down opponents. [We] have guys like myself and Kellyn, that are just battling in there, winning balls, being able to play forward [and] breaking up attacks.”
“Then [there are] guys like Yunus, who are like hybrid players that are really really good at both things. When you mix and match those those types of players, it gives us a really versatile midfield.”
“Throughout this qualifying cycle, we’ve found different combinations that are very good, but we’re good in playing with different people and we understand each other’s roles,” he concluded.
Regardless of which players are chosen in the middle of the expected 4-3-3 tactical lineup put out by Gregg Berhalter, they know that they are up against history when the ball starts rolling, both aiming for an unprecedented fourth straight win in an official competition against Mexico, and more importantly, what would be their first-ever win in qualifying in their famed fortress of Azteca.
In the face of these grandiose, sweeping implications, the 24-times capped player prefers to maintain a more grounded mental approach for him and the players under his captaincy, viewing the meeting as a one-off chance to do what they need to do against their most fierce rival in a tough game.
“It would it would mean a lot,” he admitted of what a victory would mean to the team, adding, “the rivalry is continuing to grow.
“There’s an importance to every single time you step on the field when you’re when you’re playing against Mexico.”
However, he put it into context, clarifying, “we don’t want to get too caught up in records, and personally I don’t look at it [as though] I’ll be a player that’s part of the group that beat them for the first time in Azteca.”
“It’s just the feeling that you have, when you win a rivalry game, is amazing.”
Concluding, he explained that more than any historical implications, taking a result, in particular a victory, home from Mexico City on Thursday will be an important mechanism of growth for the squad, as they continue to push for their place on the plane to Qatar later this year.
“To go down there and take care of business would be important for the group, important for our confidence,” the RB Leipzig player evaluated. “[It would] show the the strength of the group to be able to go to an away game and win in a hard qualifying cycle.”