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The USMNT will wrap up the March international break, and hopefully answer a few more questions, when they take on Northern Ireland in Belfast on Sunday (12:05 pm ET).
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The Yanks impressed in a 4-1 victory over Jamaica on Thursday, but it’s a quick turnaround to the final friendly of the European club season. By the time USMNT players reconvene for camp in late May, club seasons will have wrapped up and the CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup will be days and weeks away, respectively.
The bright youngsters of the next generation continued their takeover of the USMNT on Thursday, with Sergiño Dest, Brenden Aaronson, Yunus Musah and Josh Sargent turning in strong performances in unison as the 20-, 20-, 18- and 21-year-olds quickly learn to play together.
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How to watch USMNT – Northern Ireland, stream link, start time, lineup
Start time: 12:05 pm ET
TV: FOX, TUDN, Unimas
Reaction and analysis: Here on NBCSports.com
U.S. Soccer men’s national teams in action this week
Mexico U-23s 1-0 U.S. U-23s
Jamaica 1-4 USMNT
Northern Ireland v USMNT — 1pm ET
*Honduras U23s v U.S. U23s — 6 pm ET
*Winners qualifies for 2020 Summer Olympics
Knowing the opponent: USMNT – Northern Ireland
The Green and White Army suffered a 2-0 defeat to Italy in their 2022 World Cup qualifying opener on Thursday, extending their ongoing winless streak to 11 games (dating back to October of 2019).
Names you’ll probably recognize from their days playing for various clubs in England: Steven Davis (captain, former Southampton/current Rangers), Jonny Evans (Leicester City), Stuart Dallas (Leeds United), Jamal Lewis (Everton), Paddy McNair (former Manchester United), Kyle Lafferty (former Norwich City).
The vast majority of Northern Ireland’s quality lies in defense, thus the USMNT should expect to see plenty of possession once again. Ahead of a summer full of important fixtures against CONCACAF opposition, the chance to dominate possession and prove themselves capable of doing more than simply possessing the ball will be a hugely useful exercise for this group as it continues to come of age.
Top storylines and players in focus
Can Brenden Aaronson build upon his fantastic 45-minute display against Jamaica? The 20-year-old has taken to life in Europe quite well since arriving at Red Bull Salzburg in January, and he showed on Thursday he’s more than ready to contribute to the senior team right away. Whether his long-term position ends up being in central midfield or on the left wing remains to be seen, and depends heavily upon the continue availability and effectiveness of Christian Pulisic on the left.
We need to see if Daryl Dike can replicate his recent form for Barnsley (five goals in his last eight appearances in the EFL Championship) in a USMNT shirt. Unfortunately, Dike was held out of Thursday’s game due a slight knock suffered in USMNT training earlier this week. It’s a big ask for a 20-year-old, but if Dike can consistently score goals (or just cause mayhem in and around the penalty area), he could threaten Josh Sargent, who coincidentally turned in one of his finest moments in a USMNT shirt against Jamaica, for starter’s minutes this summer. Of course, just having one center forward in form would be an unfamiliar comfort for USMNT fans, but two at the same time?
Beyond John Brooks, does the USMNT have any trustworthy center backs? Forced to answer that question right now, even the most ardent optimist could only go so far as, “Well, maybe.” Chris Richards is making great strides on loan to Hoffenheim (from Bayern Munich, but 20-year-old defenders rarely step into international first teams and adjust without early struggles; Matt Miazga is playing regularly for Anderlecht, but we know who he is as a player; Erik Palmer-Brown is an every-game 90-minute player for Austria Wien and should also figure into the conversation on Sunday.
How might the USMNT line up?
Rotation is the name of the game these days, at least until the Nations League and Gold Cup are a little closer on the calendar.
Again, the absence of Weston McKennie (hip injury) and Tyler Adams (travel restrictions) leaves the USMNT midfield not only a bit short in raw numbers, most notably at the base of midfield where Kellyn Acosta seems the
best only option to anchor the front-six. Yunus Musah could also be forced out to the right wing to make room for Aaronson, who was hugely impressive with a goal of his own in 45 minutes of work against Jamaica.
Likely preferred XI
Dest — Miazga — Richards — Robinson
Lletget — Aaronson
Musah — Dike — Pulisic
Acosta could be forced to play the full-90 once again, but everyone else who played against Jamaica should be off by the 60-minute mark at the absolute latest as Berhalter limits minutes for key players heading back to their respective clubs. That means fairly lengthy substitute appearances for the likes of Nicholas Gioacchini, Luca de la Torre, Bryan Reynolds and Ethan Horvath.
The most intriguing question of this camp is now: Will Dest get any minutes at right back after playing 67 (and scoring a sensational goal) on the left with Reggie Cannon defending the right flank?
Reynolds — Richards — Palmer-Brown — Robinson
Otasowie — Musah
Cappis — Aaronson — Reyna
Horvath will see the field at some point on Sunday, the question is whether it will be from the start or off the bench in the second half. Likewise, Reynolds seems a virtual lock for minutes (and a debut) as well, either from the start or off the bench. Palmer-Brown is a rare left-footed option at center back, which could play in his favor on Sunday and beyond should Berhalter seek a like-for-like backup option to Brooks.
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USMNT – Northern Ireland: How to watch, lineup options, start time, more originally appeared on NBCSports.com