While the biggest questions surrounding predicting a lineup for the United States at the World Cup are around predicting a striker and a center back, there's also some uncertainty at right back. Sergino Dest is a talented defender with a bright future but he's only played fewer than 400 minutes since arriving at AC Milan from Barcelona this season, and hasn't impressed in Serie A. Despite appearing in nine matches for the Club, only three defenders have played fewer minutes for Milan than Dest, and the others to appear in nine matches similarly to him have more than 600 minutes logged. It shows Stefano Pioli's lack of faith in the American defender. Averaging a foul every 53 minutes played, there are times when he has been more of a liability on the pitch than a help since moving.
The concern doesn't stop in Italy. U.S. soccer legend Landon Donovan joined In Soccer We Trust podcast with Charlie Davies, Heath Pearce and Jimmy Conrad to discuss the upcoming World Cup. Donovan touched on some of his picks for the starting lineup and one intriguing inclusion is that he'd start DeAndre Yedlin at right back.
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"I worry about [Dest] defensively sometimes and if Dan James is out there ..." said Donovan, on the behalf of Autotrader, before trailing off and making a face of concern.
James is fresh from scoring a goal as a substitute for Fulham against Manchester United and his speed can cause defenses problems. He's able to interchange with Brennan Johnson in support of Wales talisman Gareth Bale so Donavan has a fair reason to worry. James had two goals and two assists for Wales during World Cup Qualifying as well, so some of the finishing issues that are seen in the Premier League haven't seemed to be present when he puts on the national team shirt and plays for Rob Page.
Starting Yedlin would give the United States a steady presence at the back but he's also limited going forward unlike Dest. Because of that, on option for Gregg Berhalter is to hide Dest's weakness in defense by altering the other spots in his lineup, rather than benching him for Yedlin. With a consistent backline including Tim Ream, Dest could have the license to get forward without worrying too much about his defensive responsibilities as that is when he's at his best but the midfield, led by Weston McKennie, will play a large role in that.
Listen below and follow In Soccer We Trust: A CBS Sports Soccer Podcast where your three favorite former USMNT players cover everything you could possibly want to know about the United States men's national team during the World Cup in Qatar.
While McKennie is back in training there, are questions about if he is 90 minutes fit after missing the last four matches for Juventus leading up to the World Cup break with a muscular injury. McKennie has scored three goals and assisted one more in all competitions and his energy is infectious around the national team.
"The guy who really makes this team go is Weston. When they're at their best, Christian [Pulisic] of course, Brenden [Aaronson] and the way he's playing, but when Weston is at his peak, he's unstoppable and he's unplayable," Donovan said, in regards to who needs to step up for the USMNT to advance from Group B. "I've been critical of him in the past for some of his decisions off the field but that's why. Because he's so valuable to this team and I think that if he's at his best the team will be really good."
Back in September of 2021, McKennie was suspended from national team duty during World Cup Qualifying due to violating COVID protocol. This was also after serving a suspension for Juventus for violating their protocols as well. But a year later, McKennie has grown as a player.
"I think it was a learning lesson, I think as I went back in [to the team] that it was important for me to put my head down and work. And Juventus definitely helped me out with that a lot," McKennie said while on national team duty in February. "And as you know I struggled for a bit lost my confidence and like I said, it was a learning lesson. I let my team down and let my country down, my team down, my family down, and myself. So when I got called back it was to try and rebuild the relationships and the trust with everyone and to just perform. Show that I'm there for the team and there to try and win"
McKennie will now get his chance on the biggest stage in the world as his performances could help protect Dest and the defense. For the USMNT to be at their best, their Serie A contingent will need to be firing on all cylinders and it's certainly doable.
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