The Co-Ed United States National Team
USMNT/USWNT Best Combined XI
It’s the question that everyone has been asking since April 3rd, 2017. How dangerous could a USWNT/FC Dallas U-15 squad be on the international stage? It’s still socially acceptable to find the humor in this, right? Just think of the damage a midfield consisting of Rose Lavelle, Julie Ertz, and Tanner Tessmann could hand out?
All joking aside, what would the best combined XI look like for the United States if there was, let’s say, a gender-neutral World Cup?
Think about it, a gender-neutral World Cup would be perfect to fill in that annoying international soccer-free summer every four years. 2022 Men’s World Cup. 2023 Women’s World Cup. 2024 Euro’s/Summer Olympics. 2025? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Give the people what we want, FIFA. You bunch of greedy, corrupt assholes.
Setting the Stage
The year is 2025. Birds are singing their new songs that the government implanted into them during the COVID-19 lockdown, it’s sunny and 75 outside (climate change truthers where you at?), and the United States are a week away from walking out of the tunnel and onto the pitch in whatever country makes you happy for their opening match in the first gender-neutral World Cup. Who makes the cut to start for team USA?
The best way to look at your selection pool to finalize this roster would be to construct the strongest roster for both teams, respectively, to narrow it down to 22 players.
Note: I’ll run some variation of the 4-3-3 for both rosters and for the final eleven.
Goalkeeper: Zack Steffan (Manchester City, England)
Defenders: Sergino Dest (FC Barcelona, Spain); John Brooks (Wolfsburg, Germany); Chris Richards (Hoffenheim, Germany); DeAndre Yedlin (Galatasaray, Turkey)
Midfielders: Weston McKennie (Juventus, Italy); Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig, Germany); Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund, Germany)
Attackers: Christian Pulisic (Chelsea, England); Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen, Germany); Yunus Musah (Valencia, Spain)
There were some tough decisions to make here, specifically at the second center back position, the left back, and in the attacking three. While John Brooks is the clear top choice for the USMNT when healthy, the second CB position is up in the air. A couple MLS options could be viable in Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long, as well as former MLS starlet Mark McKenzie. Zimmerman and Long carry plenty of MLS and national team experience, but have not been able to close the door to secure their place in the squad. Richards and McKenzie represent the next generation of talent here at the center back position and should both receive chances to stake their claim. I went with Richards here over McKenzie due to Richards having an advantage both height wise and as a passer out of the defensive third.
The most likely case for the left back position on this team will be a right back playing out of position. The depth the USMNT has at right back is deep, headlined by Sergino Dest, DeAndre Yedlin, Reggie Cannon, and now Bryan Reynolds. Dest’s versatility will probably see him slide onto the left side so that one of Yedlin/Cannon/Reynolds can stay in their natural spot at right back. While Cannon has made this position home over the last year and a half, Yedlin is back from injury and I believe that his experience and blazing speed should translate well back into a rejuvenated USMNT squad.
In the attacking three, Christian Pulisic is the only locked into a starting position. The striker position is in the midst of a “changing of the guard” from Jozy Altidore to one of the new young guns. The top options here seem to be Josh Sargent, Sebastian Soto, and Timothy Weah. Soto and Weah have very little first team experience and haven’t been able to receive consistent minutes with their respective club teams, which leaves Sargent to inherit the number nine position. As for RW, the position is also in flux. Paul Arriola is the more experienced option, but Musah’s energetic performance in his USMNT debut left us with a taste of what he could become for the stars and stripes. Konrad de la Fuente is also a name to keep an eye out, as his performances for FC Barcelona B have began to also show signs of a potential future star. Musah’s youth and ability to track back defensively as a makeshift wingback at times gives him the edge.
Goalkeeper: Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars, United States)
Defenders: Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC, United States); Abby Dahlkemper (Manchester City, England); Becky Sauerburnn (Portland Thorns FC, United States); Emily Sonnett (Washington Spirit, United States)
Midfielders: Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars, United States); Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC, United States); Rose Lavelle (Manchester City, England)
Attackers: Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign, United States); Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride, United States); Tobin Heath (Manchester United, England)
The USWNT is much more standard than their male counterparts, in my opinion. Meaning that the women’s team doesn’t have as many moving parts and usually runs their strongest, or damn near their strongest, team in just about every match. Regardless, there are still some positional battles that were tough to decide. The right back, central midfield, and the winger positions are where I find some question marks.
The women’s team is in a similar spot as the men’s team in terms of inconsistency at one of the outside back positions. While three of the four along the back line seem all but secured, Emily Sonnett isn’t a true right back except on the national team. Yes, Crystal Dunn finds herself in this position as well, but come on, she could make a case to be the best player on the team at any position. Ali Krieger is the last true right back that’s graced the USWNT, but has fallen out of favor in recent years and has now welcomed a newborn child into the mix, which might push her away from the team even further. Newcomer Margaret Purce might make a case for the future, while Kelley O’Hara represents the end of the last generation, but Sonnett seems like the best fit for the position currently.
In the midfield, it comes down to a preference on whether you prefer Lindsey Horan and Sam Mewis over the other. Horan had a grip around the position up until the 2019 World Cup, when Mewis seemingly took over the position and never looked back. It’s a good problem to have for Andonovski to have the choice between the two, but I find myself on team Horan. Horan is the more creative out of the two and while they both have the consistency to string together multiple Player of the Match performances, Horan’s ceiling in the squad is higher.
Unlike the men’s national team, the option’s for the women’s side on the attacking front is LOADED. Morgan, Lloyd, Rapinoe, Heath, Press, Pugh, and a handful of other rising stars to break onto the scene. Whatever group of three you decide to roll out, you know you’re going to get an abundance of quality and chances being created. This group will look very different in the next 3-4 years, as all of these names, besides Pugh, are at least 31 years of age. As of right now, however, the veterans are still firmly in control. The biggest question I see here is who to start on the wings between Rapinoe, Press, and Heath. All three have the ability to rotate around the pitch and play on both sides, so the positioning doesn’t really matter. What it comes down to is which two can link play the best and provide the best service and supporting runs around Morgan. To me, I still see Rapinoe and Heath, when healthy, above Press on this front.
Most Co-ed leagues around the country have a rule stating how many women must be on the field at all times. For this lineup, at least five women must be in the starting lineup and on the field during all 90 minutes (PLUS).
Goalkeeper: Zack Steffan
Steffan’s extreme athleticism and distribution out if the back makes this an easy choice for me. The number two at Manchester City has improved during his European stint from his already great body of work in the wasteland of Columbus. He has transformed into more of the prototypical “modern” goalkeeper over this period and should be a key cog for this United States squad.
Left Back: Crystal Dunn
Arguably the biggest hole for the men’s team and one of the cornerstones for the women’s team, Dunn’s incredible speed and versatility across the field will pay dividends in this scenario. Outside backs in today’s game are involved offensively more than ever and Dunn’s club team role translates well to making her a highly effective and efficient left back on the national stage.
Center Backs: John Brooks and Abby Dahlkemper
Quite the size difference between the 6’4” Brooks and 5’7” Dahlkemper, but fear not, this duo should be dynamic. While Brooks carries the brawn in this partnership, Dahlkemper carries plenty of pace and poise out of the back. Both of these athletes are the number one choice on their respective national teams for good reason. Brooks finds his strengths in the air, where he is a menace on set pieces, both offensively and defensively. Who doesn’t remember his World Cup winner against Ghana in 2014? Dahlkemper on the other hand, carries loads of pace with her and possesses tremendous ability to pass out of the back and linking play to the midfield and the flanks.
Right Back: Sergino Dest
The generational talent for the USMNT’s defense. Having just completed a lucrative transfer from Ajax to FC Barcelona this past year, Dest is oozing with talent and pure skill. Dest, like Dunn, is fantastic offensively and constantly finds open lanes down the flank to whip in crosses and create chances offensively. Defensively, Dest is a solid defender but lacks much threat when battling in the air. Regardless, the Barcelona man is a must-have in this team.
Central Midfielders: Julie Ertz and Weston McKennie
Ertz and McKennie are very identical in the way they play the game. While McKennie is slightly more offensively minded in open play, both of them track back hard defensively and post up in front of the back four for extra support. Ertz is, in my opinion, the most important player for the women’s team and likewise for McKennie. They both possess strong instincts in the middle of the park and can spray the ball across the field in all directions. Ertz is especially dangerous on corner kicks as well, a nice additional bonus for the squad. These two should be able to hold it down effectively in the midfield, especially defensively.
Central Attacking Midfielder: Giovanni Reyna
This was a very tough decision deciding between Reyna and Cincinnati’s own, Rose Lavelle. What it came down to was assessing the remaining strengths and weaknesses for both rosters and what would lead to the best opportunities going forward. Reyna is very raw when it comes to his national team experience, but even at a young age, his club involvement for Borussia Dortmund has been just as promising as other recent USMNT stars in Europe and has given me plenty of confidence to include him here. His quick dribbling and elusiveness in the attacking third should provide defenses with plenty of problems.
Left Wing: Christian Pulisic
An obvious selection on the left side of the attack. Pulisic needs to introduction and is clearly the USMNT’s best attacking option, which isn’t saying much at this moment in time. A dangerous player, Pulisic has extraordinary skills to be able to cut inside and lash a size five into the back of the net. A left side with Pulisic and Dunn? That’s what dreams are made of.
Striker: Alex Morgan
The pink headbanded assassin. Morgan is a prolific striker who makes no mistake when found in front of the net. While she’s struggles with some injuries in recent years, it can’t be overstated how good Morgan is when she’s at her best. She possesses wicked shot and has quick feet that make her so chaotic to defend inside the box. Much like Pulisic, Morgan is not someone who needs much introduction on the national forefront. Her name alone should strike fear into opposing defenses.
Right Wing: Tobin Heath
The last spot in the starting lineup goes to the one and only, Tobin Heath. The newly crowned product of Manchester United, Heath is one of the more dynamic playmakers in the women’s game today. She has plenty of flair in her arsenal and isn’t afraid to take on defender’s head-on in 1-on-1 situations. Heath also has a strong connection with her striker counterpart in Alex Morgan, which should bode well for this attack.
Bench: Alyssa Naeher (GK), Chris Richards, DeAndre Yedlin, Emily Sonnett, Rose Lavelle, Tyler Adams, Christen Press, Josh Sargent