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USMNT looks to build on Panama win against Costa Rica

Panama v United States

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - JANUARY 27: Head coach Gregg Berhalter of United States shakes hands with Michael Bradley #4 as he checks out of the international friendly against the Panama at State Farm Stadium on January 27, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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The USMNT picked up a 3-0 win over Panama last weekend, with surprising tactical prowess in Gregg Berhalter’s first match in charge. The opponent was quite poor and the team had a month to prepare, but it was still a bit of a jolt for fans to see a clear plan put into action and executed to perfection in the coach’s debut.

Now, the team looks to move forward and continue to display the same competency against Costa Rica on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET in San Jose. Berhalter will likely look to shake up his lineup to get a look at new players, while also awarding some of the more positive performances against Panama with a reprise.

It will be fascinating to see if Berhalter changes his tactics up for a new opponent, or continues to charge forward with what worked against Panama. Most noticeably, San Jose right-back Nick Lima was utilized in a hybrid role, drifting into the midfield while the team was in possession. Against Panama, the USMNT held a significant portion of the game’s possession, able to work diligently to create chances. However, on Saturday against Costa Rica, the United States will face a team that has a much better ability to maintain possession, leaving the USMNT to do more defensive work.

While that will test Berhalter’s tactical flexibility, it will also test the USMNT defense, who will likely have much more to do than against Panama, where one or two moments punctuated an otherwise elementary evening for the back line. While the USMNT earned the all-important clean sheet last time around, that will be put under further scrutiny on Saturday against a Costa Rica side headlined by 31-year-old Jonathan McDonald who had 12 goals in 17 matches for domestic club Alajuelense this past Apertura.

Lima is likely to see the field as a reward for his Man of the Match performance against Panama, while Corey Baird, Nick Lovitz and Aaron Long also may have earned more playing time. Zack Steffan is a virtual certainty to see the field again, needing caps to secure a work permit after his move to Manchester City. Michael Bradley could see the bench as a known quantity, although his experience may be seen as too valuable to sit down.

Fresh names we’re likely to see at some point on Saturday include D.C. United midfielder Russell Canouse who could partner with either Djordje Mihailovic or Wil Trapp in the center of the pitch. Christian Ramirez may have also earned a start after coming on late against Panama and scoring the final goal, and Paul Arriola who also saw a more uneventful substitute appearance last weekend. Sebastian Lletget could also see time, potentially earning his sixth cap and third start with plenty of work to do to return to the fold after injury.

As with the Panama match, the most important thing for fans to see will be less the individual performances by players on the fringe of the squad, but the collective cohesion that Berhalter brings to the squad and the tactical direction the new boss takes against a likely more competent opponent.

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