When the U.S. national team earned a 1-1 draw in Lyon against eventual World Cup winner France, it came with the help of a five-man defense, a setup we hadn't seen much of from the USMNT over the years.
As a tactical option, it made plenty of sense going up against a stacked attack like France's. If you're on the road against a world powerhouse there's no shame in taking a defensive stance and trying to make things difficult defensively rather than opening yourself up on enemy territory.
The USMNT is home this time around, ready to take on a Brazil side that presents its own laundry-list of threats. Caretaker U.S. coach Dave Sarachan knows that defensive organization will be a priority, but he also knows that playing on home soil should mean being willing to take more chances and wanting show well for the home fans.
"Without giving away too much, we’ve been working and talking about two different systems," Sarachan said on Wednesday. "We’re going to play the way we feel we need to play at home and that’s being aggressive."
Being aggressive against Brazil doesn't necessarily mean we won't see the five-man defense, or a 3-5-2 variation, but it does offer at least some possibility that the USMNT will try to be proactive against a Brazil team that can terrorize you if your defense isn't set up well.
Here is a closer look at the players we should see feature on Friday, and the lineups and systems we could see Sarachan turn to.
Zack Steffen is in outstanding form with the Columbus Crew and impressed in net in the draw against France in June. He is at the top of the goalkeeper depth chart and it wouldn't be a surprise if he started both September friendlies. If Sarachan sees some value in trying to find consistency within the group, then starting Steffen twice makes sense.
Alex Bono came into camp having been benched for Toronto FC's past two matches, but there's no denying the strong form he enjoyed in 2017 and at the start of the year. He's more likely to see some minutes than Ethan Horvath, who is stuck on the bench at Club Brugge.
John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin are locks to start against Brazil. The two World Cup veterans are coming in on good form at the club level, and their experience will be sorely needed against a dangerous Brazil attack. If Sarachan opts for a four-man defense, then Matt Miazga makes the most sense as Brooks' partner in central defense. Left back is a bit trickier. Antonee Robinson has shown well in both his U.S. appearances and has the look of an outstanding long-term prospect. He should get the nod, though veteran Eric Lichaj has the experience edge on him and could earn the start against Brazil, giving Robinson a chance to start against Mexico on Tuesday.
Things will get interesting if Sarachan decided he wants to play with three central defenders and two wingbacks. Robinson is better suited to play as a left wingback than Lichaj, so he'd have an edge there. As far as central defenders go, Tim Parker and Cameron Carter-Vickers would be battling it out to see which of them joined Brooks and Miazga in a center back trio.
Christian Pulisic's absence leaves a big void in the playmaking department and with there not really being another true playmaker option in the squad, we're going to see another collection of box-to-box midfielders and defensive midfielders working the middle. Weston McKennie will be penciled into the lineup, as will Tyler Adams, though Adams' versatility could allow him to shift out wide where his two-way ability can flourish.
Veteran defensive midfielder Wil Trapp has done well with his opportunities in 2018. His calming presence could be just what a young U.S. midfield needs. He handled himself well against France, even if the French team's athleticism did cause him some problems at times, but his presence would allow players like McKennie, Adams and Kellyn Acosta to get forward and look for attacking opportunities.
In terms of wing options, Tim Weah has come into camp with confidence, but will Sarachan throw him in as a starter against a team as strong as Brazil? Let's not forget that Weah didn't play against France, so perhaps projecting him to start may be overly ambitious. A veteran like Julian Green might make more sense as a wing option, while both Adams and Acosta can be used in the wide areas.
This is a bit of a tricky one because you have a veteran in Bobby Wood, an in-form MLS-based veteran in Gyasi Zardes and an in-form European-based youngster in Andrija Novakovich, who hasn't quite proven himself on the international stage. Sarachan could opt to start all three if he goes with a 4-3-3, but a two-forward system seems more likely.
Novakovich is enjoying success with Dutch first division side Fortuna Sittard, making a smooth transition after dominating in the second division last season. Brazil would be a great test to see where he is in his development. Zardes has been able to see steady playing time at striker with Columbus. He was used on the wing quite a bit in his first go-round with the national team, but striker is his natural position and his goal production in Columbus supports that notion. A Wood-Zardes tandem is entirely possible, and the two have plenty of experience playing together.
Putting Adams on the right wing to help Yedlin deal with Neymar is a logical plan. Adams' versatility would allow him and Yedlin to interchange, giving Yedlin the freedom to get forward without worrying about not having cover. Adams covers ground like a madman and is tenacious enough to cause Neymar some problems.
A Weah-Robinson tandem on the left wing would be exciting for U.S. fans, but could also be vulnerable defensively. This setup would require McKennie to stay home defensively and work with Trapp to try and contain Brazil's central playmakers. McKennie is used to staying home at Schalke, but he loves to get forward with the USMNT.
Robinson and Yedlin are well-suited to play as wingbacks, and the U.S. has good central defenders to make this setup work, but the question is whether the U.S. midfield would be able to provide enough service to the forwards. This was an issue against France, though N'Golo Kante also had some say in that issue as well. Trapp's presence in front of the defense should allow McKennie and Adams the freedom to pick spots to get forward, something neither did enough of against France (especially McKennie).
Sarachan could also opt for a variation with a lone striker, two wide players like Zardes and Weah, and a central triangle like the one shown above. Kellyn Acosta's recent form with Colorado could help push himself in the conversation as well. You could argue he brings more attacking quality to the table than the central midfielders listed above.