After more than a year and nine missed matches out of 10, Christian Pulisic is back in the fold with the U.S. national team, giving USMNT fans a chance to finally get a good look at what this young generation of talent looks like with its best player in the heart of the lineup.
Injuries have kept Pulisic out of the first four of the U.S. team's string of challenging fall friendlies, and his absence led to the predictable struggles with chance creation that are destined to doom the USMNT until some other playmaker alternatives emerge. Now, with Pulisic back in the mix, the U.S. should see the central triangle widely regarded as the future of the U.S. midfield.
That triangle features Pulisic as the playmaker with Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams supporting him in the middle of the park. It is a trio we didn't get to see for Pulisic's lone national team appearance of the past year — a lackluster start against Bolivia — because Adams was with the New York Red Bulls. We have seen Adams and McKennie together a handful of times, with each of them pushing into more attack-minded duties in an attempt help make up for Pulisic's absence.
Having Pulisic around shouldn't mean that McKennie and Adams will suddenly stop contributing to the attack, but they should be allowed to focus their considerable defensive qualities on trying to neutralize England's midfield. They'll still be able to jump into attacking positions, but will now be able to look to Pulsic to supply the creative spark rather than trying to be facilitators themselves.
The big question now is whether caretaker U.S. coach Dave Sarachan will actually start this young trio. He has shown an affinity for Wil Trapp and could decide to pair the Columbus Crew midfielder with Adams and McKennie in hopes of holding the ball more in the midfield.
The argument can be made that McKennie and Adams aren't necessarily a good pairing as dueling defensive midfielders because they're both more adept at disrupting the opposition than at keeping the ball.
There is also some uncertainty in central defense, where Matt Miazga has entered this international break having fallen out of favor at French club Nantes. In terms of form MLS Defender of the Year Aaron Long has been playing very well, but it seems unlikely Sarachan would partner the 26-year-old with sure-fire starter John Brooks given both play primarily as left-sided center backs.
Sarachan could give Walker Zimmerman a nod, but is more likely to hand Miazga a start to try and help him regain some confidence and help him work toward re-establishing himself at Nantes.
Left back figured to be Antonee Robinson's spot heading into the friendly against England, where he was born and raised, but an ankle injury picked up in training has forced him out of the USMNT's November friendlies. Veteran Jorge Villafana is the only other left back on the roster and enters in good form, having helped the Portland Timbers reach the MLS Western Conference finals.
At striker, Bobby Wood should get the start. That seems even more likely given the fact Josh Sargent is nursing an ankle injury. Wood has a history of scoring goals against big national team opponents and netting against England would go well next to his goals against the likes of Germany, the Netherlands and Mexico.
The left wing role might be the toughest position to call. Sarachan could hand starts to Kenny Saief, Julian Green or Romain Gall. Saief started against Colombia in October but struggled, but he remains a more natural fit on the wing than Green.
Could Sarachan hand Gall a start in his USMNT debut? Given how well he has been playing in Sweden it wouuldn't be the most far-fetched idea.