Overtime: The USMNT’s Striker Dilemma

While the USMNT had talent, there is one too many strikers on the roster as it stands. (Courtesy of Twitter)

While the USMNT had talent, there is one too many strikers on the roster as it stands. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) officially qualified for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. A bumpy qualifying campaign ultimately ended on a positive note for the stars and stripes, who redeemed themselves after failing to qualify for the 2018 edition of the tournament. 

While we know who the USMNT will play in Qatar (England, Iran and either Wales, Scotland or Ukraine), questions linger about how the squad will line-up come tournament time in November. The team seems solid at the back and in midfield, with Walker Zimmerman and Miles Robinson emerging as starting center backs and Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah anchoring the middle.

But the biggest question mark remains in perhaps the most important position on the field: striker. Over the past year, a plethora of different forwards have started up top for the USMNT, with none of them able to perform consistently and claim the starting spot. We’ve seen players like Josh Sargent, Theoson “Pefok” Siebatcheu, Gyasi Zardes, Daryl Dike, Ricardo Pepi and Jesus Ferreira all get their chance, but no player has impressed over a long term basis.

Pepi has shown the brightest flashes, scoring big goals against Honduras and Jamaica in the September and October qualifying windows. At just 19 years old, Pepi’s talent earned him a move to FC Augsburg in the German Bundesliga, where he has struggled to get acclimated. Pepi now hasn’t scored a goal for club or country since October, although he remains arguably the most talented striker in the player pool. It’s tough to rely on a 19-year-old to be consistent, but Pepi has every chance to place himself above the competition and cement himself as a starter for the USMNT.

For Sargent and Dike, recent moves to England haven’t panned out how they would have hoped. Sargent has scored just two Premier League goals for a poor Norwich City side that are destined for relegation, while Dike has played just two games for West Bromwich Albion since his transfer in January due to a hamstring injury. Both players need to start scoring regularly at club level if they want to break back into the USMNT picture that they have fallen out of in recent months.

A player who has been scoring consistently in club play is Pefok, who’s netted 20 goals across 30 games in all competitions for BSC Young Boys in the Swiss Super League. Pefok’s stellar form earned him a call-up for this most recent qualifying window in March, but he failed to impress in limited action. Against Mexico, Pefok missed a golden chance to score and looked generally disinterested in the game after coming on as a substitute. At the national team level, there’s no telling how many chances you might get to make an impact. For Pefok, his chance might have passed by.

That leaves Gyasi Zardes and Jesus Ferreira, two players on opposite ends of the spectrum. Zardes is a player who USMNT fans love to rag on, perhaps unfairly at some points. He is a 31-year-old lifetime Major League Soccer (MLS) player, whose goal-scoring prowess has slowed down in recent seasons. On the other hand, Ferreira is a bright young talent who’s tallied five goals and an assist in just six games to start the MLS season. He’s earned a call-up in the last two qualifying windows, scoring against Panama in March. While Zardes’ window with the USMNT may be closing, Ferreria has played his way into legitimate contention to be the starting striker in Qatar.

While none of these options necessarily jump off the page, there are talented players in this group who can do a job upfront. If the World Cup was tomorrow, Ferreira would probably start. But November is a long way away. Players will fall in and out of form between now and then. To a certain extent, U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter will likely pick the player in the best form right before the tournament. The striker position is definitely a weakness for the USMNT, and fans can only hope that someone will emerge from the pack in the coming months to claim the position as their own.