Wednesday, December 1

DeCourcy: Ricardo Pepi ranks as USMNT’s top pick as a forward after World Cup qualifying heroics

This has been a good week for the forwards of the United States men’s team.

Jordan Pefok, who plays for the Swiss club BSC Young Boys, scored the biggest goal of his career– Winner of the injury time match to beat Manchester United in the opening match of the UEFA Champions League group stage. Meanwhile, Ricardo Pepi, 18, continues to cry. He has one goal and one assist in two games since returning to his team from FC Dallas after his heroic World Cup qualifiers.

Pefok’s goal should take away some of the buzz that was building around young Pepi, who was directly involved in every one of the US goals in a 4-1 win over Honduras that put the campaign back on track. qualification for the World Cup of the Americans. He was the first American player in 17 years to score in a qualifying match on his international debut and the second-youngest scorer in the history of the World Cup qualification program.

The reaction to that performance from Pepi could have been more overwhelming than her game. Many of those who witnessed it called for Pepi’s immediate promotion to the top of the USMNT forward group as the team carries its five points and third place in the CONCACAF 14-game qualifying tournament to the next set of matches to early October against Jamaica, Panama and Costa Rica.

MORE: CONCACAF World Cup Schedule and Qualification

Enthusiasm, or is it despair? – it’s understandable.

For one thing, the forward or center forward position is the highest profile on a soccer team and the one with the most obvious measure of success: goals. There’s a lot more to position, especially in the modern game, but a player in that spot who regularly shoves the ball into the net can have many other forgiven problems.

Also, getting to the front of this line might not be such an impressive journey.

Players like Pefok, Josh Sargent and Daryl Dike have failed to establish themselves as the USMNT’s top pick at the position. Although each has contributed to the success of the USA in 2021, they have not consistently produced goals or maintained possession, sometimes through their own fault, sometimes through lack of assistance from their teammates. They scored three combined goals for the USMNT in 2021.

The USMNT hasn’t had an obvious choice at this position since Jozy Altidore filled it from 2009-17, ending the team’s failed 2018 World Cup qualification campaign. Before Altidore (third all-time in goals with 42), players like Brian McBride (fifth with 30 goals) and Eric Wynalda (fourth with 34 goals) were matches there. But it’s notable that the players who are tied for the career lead in goals, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey (57 goals), were versatile players who filled midfield and frontline roles.

So when someone like Pepi puts on a performance like the one he did in Honduras, at 18 and under enormous pressure to help rescue the USMNT from qualifying disaster in their first three games, he will naturally become the favorite of a great. part of the selection. team fans.

“I think he did a great job,” coach Gregg Berhalter said after the game. “He worked tirelessly, competed against a physical set of center-backs and scored a really good goal and overall, I think he had a great performance. For an 18-year-old, it was really impressive what he did. “

The key question is this: Given that a single player is unlikely to start all three games in October, when might be the best time for the US to use its best forward option? On the road in Panama (October 10), what is a close competitor for a qualifying spot? Or at home against Jamaica (October 7), a reeling team against which the United States cannot afford to lose points?

Candidates in order of preference:

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1. Ricardo Pepi

Age: 18

Club: FC Dallas (Major League Soccer)

USMNT caps: 1

USMNT Goals: 1

Pepi showed a versatility in the Honduras game that others have lacked. He fell deep to help win the ball past midfield, slide it into Christian Pulisic and then run to be available for the center who was deflected to Antonee Robinson for his goal. He rose above a defender for a perfect header off a center from right-back DeAndre Yedlin. He selflessly fed Aaronson a square ball for the game’s third goal. Perhaps it is wise to start against Jamaica to help Pepi build confidence, and then decide how to use him in the second and third games based on his performance.

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2. Jordan Pefok

Age: 25

Club: BSC Young Boys (Swiss Super League)

USMNT caps: 8

USMNT Goals: 1

Pefok is relatively new to the US group of players, having caught the attention of the staff with an outstanding season at the Young Boys in Switzerland, scoring 12 goals in 32 games. Including the goal against Manchester United, he has already scored seven times in 12 games this season in all competitions. Pefok put up a strong, perhaps underrated, secondary performance in the 0-0 draw in El Salvador, but he was not as impressive as a starter in a 1-1 draw at home against Canada. It may be the most suitable substitute for a game changer.

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3. Josh Sargent

Age: twenty-one

Club: Norwich City (English Premier League)

USMNT caps: 19

USMNT Goals: 5

Sargent showed real life playing on the right side of a front of three in Norwich’s opener against Liverpool in August, and he scored his first two goals in England before the month was out, playing in an EFL Cup match. But this year he has struggled to translate his club-level game onto the national team scene. All his international goals were scored in 2018 and 2019, and he has not been effective in linking possession either. There are too many promises for anyone to get too impatient, and you may have more ability to play on the outside of a front of three (right in your case), which means you could play alongside any of the others. .

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4. Daryl Dike

Age: twenty-one

Club: Orlando City (Major League Soccer)

USMNT caps: 8

USMNT Goals: 3

Dike became a sensation with his game after being loaned to Barnsley at the English Championship. He scored nine goals in 19 games as Barnsley reached the pinnacle of promotion to the Premier League. It was thought that he could be transferred or loaned again, but he is back with Orlando City and has a goal and an assist in his first three starts since returning from injury break after his weeks-long stint with the Cup winners. Gold. There is still a lot to polish about his game, although he may have more potential than any of these players except Pepi. It’s hard to watch him buy time over the other three unless he breaks up in MLS over the next month.

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