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DeCourcy: Ricardo Pepi ranks as USMNT’s top pick after World Cup qualifying exploits

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It’s been a good week for the forwards of the United States Men’s National Team.

Jordan Pefok, who plays for Swiss club BSC Young Boys, scored the biggest goal of his career: a stoppage goal to beat Manchester United in the UEFA group stage opener Champions League. Meanwhile, Ricardo Pepi, 18, continues to cry. He has one goal and one assist in two games since returning to his club FC Dallas after his World Cup qualifying exploits.

Pefok’s goal should recoup some of the buzz that was forming around young Pepi, who was directly involved in each of the United States’ goals in a 4-1 comeback victory over Honduras which put the qualifying campaign back on track. Americans on the right track. He was the first American player in 17 years to score in a qualifying game on his international debut and the second-youngest goalscorer in the history of the World Cup qualifiers.

The reaction to this performance by Pepi could have been more overwhelming than his play. Many who witnessed called for Pepi’s immediate promotion to the top of the USMNT forwards squad as the team take their five points and third place in the CONCACAF 14-game qualifying tournament. in the next round of matches in early October against Jamaica, Panama and Costa Rica.

MORE: CONCACAF World Cup qualifying schedule and standings

Enthusiasm – or is it desperation? – is understandable.

On the one hand, the position of striker or center-forward is the most prominent in a football team and the one with the most obvious measure of success: goals. There is so much more to the position, especially in modern play, but a player in this location who regularly puts the ball in the net can have a lot of other issues forgiven.

Plus, getting to the top of that line might not be such an impressive journey.

Players like Pefok, Josh Sargent and Daryl Dike have been unable to establish themselves as the USMNT’s first choice in this position. While everyone contributed to America’s success in 2021, they haven’t always scored goals or held possession, sometimes through their own fault, sometimes through lack of help from teammates. They scored three combined goals for the USMNT in 2021.

The USMNT had no obvious choice for this position as Jozy Altidore held it from 2009 to 2017, ending with the failure of the team’s qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup. (third all-time with 42 goals), players like Brian McBride (fifth with 30 goals) and Eric Wynalda (fourth with 34 goals) were present. But it should be noted that the players who are tied for career first place in goals, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey (57 goals), were versatile players who filled roles in midfield and in the before.

So when someone like Pepi delivers a performance like he did in Honduras, at 18 and under tremendous pressure to help save USMNT from a qualifying disaster in his first three games, he’ll naturally become the favorite of much of the fans of the team.

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

The key question is, given that a single player is unlikely to start all three games in October, what would be the best time for the United States to use their best attacking option? On the road to Panama (Oct. 10), who is a close contender for a qualifying place? Or at home against Jamaica (October 7), a struggling team the United States can’t afford to lose points against?

Applicants in order of preference:

Getty Images

1. Ricardo Pepi

Age: 18

Club: FC Dallas (Major League Soccer)

USMNT caps: 1

USMNT objectives: 1

Pepi showed a versatility in the Honduran game that others lacked. He dropped deep to help win the ball past midfield, slipped it to Christian Pulisic, then ran to make himself available for the cross which was deflected to Antonee Robinson for his goal. He passed a defender for a perfect header on a cross from right-back DeAndre Yedlin. He generously fed Aaronson a square ball for the game’s third goal. Maybe a start against Jamaica to help Pepi build his confidence is wise, then decide how to use him in games two and three based on his performance.

DeCourcy: Ricardo Pepi ranks as USMNT’s top pick after World Cup qualifying exploits
(Getty Images)

2. Jordan Pefok

Age: 25

Club: BSC Young Boys (Switzerland Super League)

USMNT caps: 8

USMNT objectives: 1

Pefok is relatively new to the American player pool having captured the attention of the staff with an outstanding season at 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 on a strong underrated, perhaps underrated, performance in the 0-0 draw at El Salvador, but didn’t have as much of an impact as a starter in a 1-1 draw. at home against Canada. He may be better suited as a substitute for changing the game.

DeCourcy: Ricardo Pepi ranks as USMNT’s top pick after World Cup qualifying exploits
(Getty Images)

3. Josh Sargent

Age: 21

Club: Norwich City (English Premier League)

USMNT caps: 19

USMNT objectives: 5

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

DeCourcy: Ricardo Pepi ranks as USMNT’s top pick after World Cup qualifying exploits
Getty Images

4. Daryl Digue

Age: 21

Club: Orlando City (Major League Soccer)

USMNT caps: 8

USMNT objectives: 3

Dike became a sensation with his game after being loaned to Barnsley in the Premier League. He scored nine goals in 19 games as Barnsley was on the brink of promotion to the Premier League. It was thought 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 an injury layoff following his stint at several weeks with the Gold Cup winners. There is still a lot to polish in his game, although he may have more potential than any of these players except Pepi. It’s just hard to see him buy time on the other three unless he makes a tear in MLS next month.



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