By this time next year, the 2022 World Cup will have come and gone. Soccer’s great and good will have descended on Qatar for the most controversial tournament in the sport’s history, and they’ll have left again. New world champions will have been crowned. Whether or not the US men’s national team will have participated, though, is still unknown.
Currently, the Gregg Berhalter team is likely to be in Qatar. The United States took second place in the final round of qualifying, with more than half of the match played in Concacaf’s first “octagon”. The ghosts of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers are still haunting American football, and no one takes it for granted, but because of this strength, the United States did not participate in the 2022 tournament. If it’s a shock.
Berholter has systematically found solutions in most areas of the pitch since he became head coach three years ago. His midfield is now a well-established unit with US defense in a better shape than it was a year ago. Christian Pulisic, Giovanni Reyna, Timothy Weah and Brenden Aaronson also give the team true quality in an aggressive midfield and wide position.
Up front, though, there is still a position to be earned. Berhalter has options, but none to build around this far out from the World Cup at the end of the year. Some countries are lucky enough to have a world class number nine to elevate their level – see Robert Lewandowski for Poland and Harry Kane for England – but the US don’t have that. Not yet, anyway.
In the eyes of many, Ricardo Pepi could potentially be that figure. The 18-year-old striker has only just completed a $20m move to Augsburg where he is expected to be a first-team player in the Bundesliga. Succeed in Germany and Pepi will surely be Berhalter’s first pick to play as his number nine at the World Cup (assuming the USA qualify).
2021 was a milestone year for Pepi at the international level, and teens were first invited to the Bar Halter team in August. He scored his first USA goal in his debut against Honduras in the World Cup qualifiers the following month and helped him with his victory over Jamaica the following month.
Pepi is a penalty box poacher. Surrounded by the highest quality Weidman, teenagers will have the opportunity to score American goals. Pepi can also dribble and create opportunities for himself. Expectations and technical skills for the ball make former FC Dallas youth perfect for Barholter’s system and general approach.
“We’re all excited,” Berhalter said when asked to describe Pepi’s potential. “For us, we’re just sitting there and we’re on the train. He’s an 18-year-old who gets an opportunity, takes advantage. What you see and I think what I really like is that he has this instinct, and it’s really hard to teach that to players.”
Daryl Dike is another young American forward who could feasibly play a big role for the USA at the 2022 World Cup with the 21-year-old also making the move to a new club this month, joining West Brom in a reported $9.5m deal from Orlando City. Dike already has English Championship experience having flourished in a loan spell at Barnsley last season and has been signed to spearhead the Baggies’ promotion challenge.
On talent alone, there might not be much between Dike and Pepi, but Berhalter’s system favors the latter. Indeed, the USA might not need a battering ram like Dike to lead the line in Qatar, although a good 2022 at club level for West Brom would surely see him included in the World Cup squad as a depth option at the very least.
Josh Sargent is likely to be part of Berholter’s 23-man team, but the overwhelming form of 21-year-old Norwich City casts doubt on his role in the United States. In contrast, Jordan Pefok scored impressive 16 goals in 30 games, including five goals in the Young Boys’ European tournament this season (one against Manchester United), in discussions about who the 25-year-old player is. I am trying to be mentioned. You need to start in advance at the World Cup.
Schalke’s Matthew Hoppe’s surge in goals in the final stages of last season has pushed another young American into focus just for the Barca Residency Academy graduates to fade in indistinctly in Real Mallorca. summer. On the other hand, the 30-year-old relatively veteran Gyasi Zardes is a reliable choice and a favorite of Barholter.
Pulisic is even more likely to play as a “falls nine”, especially after being used by Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel in this position. Of course, Pulisic is a trade winger. Even being told that he could be ninth in the 2022 World Cup highlights that the United States still needs to settle for the frontman.
Since the 2022 World Cup is a winter tournament, there is still time for the aforementioned candidates to secure their position in Berholter’s plans, but transfer activities involving Pepi, Dyke, Sargent and others in the last six months. The US start number 9 in Qatar has already begun.