Forward Movement for USMNT's Striker Pool

Who is the first-choice U.S. men's national team center forward? A number of U.S.-eligible strikers scored over the weekend to help their cases at a position whose depth chart is anything but settled.
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As the U.S. men's national team has turned largely to a core of young, rising stars playing at elite, European clubs, a number of near-certainties have begun to emerge. Nobody's place with any national team is truly ever secure, given the volatility that can strike a player's form, or a shift in a manager's preference or a poorly timed injury. But all things being equal, if pondering a first-choice lineup for the U.S., a vast majority of the positions can be spoken for—or at the very least aren't truly up for a debate containing a multitude of options.

Yet there's still a glaring question mark up top. If the U.S. were starting World Cup qualifying tomorrow, it's not a clear-cut answer who would start there. Plenty have had the opportunity to audition in the few friendlies the U.S. has had dating back to November, and plenty others have made their cases on the club level intermittently. This past weekend was full of positive evidence, with a number of strikers (and attacking midfielders and wingers, too, for that matter) scoring for their clubs in a wave that'll have U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter satisfied with the outcome, yet shouting like Kylo Ren for "more!"

U.S. forwards Josh Sargent, Jordan Siebatcheu and Daryl Dike

Perhaps nobody's stock has risen as rapidly as Daryl Dike's. After his U.S. debut vs. Trinidad & Tobago to close January camp, he departed on loan from Orlando City for Barnsley in England's second tier, and the results have been impressive. The Tykes have won all seven league games since the 20-year-old Dike arrived to shoot up into the playoff promotion places, and he's scored in three of the last four matches. His goal Saturday, the winner in a 1–0 victory over Birmingham City, was spectacular. 

As the play developed, it seemed like each step and touch was skewing his angle for the worse, but with one right-footed blast, he rendered that wholly incorrect. His shot from just inside the box punctured the upper right-hand corner of the goal, tucking under the crossbar in a manner that made it simply unsavable. 

Another player rounding into scoring form is Josh Sargent, who found the back of the net for a second straight game for Werder Bremen. Sargent has the tools and a leg up in terms of national team experience (12 caps, five goals), but consistency has been an issue at the club level. It doesn't help that Werder Bremen hasn't exactly been an attacking juggernaut the last couple of years, but that alone can't explain away the 21-year-old's modest goal total relative to his playing time. It also hasn't helped that, due to the pandemic's impact on the 2020 international calendar and the coronavirus quarantine protocols at the time of the November 2020 U.S. camp that kept him from participating, he hasn't appeared for the national team in 16 months. If Werder Bremen acquiesces later this month, it would provide a much-needed platform to display how he's grown in the time since.

Jordan Siebatcheu is the unknown, at least from a national team perspective. The 24-year-old Washington, D.C.–born striker has never appeared in a U.S. camp at any level, and there's no telling how he'd mesh with the established group. But the evidence to give him a test run—provided he remains open to it after having been raised in France and appearing briefly at the youth level for Les Bleus—is starting to be a bit overwhelming. He scored his ninth league goal of the season and 12th in all competitions with a diving header that salvaged a point for his on-loan Swiss squad, Young Boys, on Saturday.

His league form, coupled with his three goals vs. Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League knockout stage, make him the highest-scoring U.S.-eligible forward currently in a European top-flight league (2014 World Cup veteran Aron Jóhannsson, to be fair, has 14 goals between time spent with Sweden's Hammarby and new Polish club Lech Poznan, but that's split over two leagues and two seasons, with the Swedish top flight ending in December. The 30-year-old hasn't appeared in a U.S. camp since November 2016 and hasn't appeared in a U.S. match since September 2015).

A bit lower down the competitive scale, Andrija Novakovich scored over the weekend as well, his seventh of the season for Frosinone. Novakovich, who plays for Alessandro Nesta in Italy's second tier, hasn't been in a U.S. camp since 2018, but he's still just 24 and has size (6' 4") that few others in the pool possess. 

None of the weekend binge includes 19-year-old Matthew Hoppe, whose production has slowed amid the cratering of Schalke's season, nor does it include 20-year-olds Sebastian Soto or Nicholas Gioacchini, who each scored twice for the U.S. vs. Panama this past November, or 21-year-old Tim Weah, who can feature centrally despite his adeptness on the wing. MLS may be out of season, but the veteran likes of Gyasi Zardes and Jozy Altidore and a rising talent like Jesus Ferreira are among those who could still have plenty to say about the position as well. 

It's good to have options, and at the moment, Berhalter has plenty at his disposal. They're not all interchangeable, and much will depend on what the manager is looking for at a given time from his line-leader. The position is ultimately judged by putting the ball in the back of the net, but the ability to press, pounce, hold up, connect and run for minutes on end can't be overlooked either. The depth chart has some moving pieces, and sifting through them and making the right choices for the meaningful matches on the horizon is now the priority, so that the near-certainties on the field for the U.S. extend to the forward who ties everything together.