Our writers debate which US striker should make the World Cup roster
Jonathan Tannenwald: I say publicly that I think Jordan Pefok is the best pure finisher in the United States Men’s National Team forward group. Gregg Berhalter has publicly stated that Pefok is “a major consideration” for this month’s camp, and the coaching staff is “pretty confident that we know what Jordan can do.”
But Berhalter also told ESPN on Sunday: “There’s probably going to be an opportunity for guys who aren’t in this camp, just because of attrition, and that’s something we’re anticipating. We hope that doesn’t happen. will not be the case, but it is probably with what happened in the past that it will be the case.
Hours before Berhalter did this ESPN interview, Pefok scored his fourth goal of the season for his club, Union Berlin in Germany. This prompted Union’s Twitter admin to tweet a saluting emoji to the USMNT account, and sure enough, that tweet went viral.
Then Tuesday, the Bundesliga published an article on its site in English about Pefok’s hot streak, with the catchy headline: “Jordan: Why Union Berlin striker deserves to face USMNT attack in 2022 FIFA World Cup.” And there was a tweet with it that said, “You’d be crazy to leave it behind.”
For wondering readers, Pefok wears “Jordan” on his jersey and goes by “Pefok”, his mother’s maiden name, in the media because that’s what he asked. His full name is Theoson-Jordan Siebatcheu. The article used some of Berhalter’s recent quotes and included this quote from Pefok: “Why should performance at the highest level of club football not be reflected in the national team?”
As I said earlier, I am aware of the situation. What do you all think and how do you see it playing out?
Gustav Elvine: Free pefok! As Jon said, Pefok has been in scintillating form and not to name him in the World Cup squad would be negligent on the part of Gregg Berhalter. He has three goals and two assists in six starts for a side that currently sit at the top of the Bundesliga and last season netted 27 goals in 45 appearances for Swiss giants Young Boys. In a group of forwards marked by wild inconsistency, Pefok always scored goals while others failed to do so. Honestly, what else does Gregg want him to do?
Pefok not making the roster for these friendlies will only lend more credibility to the ‘Gregg playing his favourites’ crowd. Berhalter seems to want Ricardo Pepi on this list whether he deserves it or not, and it looks like it could cost Pefok a deserved seat on the plane to Qatar.
Cherith Gabriel: If Jordan Morris makes the list on Pefok, more than football Twitter will be on fire.
And it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility, I don’t think. After all, Berhalter also thinks World Cup kits are stylish.
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Tannenwald: I don’t think it will come down to Morris versus Pefok. But I think it could come down to Pepi versus Pefok.
And for kits. . . Berhalter is a businessman.
Gus, I have no doubt that Berhalter wants Pepi out of this. As a number of commentators have said in recent days, Pepi might have saved Berhalter’s job with the Honduras goals. But do we think there’s a chance this month to give Pepi one last shot, then if he doesn’t score, drop him for Pefok?
Elvine: It’s absolutely within the realm of possibility, but my argument would be more, does Pepi even deserve this call/shot given his club form. Pefok hasn’t had many chances, at least as a starter, with the national team and his club form has earned him a place there. If Pepi scores a goal or two in this window against Japan or Saudi Arabia, does that mean Pefok should stay at home, especially if he hasn’t even had the chance to come in and compete? It promises to be an anxious few months for both forwards.
Tannenwald: That’s definitely one of the questions. Again, it’s a slippery slope. There have been enough times in the past two years where Christian Pulisic’s form at Chelsea has been a big deal, and he’s come into the national team and turned it on. If Pepi hadn’t had the assist and the goal in his first games at Gronigen in the Netherlands, just before joining the national team, the refrain would be even louder.
If Pepi plays in those next two US games and misses them, I’m sure Berhalter will have his ears full.
Andrea Canales: If this is scintillating scoring form, I’m all for Berhalter bringing in Alejandro Zendejas from Club America. Yes, I know he’s more of a goalscoring winger, but heck, Jesús Ferreira was a midfielder not so long ago, and now he’s Berhalter’s favourite, right?
There are always some questionable roster choices that tie into workout preferences and while I already raise a skeptical eyebrow at Pefok being unlucky, I wouldn’t level his absence to the level of outrage to say , Jurgen Klinsmann leaving Landon Donovan off the United States Roster in 2014.
READ MORE: Who should make the USA men’s national team for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar? Our writers predict who’s in and who’s out.
To me it sounds more like Brian Ching not getting a minute of play in 2006 under Bruce Arena – why field a striker then not trust that player enough to see the pitch at all?
Honestly, what strikes me the most about Pefok’s situation is both his club and his league championing the cause of his national team. It’s unusual and yet so direct, it seems like a shot through the arc of American football from outside entities, as if the entire federation is being warned to do the right thing by their guy. It seems the days when coaches, especially from the United States, could keep their favorites hanging on with little merit and no hindsight are over.
Tannenwald: I think we can all agree that’s not a bad thing. And watch you stir the pot on Zendejas, Andrea. This conflagration would be even larger than that of Pefok in some neighborhoods, especially those near the Rio Grande.
Elvine: Where do we see Josh Sargent fitting in right now? He has obviously found scoring form in the English Premier League with Norwich (six goals in 10 games) and a few years ago he was seen as the big hope for the American striker squad.
Tannenwald: It would be something if the attacker’s response was what it was meant to be all along. If he scores a goal or two this month and continues to play well at Norwich, I can definitely see him starting against Wales.
By the way, local football fans may recall that Sargent scored his first senior American goal at Subaru Park. It was May 2018, a few months after moving to Europe to start his professional career with Werder Bremen in Germany.
Elvine: Perhaps Sargent’s case sheds some light on the idea that the Pepi/Pefok set will play out before November. Sargent seemed to have strayed completely out of the mix over the past 18 months, but his form this season with the Canaries has helped him regain a strong position in Berhalter’s eyes.
The United States have the luxury of having a few strikers who score consistently for their clubs at the moment, which we couldn’t have said on points last year. Now we will see if those who score are those who will be selected for Qatar!