For all the excitement around the latest young batch of USMNT prospects — a quick look at their potential can’t help but make fans dream a little — there are still question marks over who will be the main man up front to score the goals that lead them into the 2022 World Cup.
While you have the outstanding Christian Pulisic already settled on one wing and Giovanni Reyna likely playing in the attacking midfielder role, there is a notable vacancy at striker. The honor has been shifted around over the past few years, but inevitably comes back to Jozy Altidore. He will be 32 when the next World Cup arrives, never mind the lingering questions over whether he is still good enough.
That said, there are a number of potential options spread around Europe.
When one MLS sporting director was asked by ESPN who they’d start up front, the response was short and to the point: “Josh Sargent.”
Sargent hasn’t scored in 438 league minutes this season for Werder Bremen, his only goal of the campaign so far coming in the German Cup against third-tier Carl Zeiss Jena. Even though he’s spent time on the right wing at the tail end of last season and at the start of this one, he’s now being played up top.
Although his adaptability is one of his huge strengths, it’s at striker where his long-term future lies. That same MLS sporting director told ESPN that for all his time floating around the attacking positions, “Sargent is a center-forward, simple.” He was left off the 2019 Gold Cup squad, a snub that affected him — but he is a resilient man, used to coping with the unpredictability of top-level football, and he could prove to be the tip of the diamond in a forward lineup of Pulisic, Reyna and potentially Jordan Morris or Gyasi Zardes.
While Sargent is one obvious choice, elsewhere in Europe there are some bubbling nicely as others struggle to state their claim. Sebastian Soto made an offseason transfer from Hannover 96 to Norwich and is now on loan at SC Telstar in the Dutch second tier, where he has scored five goals in six games. There were rumors he was contemplating switching his allegiance from the United States to Chile, so if he’s picked for the November internationals, he will confirm his commitment.
Of the other players likely to feature in the next batch of USMNT friendlies, Tim Weah and Konrad de la Fuente are still looking to establish themselves at Lille and Barcelona, respectively. De la Fuente has experienced some first-team action for Barcelona, but will get most of his game time with Barca B this year on the wing. Weah is playing off the bench at center-forward for Lille, but has not been playing a whole lot after missing most of last season through injury.
The much-admired Nicholas Gioacchini, 20, was on the USMNT radar earlier this year, sources told ESPN, and has two goals in seven matches for SC Caen in Ligue 2. He is switching between the right wing and center-forward positions, but he’s coming along nicely; even though he is also eligible for Italy, France and Jamaica, he said recently he’d go to the U.S. “with his eyes closed” if they came calling.
Tyler Boyd and Bobby Wood have also been options in the past, but neither has enjoyed the easiest of starts to the 2020-21 campaign. Boyd is out of the Besiktas squad due to a cap on foreigners, which means he will be blocked from getting game time until he can secure a move in the January transfer window. Wood, 27, has made just three substitute appearances for 2. Bundesliga side Hamburg.
Another wild card could be Andrija Novakovich, who is at Alessandro Nesta’s Frosinone in Serie B and could be one to reemerge from the shadows. He won the last of his three USMNT caps in 2018 and has two goals in six games for his club side this term. Other options, who are yet to declare their international allegiance, are Arsenal‘s New York-born Folarin Balogun, 18, and ex-France youth international Jordan Siebatcheu, who is on loan at Young Boys from Rennes.
The common theme here is that potential USMNT center-forwards are largely playing out on the wing for their club sides. If U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter is looking at goals per game and more traditional strikers then, as one source suggested to ESPN, the answers to the conundrum are in Scandinavia.
Icelandic American Aron Johannsson won the last of his 19 USMNT caps in 2015, but look at his scoring record this season: he has 13 goals in 22 matches for Hammarby. Switching between a false nine and No. 10 role, he has been ruthless, showing some of his best form after a few injury-plagued years. He’s one who could feature in the November friendlies, and one source told ESPN: “Don’t discount him; he’s going to be in contention.” He may not be at Hammarby for long, either, with interest being shown in him from former club AZ Alkmaar, MLS and Russia, sources told ESPN.
And then there’s Haji Wright and Emmanuel Sabbi. Wright, 22, has five goals in seven contests for Danish Superligaen side SonderjyskE after barren seasons at Schalke and VVV-Venlo. He started the season on the bench, but his brace against Aalborg in round three saw him force his way into the first XI and he marked that occasion with a goal against Brondby in mid-October. Sabbi has also found success in Denmark, having scored two goals in six for Odense while primarily playing out wide.
If you’re looking to sketch out a U.S. team for the 2022 World Cup, then you can expect a 4-2-3-1 with Altidore the sole striker, a source close to the team told ESPN. The general feeling is that Berhalter is hoping Sargent emerges before then, but that remains a big if. They also are hoping for big things from Jeremy Ebobisse of the Portland Timbers, but until someone really grasps that opportunity, it’ll be Altidore or Zardes up front with a supporting cast of Pulisic, Reyna and likely Morris.
It may end up being “goals by committee,” one source said, but there’s an opportunity to become the USMNT’s go-to striker entering the 2022 World Cup. — Tom Hamilton
USMNT Stock Watch: Who’s up? Who’s down?
How are the players Berhalter will be relying upon for World Cup qualifying performing with their clubs? ESPN’s correspondents from around the world bring you inside information to help explain the successes and stumbles of American players plying their trade overseas.
Ale Moreno praises the performance of Sergino Dest in his first-ever El Clasico despite Barcelona’s 3-1 defeat.
Sergino Dest, Barcelona — On the rise : The right-back has made a dazzling start to life in Spain, looking assured first in the Champions League against Ferencvaros and then in the Clasico at the weekend against Real Madrid, when he was Barcelona’s best player. Dest, who has been starting in place of the injured Jordi Alba but long term is expected to play on the right, has drawn rave reviews from the staff at Barca, with sources telling ESPN’s Sam Marsden that they cannot believe how quickly he’s settled in despite being just 19 and coming to one of the biggest clubs in the world. Sources added that Dest has thrown himself fully into life at Barcelona, promising to learn both Spanish and Catalan, and immediately looking at home in Barcelona’s quick passing game.
Bobby Wood, Hamburg — Trending down : At one stage the USMNT’s most consistent goal scorer, Wood has seemingly disappeared in the past two seasons. Still not 28, Wood hasn’t played for the U.S. since 2018, and at present is finding game time tough to come by in the 2. Bundesliga with Hamburg. He’s only made three substitute appearances this term, a dramatic fall for a player who once scored 17 goals in a season at this level and later was a Bundesliga regular. While the goals have dried up, it may not be all doom and gloom for Wood, as new Hamburg manager Daniel Thioune told ESPN’s Stephan Uersfeld that he rates what he sees with Wood. For now though, Wood is trending down, as he has failed to crack Hamburg’s starting XI this season and has not scored a club goal since Nov. 2018.
Sebastian Soto, Telstar (on loan from Norwich) — On the rise : The 20-year-old continued his red-hot start at loan club Telstar, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win at Helmond Sport last weekend. With five goals in six games so far in the Dutch second tier, Soto continues to showcase elite goal-scoring instincts and a knack for being in the right place at the right time. The biggest question remaining is who he will represent at the international level. Eligible for both the United States and Chile, the Real Salt Lake academy product is awaiting his first senior call-up and could have a big decision to make come November. “I have heard both countries want me, but until I get something that is actually official, then I don’t have a decision to make. I am just waiting,” Soto recently told Dutch broadcaster NH Sport.
Jonathan Amon Nordsjælland — Trending down : More bad luck for the 21-year-old South Carolina native. After playing — and scoring a winner off the bench — in his first club game for 13 months two weeks ago, Amon reinjured his knee and now will undergo another surgery. The winger, who looked lively in two caps for the U.S. at the end of 2018 and start of 2019, has a fracture in his knee and now faces another lengthy spell on the sideline. This week’s setback is the latest in a series of bad injury breaks for Amon, with Nordsjaelland sporting director Jan Laursen calling the news “almost unbearable.”
A few minutes with … Matt Miazga
Now 25, Miazga recently joined Belgian giants Anderlecht on a season-long loan, where he will continue his development under Vincent Kompany, one of the top center-backs of the past decade.
Tom Hamilton caught up with Miazga to talk about his new club, his future at Chelsea, working with Kompany, his place within the United States men’s national team and much more.
Chelsea loanee and USMNT defender Matt Miazga chats with ESPN about playing for Vincent Kompany at Anderlecht.
USMNT defender Matt Miazga tells ESPN he is excited by the rise of young American talents in Europe.
Scouting report: Konrad de la Fuente (Barcelona B)
“Konrad,” as he’s simply known in Spain, has represented the United States at most youth team levels and rose to prominence as a 17-year-old at the Under-20 World Cup last summer. The wide man with a seemingly endless repertoire of trickery was drafted into the Barcelona first-team squad in September and subsequently made his debut in a preseason friendly.
Quick off the mark, brilliant one-v-one offensively and with strong balance, the 2001-born attacker prefers to operate on the left-wing, often side-stepping opponents to cut inside on his favored right foot. His boyhood hero was Barcelona legend Ronaldinho, but on the pitch, he draws a closer comparison to another Brazilian: ex-Barcelona star Neymar. Like the two South Americans, Konrad enjoys setting off on dazzling runs and, once he hits top speed, he has a similar ability to make a full-back look foolish.
Having already attracted praise from manager Ronald Koeman, the young American is looking to add more consistency to his game. Improving his team play and working even more on his weaker left foot will be key as he knocks on the door of a senior debut at Camp Nou.