It’s been the longest-standing position battle for the United States men’s national team. It’s been basically a forever chase to find a stable striker. The No. 9 spot has been taken by dozens of Americans, with no real claim to the throne. Brian McBride? Jozy Altidore? Joe-Max Moore? All had temporary holds on the mantle. No one’s truly ever made it their own, especially to permanently hold out others. As it pertains to the USMNT in Qatar, it’s been disappointments and underwhelming performances.
American head coach Gregg Berhalter has called in three strikers to his World Cup squad. There was the obvious choice, Jesus Ferreira, who’s been placed in the starting striker role for most of the recent USMNT games. Also in Qatar is Josh Sargent, who had the first real shot at claiming the starting central-forward spot, but didn’t do enough to garner another major opportunity. Yet, after his efforts in The Championship with Norwich City, he’s back in good graces. Sargent has gained late fan support to start at striker in Monday’s game against Wales because he’s used to the physicality of the United Kingdom’s defenders. There’s also an outside shot of Haji Wright, the other striker on the 26-man squad.
Berhalter hasn’t tried an experimental formation where his proven best 11 make it onto the field, like a Tim Weah or Brenden Aaronson playing a false-nine. One of the three strikers brought to Qatar will start, with almost a 100 percent chance it’s Ferreira or Sargent. If Berhalter’s recent choices are any indication, it’ll be Ferreira, who bagged a ton of goals for FC Dallas this season. Outside of a four-spot against lowly Grenada, Ferreira has scored one goal for the Americans in 2022. Not exactly the form you want a starting striker to be in. It’s the same number of goals Haji Wright has scored for the USMNT if you take away Grenada.
There are some obvious points of contention when it comes to Ferreira’s selection. Age isn’t a dominant factor, but he’ll only be 22 when the calendar flips to 2023. Maybe, more importantly, he’s only 5-foot-9. Unless you have an elite skill set, the best defenders at the international level will usually eat any striker under 6-foot alive. Ferreira isn’t that good. Plus, with a lot of the chances he’s had, he hasn’t cashed in. Go back and watch the first 10 minutes of the USMNT’s game against Japan from November if you don’t believe me. Wide open header at the top of the six-yard box. And he sails it over the crossbar.
If we’re all in agreement, and you’re nuts if you see this another way, that the best of the USMNT is in the attack but not the striker, Ferreira will be tasked with holding up play near the other team’s net more than most strikers would. If we’re ranking the trio of USMNT strikers in Qatar at their ability to get others in attack open, he’s in last place. I’d put Sargent second and Wright first. As Berhalter so conveniently pointed out after announcing his roster, Wright plays for a worse team in Turkey than Belgium’s starting striker, Michy Batshuayi, but has scored more goals.
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Ferreira is one of the players Berhalter has shown supreme loyalty to in 2022, meaning whether USMNT fans like it or not, he’ll play a ton in Qatar. Even if he’s not the starting striker, he’d likely be one of the first substitutes in any game. Expectations for all three USMNT strikers at the World Cup are low. Essentially, if they don’t pick up a red card and fall on their faces, it’ll be OK with how strong of an attacking midfield the Yanks have. Ferreira will have every opportunity to stake his claim to the striker’s throne. A whiff in Qatar and that chance won’t come back.