One of the main goals for U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Gregg Berhalter in 2019 is to develop a clear-cut depth chart at forward.
Plenty of strikers have thrown their names into the ring to be on the full first-team roster, and Christian Ramirez and Jeremy Ebobisse are the latest to receive that opportunity during the program’s annual January camp.
The goal for Ramirez and Ebobisse is to impress Berhalter enough to break into a depth chart that includes Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood, Josh Sargent and Gyasi Zardes, who is the top forward participating in January camp.
Both Major League Soccer-based forwards showed signs during their respective club seasons that they’re able to make an impact on the USMNT.
Ramirez, who was traded to LAFC from Minnesota United in August, has the most goals of any American forward in MLS over the last two years, as he’s found the back of the net on 23 occasions.
Unfortunately for the 27-year-old, his form dipped after joining LAFC because of the depth Bob Bradley’s side has at the position.
January camp presents Ramirez with an opportunity to gain confidence, earn minutes under Berhalter and possibly find the back of the net, all of which can help him create a spark at LAFC at the start of the 2019 MLS season.
While Ramirez is a bit of a late bloomer who has risen to prominence through USL and MLS, similar to center back Aaron Long, Ebobisse is one of the young prospects hoping to gain a foothold on the depth chart in his first January camp.
The 21-year-old was a key piece of the Portland Timbers’ run to MLS Cup and he’s one of the best young forward prospects in MLS.
Just like Ramirez, Ebobisse has an opportunity to use January camp as a confidence-booster ahead of the MLS season, but he also has a chance to reach some important goals for a player of his age. If he performs well in front of Berhalter and his staff, Ebobisse should be a candidate to lead the line for the Olympic team, which is a U-23 squad.
In addition to being a key part of Olympic qualification, Ebobisse can turn himself into a player to watch for the entire 2022 World Cup cycle, and one that could turn into a key piece beyond Qatar.
But even if Ramirez and Ebobisse earn playing time over Zardes, who himself is trying to make an imprint on the forward depth chart with his former club manager now in charge of the USMNT, there’s still an uphill climb facing them to break on to the full first-team roster.
At some point, Jozy Altidore will come back to the USMNT with the intention of being the top forward for the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup and beyond.
Wood is going to be given a continued chance to impress, while Josh Sargent and Timothy Weah are rapidly rising through the USMNT ranks.
Then there’s Jordan Morris, who could be a key fixture up top if he regains full fitness in preseason with the Seattle Sounders, which could move him back up the depth chart.
But with those forwards come a bunch of questions. Wood’s ability to remain in form, Morris’ recovery time, Zardes’ production with a new coach in Columbus, and Sargent and Weah earning valuable playing time at the club level are all worth worrying about.
Since there are lingering concerns regarding so many forwards, Ramirez and Ebobisse must take advantage of their time in California in order to leave a good impression, develop confidence and form, and prove to Berhalter they can be relied upon on the international stage to score goals.