The race to become the target striker in Gregg Berhalter’s preferred U.S. Men’s National Team lineup is wide open, and Nicholas Gioacchini made the most of his first chance to stake his claim to the role.
Gioacchini scored a pair of goals and turned in a complete performance in Monday’s 6-2 win over Panama, his first USMNT start in just his second national team appearance. He came within a missed penalty kick of a hat-trick, but the penalty miss wasn’t enough to put a damper on the Caen striker’s first stint with the USMNT.
“Frankly I had a week that I’ll never, ever, ever forget,” Gioacchini said. “We looked at the film of our last game and saw our strengths and weaknesses and we tried to impose that on our opponent and score goals. We did that today and now we head back to our clubs on a good note so I’m really happy for everyone.”
The 20-year-old striker earned the start at striker against Panama after debuting off the bench against Wales, and he played the role well, providing the runs and presence Berhalter wanted from his lead striker.
“He’s a fantastic kid and you know leading up to this I had a lot of conversations with him before the game,” Berhalter said. “You can tell he was a little bit apprehensive and my job was to tell him he is good enough. He showed it tonight, good penalty box movement, build up play, he could be more direct with dropping down and giving us some of the help, but he stretched the line a couple times.”
Gioacchini played alongside Gio Reyna and Ulysses Llanez in the U.S. attack and did not disappoint in the first half. After Reyna tied the match with a brilliant free kick, Gioacchini needed only four minutes to swing the match in the USMNT’s favor, pouncing on a rebound of a saved Ulysses Llanez shot to slot home his first national team goal.
Gioacchini’s second goal showcased his bravery and grit, as he crashed into the penalty area to head home a headed cross from Matt Miazga, outhustling Panama’s defense. The Caen striker also came close to registering his first career hat-trick, but saw his second-half penalty kick saved by Orlando Mosquera.
“It was really important for both of them [Gioacchini and Soto] and I am really happy for both of them,” Berhalter said. “What a dream start for Sebastian, he gets two goals in not a lot of minutes which is fantastic. He showed quality as well. It’s important when we talked last week about potentially the depth chart for the striker/forward position being limited, you have to take those chances and both did tonight.”
“I think Nico brought to the table what we needed at the striker position and maybe you saw in the first game we lacked that presence in the box, so I think he did well today and well done to him and happy for him,” Reyna said.
Gioacchini entered USMNT camp as the lone striker on the roster with a consistent track record as a regular starter. He has scored three goals in eight Ligue 2 appearances for Caen, regularly playing full 90-minute matches.
That club experience might explain why he looked so poised despite being just 20 years old, playing in his second national team match.
“I wasn’t nervous even for this game,” Gioacchini said. “I’m not only coming here to play well, I am coming here to score goals and to help my team win games. That part of my head was focused on those goals I put before myself and I was more ready than I was for the Wales match and even though I didn’t start, I made sure to be ready off the bench to make an impact. There is no point in being frustrated and I am thankful to have started tonight and couldn’t be any more grateful.
“I thank everyone for this opportunity and now heading back to Caen with a couple of goals is a confidence booster I say, it would be good to reproduce the same for my club and help them out too so its great,” Gioacchini said. “I don’t tend to look back much, but now it is all about looking towards the future and maybe scoring that hat trick or even four goals.”