Ricardo Pepi’s unforgettable performance in the U.S. men’s national team’s World Cup qualifying win against Honduras was destined to earn him a return call-up for October, but what we didn’t know at the time was that he would be the only one of the USMNT’s three strikers who would be back with the team for its next camp.
Josh Sargent and Jordan Pefok were left off the USMNT roster for the October World Cup qualifiers, with Gyasi Zardes returning to the team after missing September’s qualifiers due to an injury, and with Matthew Hoppe stepping in as a striker option after playing exclusively in a wing role in the Concacaf Gold Cup.
The omissions were somewhat surprising considering Pefok has been finding the net with Swiss champions Young Boys, and given the fact Josh Sargent had earned regular minutes with English Premier League side Norwich City, but Berhalter pointed to his desire to have more speed in his striker pool as a reason for the changes.
“Jordan Pefok, that was certainly a difficult decision, and it was based on how we see the games playing out,” Berhalter said on Wednesday. “It was based on the depth that we see in the striker position. And our need in these games for for some verticality, and some some speed to get behind the backline.”
Pepi, Zardes and Hoppe give the Americans a quicker set of strikers than the September squad, which could offer a better matchup against the USMNT’s October opponents —Jamaica, Panama and Costa Rica — teams with strong and physical defenses that can have trouble with quicker strikers.
Berhalter elaborated on the Pefok omission in an interview with CBS Sports when asked about the Young Boys striker by Thierry Henry.
“The way we see him scoring his goals is a lot of times on crosses, short crosses, set pieces, when the team is compact deep in their penalty box,” Berhalter told CBS Sports. “We want more verticality this camp, we want players that can stretch the opponent’s backline, run behind the opponent’s backline, whether that’s our wingers or our forwards, and that’s what we chose for.
“We think Gyasi has good qualities in the penalty box, we think Ricardo Pepi has good qualities finishing crosses in the penalty box. The two that we have in camp, along with Matthew Hoppe, certainly give us that.”
Berhalter made a point to group Hoppe in with Pepi and Zardes as striker options for October, which shouldn’t be a total surprise considering Hoppe has predominantly been a striker throughout his club career, and only wound up as a winger for the USMNT at the Gold Cup due to the team’s lack of wing options.
Hoppe’s impressive showing as a winger should give him a chance for playing time, especially with Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna missing the October qualifiers.
Regarding Matthew, I thought he had a strong start to to La Liga in terms of getting quickly integrated and getting on the field,” Berhalter said. “They speak really highly of him at Mallorca. Really impressed with his numbers and training what he’s been doing so I think he can help us again in either position.
“At the winger position he gives us I think this goal threat,” Berhalter said. “His versatility of coming inside and staying wide and going behind, so overall we liked working with him in the Gold Cup and are excited to see him again.”