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Zardes and Hoppe in, Sargent and Pefok out as Berhalter shakes up USMNT striker pool

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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.”

Comments

  1. I agree with the sentiment that Gregg ALWAYS overthinks these things. The tag “Greggiola” sticks with me for just that reason. I also have seen other spot-on comments about him being someone who loves his “plans” A LOT…so much that he doesn’t “plan” for those plans not working out. His arrogance about not bringing in Pefok is just another example of this, because he isn’t accounting for what other teams will do WHEN they realize that we are trying to run them off the pitch.

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  2. We’ve waiting a long time to have a striker starting in Champions League group stages. Its something we’ve all been waiting for. Pefok has his flaws but he’s also starting and in form currently scoring goals in UCL.

    What other national team with a dearth of striker playing, starting, and scoring in UCL or a top five league leaves a UCL striker completely off its roster. Tactically ok call him in but start another striker, but to completely leave Pefok off the roster boggles my mind given his form and play in UCL.

    I think GB is over thinking all this and will continue to give him the benefit of the doubt and I was at just settling in to my seat on the bus, but dang I just can’t get over leaving UCL starters completely off the roster unless we’re suddenly Brazil or Spain.

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    • Yep, leaving off Pefok completely is a real head-scratcher. If you want to start Zardes, fine. But you got to bring in and have as an option a guy that just scored a CL winner against Man U last week! Having a system is fine, but sometimes you have to make room for the guy who is on a roll…

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      • it’s similar to the moore RB discussion in the sense that if you went by actual US team form and not snob politics, the real “victim” should be someone other than the conventional framing of the position battle. pefok is easily in the top 2 forwards, it should have been “sargent vs. [name].” personally it wouldn’t have been zardes but i think it’s the subtraction of pefok where people go from “ah his favorite” grouchy to “clueless” irate.

    • “Jordan Pefok was a difficult decision,” Berhalter said. “It was based on how we see the games playing off, the depth we see at the striker position. Our need in these games is for verticality and speed to get in behind.” aligns with what someone said below about tactical assumptions.

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      • scored on honduras and is one of the few who looks the part as an actual back to goal striker. he and pepi look yards ahead of sargent. i’ll flip this around for my amusement. who on earth do you think is #2 striker in their place? zardes? nico? hoppe? dike? you’d be confusing third choice with second choice. the two front runners broke away this summer and labor day.

  3. I read GBs comments on the striker selection – My response: 1. What happens if teams completely bunker on us, isn’t that reason enough to include Pefok as an option (especially since we’re calling up fewer players than we can, or as many as other teams are calling in) 2. Now that the newest 18 year old wonderboy Pepi isn’t a secret, how long before he’s concacafed to the turf like Pulisic? Isn’t that reason enough to include Pefok? Same reasons as above?
    I also read his comments about Scally, says he’s “getting close”- My response: if he’s getting close, why not include him in a camp to see what you’ve got & let him see what it’s like?
    I also read his comments about Green- My response: His comments were complete B.S., it’s clear Green is never gonna see the light of day with GB, and that’s just stupid.
    He coulda called more all 3 of them, no logistical or roster reason not to. Sorry but this guy has all the makings of someone who is too rigid, and more focused on systems than results – He just doesn’t know it..

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    • Here’s what I think the thought is on Scally. If you bring him in just to experience camp it’s going to require staff and other players a lot of time to walk him thru things and explain points in a window with very little time for training and meetings. Then that takes away from the prep for the guys who will play. I’m not saying I agree but I think that’s the thought. The November window is two games in the same time frame so maybe he gets in then when there is more time.

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      • first off, you assume his scouting is flawless. one of my issues with his selection process is the certitude and lack of humility about what are basically paper evaluations. to me he should have abundant proof to this point that he misreads players. so while i would say the operating part of this roster needs to be tested players, i wouldn’t trust his paper evaluation, and why not call #28 or #29 or #30 and kick their tires in person? i thought most of gold cup was an exercise in “wow you had Player X all wrong.” second, i agree that a controlled NT situation is the best place to resolve “close.” put him and the others in a common practice and actually test your assessment. third, while i think the roster and caps have generally favored experience in quali, we have historically called camp bodies. bradley was in the pre 2006 world cup camp. he got some sub minutes in the pre-tourney friendlies and was then cut for the 23 man. fourth, your idea of a full blown player orientation shouldn’t get in the way of trialing a camp body or two. to me half the point — and problem with GB — is maybe do the normal, slower progression, scout, kick the tires, toss him a 10′ sub, toss him a 30′ sub, etc. i don’t think he needs to be read into every aspect of the military operation to try out and be a 10′ garbage time sub if a game is a blowout. if that is how we do things no wonder it feels like players go from nowhere to starting to bench to rehabilitated, whipsawing around. normally you make the deeper investment a step or two into the process. it’s not, wow, first date, will you marry me. that’s a tad silly. fwiw that would also help prevent your “ochoa” or “araujo” scenarios where you hand someone the playbook who then defects.

  4. I agree with most picks for the roster, but like everyone else, I don’t get just the 27, and Arriola’s inclusion. Yes, he has a motor, but he’s not himself pre-injury. I would have left him off, and included Scally, Pefok, and KDF.

    Scally for his versatility and need for Panama since A Rob can’t travel there. KDF as another winger, and Pefok for a late goal assuming we can’t break down a defense (will happen at least once this window). Pefok’s holdup play is decent, like Zardes, but he doesn’t have the motor to really be a pest. However, he’s a beast on headers. While Zardes, Hoppe, and Pepi can be also, I could see a game or two where he could be utilized late with 1 or 2 of the others.

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  5. I don’t get it. We have a Center Forward who can score in his European league games AND UEFA Champions League games, but he’s not good enough for Jamaica, Panama & Costa Rica… Gregg is turning into Hat Trick Rick again…

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  6. SBI on point, as usual. I saw GBs interview w/ Abdo & gang. Postgame -ManU v Villarreal. Thierry Henry was adamant about asking GB about Siebatcheu. As much as US fans wanted to know about the CF being off the roster, i think Henry was personally invested, judging from the reaction Henry had afterward. He turned to Callagher and said in his French accent, “I wanted to know!” Former player & average coach loves him. US fans say he has no hold up-play, & no link up play?! Huh?! (Big sigh!) Evidence for me, a lot of US fans, don’t watch Siebatcheu play at all.

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    • Pefok’s game is pretty basic.

      Basically, he makes himself available in and around the box to facilitate scoring chances for himself or others. The key is the “others” he needs structure and service, two things that are in short supply with the USMNT.

      He’s a pretty good target man. He has not had a lot of chances to show that with the USMNT. I’d like to see him and Pulisic get a chance to work on developing a relationship like what Pulisic had with Giroud.

      Mostly like a lot of the other forward candidates, Pefok is wasted because there doesn’t seem to be a coherent offensive or defensive strategy for this team.

      Pepi and Hoppe deserve to their chances but they aren’t necessarily better than Pefok. They just are young with a lot of energy and seemingly able to function with less structure than Pefok seems to need.

      Over time, though, the lack of coherent strategy and tactics will eventually catch up with the kids.

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  7. I’m surprised Berhalter didn’t bring in more players. I thought you could bring unlimited amounts to camp, but only dress a certain amount. I would’ve brought in De La Fuente, Pefok, Scally, etc to either add competition in camp, or at least give some more national team camp experience. Knock on wood, but every player is only an injury away which can test depth. Better to be ready with the depth if needed.

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  8. I agree with Berhalter’s thoughts. Winning in CONCAFAF isn’t about style points, and certainly not in road games. It isn’t always about being rewarded for how well you are performing overseas, but what you bring to counter an opponent’s strengths. There will be opponents where Pefok matches us well, but linkage, distribution and creating scoring opportunities are not his strength. Zardes, like Arriola, will hustle as long as they are on the field, pressuring opponents.

    One would also expect Musah and de la Torre, possibly Busio, to be role players in this cycle. They are adept to be brought in as a 2nd half subs against a tiring defense. The strength of McKennie and Adams, as well as Acosta, is regaining possession for a counterattack. This cycle we have speedy and skilled wingbacks that can push up and stretch the defense. With any luck, the 2nd half subs will find gaps to exploit.

    I still think we have the luxury of a very solid selection of CBs for this round. Brooks may not be the surefire starter anymore.

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  9. We want speed and good technical ability but we’re taking arriola and roldan over Konrad…..his decisions are just mind numbing. I can understand roldan. Great locker room guy, big engine and semi versatile. But arriola is slow, a turn over machine and about as creative as a used a doorknob.

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  10. Confusing statements: “Jordan Pefok, that was certainly a difficult decision, and it was based on how we see the games playing out.” and “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.”
    So, Gregg Berhalter doesn’t see Jamaica or Costa Rica as teams that will be compact deep in their penalty box playing us away?

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    • Not really confusing when you read the entire statement. He goes on to say that Pepi and Zardes give the group what Pefok does, but also provide the added element of speed in behind.

      I personally would have found a way to bring Pefok, even if it was as a fourth striker, but it really boils down to Berhalter believing Zardes gives the team a better variety of qualities than Pefok. Nobody has to agree with that opinion, but he did explain the decision pretty clearly.

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      • Fair enough. I didn’t read the statement about the other players being good in the box and on crosses as necessarily dealing with teams defending deeply, but can see how it can be meant that way. My spidey-sense kind of went off with Berhalter making a statement about picking players based on how he sees games playing out because a question mark about him is his ability to adjust when games aren’t going the way he envisioned.

  11. Pefok is kind of a specialty piece. He’s really, really good at the one dimension he has – he’s more than kind of magnificent in the air – but I don’t like him much with the ball at his feet and his combo play is generally pretty bad. He can hold it up and lay it off and that’s about it.

    Well, so maybe he’s got two dimensions. But in terms of being able to drive and create his own shot he’s nowhere near the three guys who did make the roster, he’s nowhere near as technical as Pepi or Hoppe, and he doesn’t have the absolutely relentless work ethic and ability to run forever of a Gyasi Zardes. Hoppe also showed he’s quality at left wing, and Zardes can play right wing, so they can fill multiple roles, whereas Pefok is strictly a CF. (I would imagine Pepi could probably play as a winger too if you really wanted to, he’s technical enough. But why would you WANT to?)

    I like Pefok and I think he has a role on this team. But I have thought for awhile now Pepi, Hoppe, and probably Dike (if healthy) all have better long-term potential and you know Gregg is going to carry Gyasi Zardes (who admittedly has honestly generally acquitted himself well) as long as he’s our coach.

    Just glad Gregg finally decided to move on from Sargent until Sargent gets over whatever aversion he has to actually scoring. A forward without a nose for the goal really flatlines your attack no matter how good he is at other aspects of the game. “Close” as they say, only counts with horseshoes and hand grenades.

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  12. I’m no tactical guru, but isn’t there a strong possibility that one or more of these teams will bunker against us? If so, isn’t it unlikely that we’ll be able to get behind their defense in the way Berhalter describes and that it would be useful to have someone strong at converting crosses into goals?

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    • Exactly what I thought when reading that, MBD — particularly against Costa Rica — but really in all three games — I see all three of our opponents attempting to stay compact against us, conceding possession, and then trying to counterattack when we get (over-) extended. In this sense, I would think that Sargent and Pefok might have been really useful, to include on set pieces. One huge caveat and a note to self to remain humble as we critique the roster selections: We have no idea what else is going on with some of these players and their club situations — perhaps Sargent left-off mainly to try to cement his place in Norwich lineup? Perhaps Pefok left-off for family reasons? Just throwing these out there, but they are the types of considerations we often don’t know about and never will, and indicate the complexities and variables of which we may well be blissfully unaware.

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      • Sargent is pretty poor in the air. As for Pefok, Berhalter statement was basically Zardes and Pepi can do the same things plus other things that he can’t.

      • it’s a misleading argument. i can have the technical target guy pepi and the brute force target guy pefok and the runner zardes. none of them is the exact same player. even if you think pepi and pefok have similar games, “variety” for purposes of a bench means having one different option. it doesn’t mean no two can be alike. if people get hurt i might even want like for like around.

        more pointedly, no team with half a brain leaves off its 2nd best striker for a pool player. 3rd, maybe, but this is going too far.

        this is world cup quali and particularly with reyna and pulisic out you might leave some other positions intact and not pick now to experiment.

        last, the general selection kind of leaves me wondering how he plans to get goals. a lot of the roster reads like gold cup grinding but then without that defense and without pefok to bang in dead balls. to me it’s not just “why zardes” or whatnot but how he sees a set of players as creating anything. sorry but to me it’s almost more like they were picked to harass on defense more than score. zardes, arriola, etc., they will give chase. but that’s not a positive goal strategy. that’s a pressing concept.

    • This manager seems to approach every game with a particular plan in mind. And he seems to be confident that there is no need for a plan B should problems arise.

      It’s as if having a Plan B would be admitting that Plan A might not work and of course, in his mind he can’t admit to that.

      Maybe that’s why he won’t bring in 30 players.

      Same thing, he can’t admit that he doesn’t already have all bases covered with his original 27.

      That’s a fine way to go about it as long as Plan A always works.

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      • I think you are pretty on point with this. The 3-4-3 formation in ES made a lot of sense with McKennie in midfield and Reyna on the wing with Yedlin having rested against Canada. However, it made little sense with Sargent at RW, Sands in MF, and Adams at RB because Yedlin had to sub in for Dest. We still went with it though because they’d planned to do it.

    • I don’t see Jamaica bunkering…they need points, their english contingent couldn’t play all 3 games last cycle, they have confidence against us…Jamaica is going to play straight up….Panama will be at home, why would they bunker?…CR, probably the only one of the 3 that will…their talent level this go around seems light…so for them, they may need to bunker to have a chance…

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      • SD,

        Your thinking makes sense and I agree with it. But we are fans. We’re not supposed to be worrying about all the weird stuff that isn’t likely to happen.

        That’s the manager’s responsibility.

        He’s supposed to plan for things that are unexpected.

        He’s great when things work out like they’re supposed to. He has trouble when they don’t.

    • i would make the two critiques distinct. i agree he like arena before him rosters like he is executing one strategy. this is dangerous in a couva scenario where your stalemate roster no longer matches your 0-2 plight, and all you have on the bench is dempsey. as we saw, he got a slight push from that sub and then nothing more.

      but i think he is capable of improvisation, he’s just a slow learner. he caught on to gold cup in the knockouts. he caught on to last window in game 3. the risk is as these games elevate in seriousness, you could be eliminated before you adjust. but, yeah, game 1 and 2 he seems to show up ready to stubbornly play x set of tactics with y set of players, and to be befuddled it’s not more effective. the difference with last cycle is with this sheer bulk of talent in the pool if you get out of its way at that point it will start churning results. which in practice keeps bailing out a coach who i think actually shows up to these events pedestrian for game 1, every time. i’ve been saying i think we should roll this quali cycle and i think honduras hints, different personnel, different tactics, unstoppable regionally. and to be blunt we have not traveled to europe well so the real test is beyond concacaf. ie whether we can be any more competitive with italy, england, colombia, brazil, etc. next time. for 2022 that’s my real concern is i think we can plod through this region and make the top 3 someplace under this suboptimal arrangement, but what then? and does that then buy him 2026 no matter how qatar actually goes.

      my grousing is that i think this is even better than what it’s doing so this should be a more serious 2022 force than it likely will be.

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