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Pepi surging late: USMNT striker Power Rankings for World Cup

11:00 AM EDT 10/24/22
Ferreira Pefok Pepi split USMNT
The race to be the USMNT's No. 9 will come down to the wire.

We are less than a month away from the start of the World Cup, and there's still little clarity when it comes to which strikers will be there to represent the U.S. men's national team.

It's been a race and a discussion that has gone on for months but, for a variety of reasons, we're still not fully sure what twists and turns this prolonged battle has left.

A combination of form and fitness will almost certainly determine who Gregg Berhalter brings to the World Cup after the September international break provided little clarity. In fact, the big winner of the final pre-World Cup friendlies was likely a guy that wasn't even on the roster.

However, in the weeks since, several strikers have stepped up with big goals, while the frontrunner has faltered a bit with a mini cold spell.

But who leads the way right now? Who will start for the USMNT in Qatar? GOAL breaks down the situation as it stands...

  • Jesus Ferreira 2022

    #1 Jesus Ferreira - FC Dallas

    Even after a relatively quiet September window, Ferreira remains the front-runner. However, a recent dry spell could hurt him in a big way.

    The FC Dallas striker didn't find the back of the net against Japan or Saudi Arabia, but it's fairly clear where he stands in Berhalter's mind. You can't always read into friendly lineups, but you can read into the fact that Ferreira was given the bulk of the minutes and was given the start with what was the closest thing to a first-team group.

    Despite his lack of goals on the international level, Ferreira is the player that Berhalter sees as the best fit for his system. He provides pressing energy, on-ball creativity, solid positioning and the occasional goal, which is exactly what Berhalter is looking for.

    However, Ferreira will head to the World Cup a bit out of form, having not scored in any of his last six games for FC Dallas. And, furthermore, he also may be lacking fitness, with FC Dallas' playoff elimination at the hands of Austin FC ensuring he'll go nearly a month without a competitive game.

  • Ricardo Pepi USMNT 2021

    #2 Ricardo Pepi - Groningen

    The floodgates have opened. Ricardo Pepi is officially back.

    Pepi has now scored six goals in as many games in all competitions for Groningen, including five in his last five since the September international break. Playing in a more free-flowing Eredivisie, Pepi has been unstoppable, helping lowly Groningen pick up two massive wins in the last two games.

    For quite a while there, it looked like Pepi had squandered his chance after going a year without scoring for club or country, but that's all changed over the last few weeks.

    He's the USMNT's most in-form forward and, perhaps, still the best fit to start. What a turnaround it's been for Pepi, who has played his way right back into the squad over the last month or so.

  • Josh Sargent Norwich 2022-23

    #3 Josh Sargent - Norwich

    After years of toiling away on bad teams, Sargent is finally finding his way.

    The striker has eight goals in 16 games for Norwich this season, a very good return considering the fact he scored just nine league goals in his previous three seasons.

    It's easy to forget that Sargent is just 22 years old and playing a position that has a steep, steep learning curve. He's been on the scene so long that you forget that he's still very much a young player adjusting and learning on the fly.

    It seems, though, that it's starting to come together at the right time for the young forward.

  • Pefok Union Berlin 2022

    #4 Jordan Pefok - Union Berlin

    No player gained more from the September camp, which is funny because Pefok wasn't even called in. And, while he may not have the goalscoring numbers of some of his competitors, you can't fault what Pefok is doing with Union Berlin.

    Stunningly, Union Berlin are atop the Bundesliga, despite a recent loss to Bochum, with Pefok helping to lead the way. He has three goals and three assists so far this season despite minor injury issues as the USMNT striker has helped the club emerge as the surprise of the season so far.

    His transition to the Bundesliga has been seamless. Pefok has never looked overwhelmed or out of his depth since moving from Young Boys, proving that he can play at a high level.

    Questions remain over his fit with the USMNT, but Pefok is still a player in good form that gets goals. That could be a valuable option, especially off the bench in the World Cup setting should Berhalter choose to bring him in.

  • Vazquez MLS All-Star 2022

    #5 Brandon Vazquez - FC Cincinnati

    Unfortunately for him, Vazquez's short time as a serious candidate for Qatar is likely over.

    The FC Cincinnati striker needed a September call-up that never came as he was left behind despite his outstanding MLS form. And so Vazquez heads towards the World Cup with exactly zero caps to his name.

    Vazquez has essentially admitted he has no chance of being called in, saying that he's been told he should look forward to the 2026 cycle.

    “I talked to Gregg right before that camp,” Vazquez told, “and he was basically saying that it was a little too late to integrate me and that he feels I made it really hard for him and that I just need to keep proving myself and that I'll get that opportunity in the next cycle. Pretty much was that.”

    It's unfortunate for Vazquez, who was genuinely magnificent in MLS, but it appears to be too little, too late for the FC Cincy star.

  • Wright USMNT 2022

    #6 Haji Wright - Antalyaspor

    It's probably safe to write off Wright.

    Not called in during the September window, it appears there's just too much ground for the Antalyaspor striker to make up in this race. He's been scoring goals, yes, but it appears Berhalter simply doesn't rate him as highly as some of the others.

    He has seven goals so far this season, but only two of them have come since August as even his goalscoring pace has fallen a bit behind some of the others. Maybe a crazy scoring run would force Berhalter's hand but, as things stand, it seems unlikely that the 24-year-old forward will have a place.

  • Daryl Dike USMNT 2021

    #7 Daryl Dike - West Brom

    The worst case of the injury bug imaginable.

    For much of the past year, Dike has simply been unable to stay healthy. His move to West Brom, one which was supposed to vault him toward the World Cup, has been completely wrecked by injuries.

    The latest ailment? A thigh injury. As a result, he's played just three games form West Brom since joining the club in January.

    When healthy, Dike is a fantastic striker that has incredible gifts. But he hasn't been blessed with the gift of fitness, unfortunately for him this cycle.