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Pressing World Cup Query for U.S.: Who’ll Rating the Goals?


COLOGNE, Germany — Evaluating any soccer player, with all of the multifaceted layers of performance, all of the twists and turns of motion on the sector, poses an advanced challenge. Yet the sport’s strikers are so continuously reduced to a form of rudimentary binary:

Are they scoring goals or not?

As the US men’s soccer team gathered this week to coach and play their final two exhibition matches before the World Cup begins in November, the state of the team’s strikers — the inner competition, the continued uncertainty over whom the team could call upon in two months — highlighted the broader anxiety and excitement of the present moment in world soccer.

There are, everyone realizes, precious few moments left to impress coaches. After a game Friday against Japan in Düsseldorf, Germany, the US will face Saudi Arabia on Tuesday night in Spain. After that, the subsequent time the team will probably be together in the identical city will probably be in Qatar, only days before its World Cup opener on Nov. 21 against Wales.

For the American strikers, meaning this final camp represents one last likelihood to say a starting job that has effectively been up for grabs for greater than a yr. Josh Sargent got the primary likelihood. Then got here Jordan Pefok. Ricardo Pepi got an extended take care of an early scoring burst in qualifying, but because the tournament wound on others cycled in, too. Jesus Ferreira. Gyasi Zardes. Pepi again.

The priority is that nobody forward has risen above the remainder to say the No. 9 role wholly as his own. Lower than a yr ago, the issue was that no American striker appeared to be playing particularly well for his club. The issue now could also be a more welcome one: Essentially all of the contenders for the job seem in recent weeks to have found something near their top form.

Sargent, for instance, already has six goals for his English club, Norwich City. Pepi recently scored his first after a loan to a club within the Dutch Eredivisie. Pefok’s Union Berlin is, surprisingly, leading the Bundesliga. But scoring for the US, as all of them know, has proved considerably tougher to duplicate, not less than up front: Of the 18 goals scored by the Americans of their 14 qualifying games, only 4 got here from a forward playing a standard striker’s role.

Coach Gregg Berhalter has identified not less than a half dozen strikers ahead of his final roster selection — a bunch that features Ferreira, Pefok, Pepi, Sargent, Brandon Vazquez and Haji Wright — and is anticipated to whittle the list right down to three. Given the heated nature of the positional battles — and the stakes of securing, or missing out on, a World Cup place — Berhalter said on Thursday that he had noticed some comprehensible nerves and anxiety throughout the team as an entire within the early days of coaching.

“There’s a slight hint of it — it’s not something palpable that you would be able to feel — but you see a pair guys are tight in some exercises,” Berhalter said. The coaching staff has tried, perhaps in vain, to place everyone comfy, he said. “The message is, ‘Go do your thing, and let the chips fall where they might.’”

The goals that did come from strikers in qualifying weren’t shared widely. Pepi tallied three in over two games in September and October but then faded out of the image after struggling following a January transfer. Ferreira scored within the second-to-last game of the qualifying tournament, a 5-1 rout of Panama.

Ferreira, 21, who had a four-goal performance in a match this June, has been perhaps the steadiest, if not probably the most spectacular, performer of late.

In an interview this week, he opened up in regards to the pressure of competition for spots and the way his past struggles on the sector had affected his mental health. The highlight of fooling around the penalty area seems to make strikers most prone to armchair psychoanalysis. However the singular nature of the job’s expectations can weigh on a player as well.

“I’ve at all times had an issue with my mood,” Ferreira said. “When some things don’t go my way on the sector or I mess up, I form of are inclined to shut down, and I knew that from the start.”

But Ferreira has thrived this yr, scoring 18 goals in 31 matches for F.C. Dallas in M.L.S. He attributed that recent run of excellent form partially to his work with a sports psychologist who has helped him concentrate on positive elements of his game and never let himself get overly focused on goals — or the absence of them.

The ebb and flow of form highlighted by Ferreira could possibly be plainly observed in Sargent, too. When the Americans began the ultimate round of their World Cup qualifying campaign last yr, Sargent appeared to be Berhalter’s preferred striker. He began two of the team’s first three games in September, but he didn’t make an impact and was not an element for the remainder of the qualifying tournament.

On the time, Sargent was playing out of position for a Norwich City team tumbling toward relegation from the Premier League. This season, within the second-tier Championship, Sargent has found his groove with six goals in 10 games.

“My confidence is at an all-time high in the mean time,” Sargent said. “I’m just attempting to keep that momentum going so long as possible and keep scoring goals.”

Berhalter had struggled to get a read on Sargent, 22, during his last club season. His team was struggling, and he was often playing in a wider and more defensive role because it was overwhelmed by higher rivals. In recent weeks, he has been returned to the No. 9 position that each he and the American staff preferred for him, and the goals have returned.

Berhalter said he was pleased to see him experience a private resurgence, declaring the refinement of late in Sargent’s movement off the ball and the contact and placement of his shots.

“As a training staff, we felt for him,” Berhalter said. “We were watching these games, and we felt bad. It’s not nice to have to observe that.” He added, “Now he’s gotten these probabilities, these opportunities, and he’s producing.”

When Sargent failed to supply early in qualifying, it was Pepi who took advantage, briefly claiming the position. But he soon began to struggle, too, while trying to seek out his footing after leaving M.L.S. for Germany. Last week, Pepi, 19, scored for Groningen of the Dutch league to finish a private 30-game scoreless drought.

“I’m pleased he’s back in his goal-scoring form,” Ferreira said of Pepi.

How will the roster be finalized? A player’s wider body of labor matters. But for strikers, greater than anyone, current form — measured most plainly, but not exclusively, in goals — seems to hold a big amount of weight.

“All I could say to them is that, you already know, perform one of the best you’ll be able to along with your clubs, keep attempting to rating goals, and we’ll evaluate it, and we’ll attempt to get it right to assist the team,” Berhalter said. “We may not get it right. You already know, that’s a part of it also. We may make mistakes.”

Any concentrate on club form could keep the door open for Pefok, Vasquez and Wright, who weren’t invited to this camp. Ultimately, though, whoever emerges on the ultimate roster in November, and whoever gets the decision for the World Cup opener against Wales, could have endured a crucible of internal competition.

“We’re a brotherhood, we’re a family, but we’re also here to compete,” said midfielder Weston McKennie, certainly one of the players whose place on the World Cup feels assured. “It’s a dog-eat-dog world. You’ll be able to be friends off the sector, but with regards to on the sector, you’re going for my position, I’m going to your position.”

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