The USMNT finished the Nations League group stage with another demonstration of its strength out wide as Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson and Gio Reyna all had their moments, but Ricardo Pepi made a statement up top with three goals in two games to trigger a storm of "I knew we should've brought him to Qatar!" takes on Twitter. Virgil van Dijk got lucky.
So where does that leave our USMNT striker depth chart ahead of playing Mexico as far as the eye can see (April 19, June 15 and probably July TBD)? Here are our power rankings heading into the final two months of the European season.
USMNT Striker Depth Chart 2023
#1. Josh Sargent
The last time we saw Sargent with the USMNT, he was looking sharper than Stephen Hawking at a Flat Earth Society convention. But then he suffered that brutal-looking ankle injury against Iran in the 77th-minute and Sargent's World Cup, and effectively his nation's, was at an end.
Sargent wasn't included in the Nations League squad having just returned from another ankle setback, but he's got 11 goals and two assists in 33 Championship appearances for Norwich while the Canaries sit just three points outside of the promotion playoffs.
Josh Sargent goal vs Hull City
(Feb 14, 2023) pic.twitter.com/nW9mIVgrkH— smoothie comps (@smoothie_comps) February 15, 2023
If Sargent finishes the season strong, he should be starting the Nations League semifinal against Mexico on June 15.
#2. Folarin Balogun*
*Currently an England U-21 player.
Only Kylian Mbappé and Jonathan David have scored more goals than Balogun in Ligue 1, and the 20-year-old was the subject of intense speculation this window after a meeting with U.S. interim coach Anthony Hudson.
Balogun, born in Brooklyn but living in England since age two, is currently a key player for England's U-21 team. They're set to play at the European U-21 Championship this summer, but the U.S. is obviously hoping to convince him of a switch by fast racking him into the first team.
Balogun previously played for the U.S. U-18 team at a tournament in the Czech Republic, and last week he posted on Instagram: "In life, go where you're appreciated."
We're doing our part here by putting him No. 2 (in the squad for the Nations League finals). England don't want to lose him and talks are reportedly forthcoming, but the Three Lions can't make any promises with Harry Kane, Ivan Toney and Tammy Abraham all established at center forward.
#3. Ricardo Pepi
It's a blessing to start for the USMNT against Grenada. Pepi bagged a brace, but Jesús Ferreira got four against them the previous encounter and Freddy Adu scored the time before that. Watching Pepi shake down the Spice Boys wasn't indicative of much, but that goal against El Salvador gave life to an American populace that was quickly falling asleep.
63’—ScoresRicardo Pepi with the immediate impact
Watch on TNT pic.twitter.com/2LOKrgtZps
— B/R Football (@brfootball) March 28, 2023
Pepi has found new life in the Eredivisie (nine goals and three assists in 21 games), so I believe the recent reports saying he'll make a permanent transfer to PSV Eindhoven this summer.
If we're taking three strikers in the Nations League finals squad, these are my guys.
#4. Haji Wright
The lone U.S. goalscorer in the Round of 16 defeat (but what a goal!) missed most of January and February with a thigh muscle, but Wright has since returned and scored two and created another in Antalyaspor's Süper Lig win on March 11.
¡GOLEA EL ANTALYASPOR!Haji Wright anota su segundo del encuentro
Disfruta el Antalyaspor vs. Kayserispor en vivo por beIN SPORTS CONNECT.#Superlig #ANTvKYS pic.twitter.com/NkXG25ShaE
— beIN SPORTS Español (@ESbeINSPORTS) March 11, 2023
His numbers for the year are really good — 12 goals and two assists in 19 games — and he's another player who seems destined for a big-money transfer this summer.
#5. Daryl Dike
Dike got a total of 93 minutes against Grenada and El Salvador but failed to make an impact, playing himself out of the squad. The most important thing is that the 22-year-old stays healthy for the remainder of West Brom's Championship season.
The Baggies trail sixth-place Millwall and a spot in the promotion playoffs by five points. Dike has seven goals and one assist in 19 games and the best is yet to come from the 22-year-old.
#6. Jordan Pefok
Pefok hasn't been finding the back of the net with much regularity for Union Berlin this season (five goals in 32 games across all competitions), and perhaps his mom put it best regarding his recent USMNT snubs.
“(Berhalter) called me and told me that he was not going to call me up for the World Cup. The first two days, it was tough,” Pefok told ESPN. “Then I spoke to my mom. She knows nothing about football. She asked me: ‘Are you sick?’ No. ‘Are your brothers and sisters sick?’ No. ‘Am I sick?’ No. ‘Do you have money issues?’ No. ‘So what’s the issue then?’ It put everything in context and perspective then.
“I sat down, I was still cross, but she was right. She added: ‘I know nothing about football but I know that you went with the national team and you only scored one goal. Even if I was the national team head coach, I would not have called you up! A goal scorer has to score goals, that’s all.’ She was brutal."
Momma knows best; he's gotta start scoring goals.
#7. Brandon Vázquez
The 24-year-old scored the only goal of January camp, he scored Cincinnati's game-winner against Nashville last weekend and now he's being linked with a summer move to Gladbach.
Vázquez had an eye-catching season last year with 18 goals for FCC, and his stock could be rapidly rising.
#8. Jesús Ferreira
He's got three goals in five games to start the MLS season, but he hasn't scored or assisted in his last five caps and the U.S. hasn't won any of those games. The good news for Ferreira is he can change the narrative on April 19 when domestic-based squads for the USMNT and Mexico earn their federations some money in the Continental Clásico.