Gregg Berhalter has a striker dilemma with three valid options to start for USMNT

United States men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter has a decision to make that few people will envy. Who will be the USMNT starting striker?

The answer to that question will be vital for this summer’s Copa América as the USMNT will be tested against South America’s elite teams.

Before the highly anticipated tournament begins, Berhalter will give USMNT fans some insight on which striker(s) he prefers with the Concacaf Nations League in March.

Critics widely agree the three top USMNT starting striker prospects are Folarin Balogun, Ricardo Pepi and Josh Sargent. (This writer also wants to throw Jordan Pefok’s name in the hat however that’s an unpopular opinion).

For this prediction we’ll only look at the main three contenders and weigh their pros/cons.

Who will be the USMNT starting striker in March?

Folarin Balogun

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Pros: Ever since Balogun joined the USMNT in 2023 he’s started every game he’s been available for. In the previous eight games with the USMNT’s “A-Team” Berhalter has gone with the Monaco striker.

In those eight games Balogun has managed to score three goals (against Canada, Oman and Ghana). While his goal tally with the USMNT isn’t off the charts it’s certainly nothing to be disappointed in. He's been consistent for the USMNT.

Cons: Balogun’s performances for Ligue 1 side AS Monaco haven’t been inspiring. Fans were hoping he’d become one of the French league’s biggest stars after his sensational 2023-24 season (21 goals in 37 league games) and a big transfer to Monaco in the summer.

His goal scoring habits haven’t been repeated with his new club with his last league goal being in November. Should Berhalter bring in a player who can’t find the goal for his club?

Ricardo Pepi

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Pros: Ricardo Pepi is one of the most elite threats off the bench. For his club side PSV and for the USMNT he consistently comes off the bench and influences the game. All seven of his PSV goals this season have come as a substitute.

For the USMNT it’s a similar story. Pepi has started just one of the previous eight USMNT "A-Team" games and has still managed to record FOUR goals. One more than Balogun. The 21-year-old knows how to find the back of the net.

Cons: He doesn’t play that much with PSV. Without context most people would laugh at the idea of giving the starting striker role to a player that has only started two games for his club in the past seven months.

Pepi sits in the shadow of goal scoring machine Luuk de Jong and isn’t likely take the starting striker job at PSV anytime soon. Berhalter would be taking a risk in choosing Pepi as the USMNT’s starting striker.

Pepi’s case is an interesting one in that starting him isn’t the best idea but leaving him off the roster is an even worse decision.

Josh Sargent

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Pros: Josh Sargent can’t stop scoring. He’s been unstoppable since returning from an ankle injury that required surgery and sidelined him from August until the end of December.

In Sargent’s last nine games he’s scored seven goals for Norwich in the EFL Championship. He’s undeniably the most in-form American striker.

Cons: Can Sargent replicate his scoring habits for Norwich with the USMNT? That’s a question that has historically been a no.

Sargent has made 23 appearances for the national team since 2018 with his last goal being in 2019 against Cuba. That’s nearly half a decade without a goal for the USMNT. 

He also hasn’t made an appearance for the USMNT since the World Cup group stage game vs. Iran due to a mix of injuries and poor form.

Sargent did put in two solid shifts at the World Cup against Wales and Iran despite not scoring, but is good club form and two national team games from over a year ago enough to go off?

USMNT starting striker prediction

In a perfect world Berhalter calls up all three strikers for the Concacaf Nations League in March and they battle for the starting job. Realistically Berhalter will likely call up two strikers.

What we think Berhalter will do: Start Balogun, bench Pepi and leave out Sargent.

What we hope Berhalter will do: Start Sargent, bench Pepi and leave out Balogun.

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