Gregg Berhalter has claimed that Gyasi Zardes is overlooked by supporters. However, many of the complaints regarding the USMNT striker’s usage is not about his present quality but his future outlook, especially when compared to Josh Sargent.
The U.S. Men’s National Team pool is not the most impressive in the world. Where France can leave players like Anthony Martial and Alexandre Lacazette out of their squad altogether and England struggle to fit Trent Alexander-Arnold and Marcus Rashford in their starting XI, the U.S. could only dream of such players.
Comparing the players at the disposal of the USMNT to European giants is obviously somewhat futile. The history of the sport in the two places is completely different and, as a result, the players they produce are at opposing levels.
Nevertheless, it is accurate to look at the USMNT talent pool and question where the real quality is. And there is no position where that is more pertinent than centre-forward, which has been a problem area for the U.S. for some time.
In his first year as head coach, Gregg Berhalter has largely leaned on his former player, Gyasi Zardes of the Columbus Crew, to spearhead the attack. Zardes, as a limited centre-forward, is not the most popular guy among the USMNT fanbase, to say the least. But as Berhalter explained earlier this week, he believes in the Crew striker:
"“When you look at Gyasi over the last couple of years, he’s probably the leading American goalscorer in Major League Soccer. He gives you 100% work-rate in every game he’s in and there’s something to be said of that, that reliability. He’s a very unselfish player and he can score goals, those things make him valuable <…> People can be overlooking his strengths, focusing too much on the negatives. We’ve never done that with Gyasi. When we brought him to Columbus, all we did was focus on his strengths and try to put him in positions where he can take advantage of that. And he’s done that. With the national team it’s very similar.”"
Berhalter is speaking out against the general criticism and doubt that Zardes must overcome whenever he is selected to start for the USMNT. This reaction from the supporters has only intensified as Josh Sargent has emerged as a genuine starting option with his increased role for Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga.
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At just 19, Sargent is largely seen as the future of the centre-forward position for the U.S. Whether he will ever truly fulfil his potential remains to be seen, and likely depends on the opportunities he is handed at Werder Bremen, but he certainly boasts more natural ability that Zardes ever did — and also offers a greater ceiling than Zardes does now.
Where Berhalter praises Zardes for his ‘100% in work-rate in every game’, his unselfishness, and the goals that he has scored as the tip of the Crew attack, he focuses on solely present elements. In Berhalter’s eyes, Zardes does more for the team in the here and now. And that is probably true. Sargent is young and unbridled. He needs some serious fine-tuning.
But the complaints regarding Zardes’ usage pertain to the future, not the present. It is not necessarily that Zardes is not the best option in the here and now, though for some he isn’t; rather, at 28, Zardes has tapped out his potential. He will not get better. He will not be at the peak of his powers for the next decade. He is already limited in his impact and it will not change.
This is the greatest gripe fans have with Berhalter’s faith in Zardes. It is not the present, it is the future, and that is where Sargent might just shine.