The discussion surrounding the center forward depth chart for the US men's national team was an evolving storyline for 2019 and the chatter is going nowhere in 2020.
With Jozy Altidore often unavailable through injury last year, Gyasi Zardes generally led the lines for the USMNT. Behind the pair of MLS veterans sits Werder Bremen's Josh Sargent, who many hope is the heir apparent to the No. 9 shirt for the national team.
The Bundesliga-based youngster has earned 13 league appearances (eight starts) this season, but his club are struggling of late and have slipped into the relegation zone. Bremen have lost five of their last six while being outscored 17-1 in the process. Sargent hasn't been impervious to the negative turn in fortunes, but USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter is helping him work through it.
“I spoke with him yesterday, we reviewed his game on the weekend," Berhalter told reporters on a conference call Monday. "The team is going through a dip of form, they’re in the relegation zone right now. But this is what happens in pro sports, this is what happens at a high level. Things are difficult. It’s a daily job where you need to make the most of each day, it’s a grind.
"With Josh in particular, I see it as some of the team function in how they’re creating chances and looking to make the most of their players, it’s been difficult at times. They haven’t been creating a lot of chances, that’s difficult for a striker at times. For him, it’s hanging in there and continuing to do the things that got him to that level. Continuing to think about his movement off the ball, how he’s moving in the penalty box and when he gets the opportunities, it’s making the most of them.”
In the meantime, Berhalter is working through the program's annual January camp. With a squad largely focused on youth, Zardes is among a few veteran leaders, and he is first in the camp in international caps and goals.
Berhalter's working relationship with Zardes dates back to their time at Columbus Crew SC, when the club traded for Zardes in 2018 before the forward enjoyed a career year with 19 goals to earn MLS Comeback Player of the Year honors.
“When you look at Gyasi over the last couple of years, he’s probably the leading American goalscorer in Major League Soccer," Berhalter said. "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. We don’t have a lot of depth in that position, it is a position of need, and his experience, work-rate and way he fits into the team’s culture makes him easy to select each camp.”
The court of public opinion is split when it comes to Zardes. He has 12 goals in 55 appearances with the national team, with some questioning his ability at the highest level internationally. Berhalter believes the focus is all wrong, coloring that perception.
“People can be overlooking his strengths, focusing too much on the negatives," Berhalter said. "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.”
Zardes is the leading forward on the USMNT's traveling squad for their friendly against Costa Rica on Saturday (3:55 pm ET | ESPNews, UniMas, TUDN) but not the only one with the group.
“That’s something we’re working through now," Berhalter said. "He does have his citizenship but the details of his paperwork and final certification will be processed. We wanted to get a look at him in this camp, he’s done a great job so far and it’s been a pleasure working with him. ... . We’re not ruling him out of this game but we’re not ruling him in either.”