While long-term solutions are appearing left and right for the US men’s national team at some of Europe’s top clubs, question marks still surround the striker position.
USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter addressed that very topic on the latest Extratime episode, calling Toronto FC’s Jozy Altidore their most talented option. The 30-year-old has dealt with persistent hamstring issues, though his 42 goals and 115 caps on what’s presumably a young squad could pay dividends.
“What I would say is just looking at the striker position in general, I think you have Jozy Altidore who is probably still the most talented that we have in that position, but he’s got fitness issues,” Berhalter said. “Let’s call it what it is. He’s not fit to play 90 minutes, he’s not fit to play at the level we need him to. But he’s still an amazingly talented player, so our goal there is to keep working with him, working with the club to get him up to where he needs to be and hopefully he can get there. But we’re not sure with that, we’re not sure.”
WATCH: Gregg Berhalter interview on Extratime
That brings Berhalter to Columbus Crew SC striker Gyasi Zardes, whose nine goals place him second in the Golden Boot race behind LAFC’s Diego Rossi (11). He used to be coached by Berhalter in Columbus, and has 12 goals in 56 USMNT appearances. Berhalter likes what he sees, especially when it comes to consistency.
“Gyasi is a guy whose fitness levels are off the charts and he’s scoring goals and you know exactly what he’s going to give you in every single game,” Berhalter said. “He doesn't have the talent, per se, as Jozy, but in a certain type of system he’s a really effective goalscorer and a hard worker. So I think he’s doing a great job with Columbus this year.”
Berhalter then rattled off a few other strikers, particularly Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen) and Sebastian Soto (SC Telstar, on loan) in European leagues. As for MLS-based strikers, Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas), Mason Toye (Montreal Impact, recently traded) and Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC) were all mentioned – though Berhalter noted they've all had ups and downs.
Berhalter also addressed American soccer development more broadly, as a potential World Cup qualifying roster could feasibly include Mancheser City, Chelsea, Juventus, Barcelona and Bayern Munich as club attachments for players. That situation was unfeasible in previous cycles, but now it’s a reality that Berhalter boils down to development, which he defined as a period of improvement over time.
“This has all come from the beginnings with the Development Academy,” Berhalter said. “You think about 10 years ago, the decision was made with U.S. Soccer and MLS together to say, ‘Ok we’re going to put this platform together that’s going to have the best kids playing against the best kids. We’re going to do this over time, we’re going to institute standards for academies and for what they need to look like, using best practices. We’re going to keep doing this year over year and we’re going to get to a point where we’re going to start developing players.’ I think we’re at that point.”
For more from Berhalter check out the interview above.