Another flashpoint: The much-discussed No. 9 role, where Ricardo Pepi (Groningen) and Jordan Pefok (Union Berlin) are out and Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas), Josh Sargent (Norwich City) and Haji Wright – whose nine goals with Antalyaspor is tops among European-based USMNT-eligible attackers – are in.
“As coaches, we were evaluating Haji versus Jordan Pefok, and that's what it came down to,” said Berhalter. “And in this particular case, we felt like Haji is in great goalscoring form. They're both physical strikers, Jordan, maybe a little more so, but Haji has pace, he's got the ability to go one-v-one, he's got finishing with his head, both feet, and he's performing really well in the Turkish league.
“If we would have made the decision mid-September, Jordan Pefok would have probably been a lock to be in, based on his form in Union Berlin. But since then, it's a different story,” he added later. “Now Haji’s come on more. So that was the tricky thing about it. And again, you know, we hope these decisions are right. They may not be. But we're making the best possible decisions with the information that we have.”
Pepi’s absence is head-turning in light of his extensive play during qualifying, where he burst onto the scene with match-winning displays in key wins at Honduras and vs. Jamaica. After a brutal introduction to the German Bundesliga following a record transfer from FC Dallas to Augsburg, his recent red-hot run of form on loan at FC Groningen in the Netherlands wasn’t enough to keep him in the side.
“With Ricardo it was, we're judging him against Josh and Jesus, and we felt it was valuable that Josh was playing in that [English Championship] competition where two of our three opponents [Wales and England] are coming from,” said Berhalter. “We think that brings value, the physicality of the league. Dutch league I think is a great league, but it doesn't bring the same physicality that the Premier League brings and the Championship brings, and that was something that went into our decision.”