Brandon Vazquez leads the MLS hopefuls, Ricardo Pepi wants a recall after missing out on Qatar, and Arsenal starlet Folarin Balogun is an exciting European wildcard… a look at the USA’s potential striking options for the 2026 World Cup on home turf
- The No. 9 position was a clear problem for the USA in the Qatar World Cup
- But there should be plenty of options to choose from in the coming years
- Ricardo Pepi and Jordan Pefok could earn recalls to the squad from Europe
- And Arsenal’s Folarin Balogun could make a huge impact – if he commits to USA
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- Click here for the latest World Cup 2022 news, fixtures, live action and results
Plenty of USA players improved their reputations at the World Cup. The strikers were not among them.
Josh Sargent, Haji Wright and Jesus Ferreira were all ineffective in their opportunities, and the tournament would’ve ended without any of them scoring if not for Wright’s good fortune vs. Holland.
While the door shouldn’t be shut on those players, it’s certainly worth also looking at new players for the next cycle.
Here, Sportsmail takes you through the striking options for the 2026 Cup…
None of Sargent, Ferreira or Wright were particularly impressive in Qatar.
At the same time, none of them are older than 24.
Ferreira, at 21, is the youngest of the three, though would probably benefit from joining the other two in Europe.
Josh Sargent wasn’t overly effective up top for the USA in Qatar, despite impressive club form
Wright, who made one start in Qatar, was a surprise inclusion in Gregg Berhalter’s roster and may not be back for 2026 unless his club form reaches a new level.
22-year-old Sargent looks the best bet from this group to be back, as he’s the most well-rounded player of the three and could soon be back on his way to the Premier League with Norwich City.
Winning their places back
In hindsight, the USA could’ve used one or both of Jordan Pefok and Ricardo Pepi in Qatar, as the team lacked a poacher up front.
Both players would’ve felt unlucky not to make the 26-man roster, as Pepi started up front for a good portion of qualifying and Pefok is the only No. 9 in the pool with Champions League pedigree.
Meanwhile, Daryl Dike will also be looking to get back into squad contention.
The West Brom forward has eight caps and three goals for the national team, but a horrible run of injuries over the past year effectively took him out of contention for the World Cup.
Ricardo Pepi missed out on this World Cup but the 19-year-old should have a future with USA
But it wasn’t that long ago that he looked like he’d be in Qatar.
The bruising striker scored nine goals in 13 starts on loan for Barnsley two seasons ago, and could certainly force his way back into the national side if he can regain form and fitness in the West Midlands.
With three-and-a-half years until the 2026 World Cup, plenty of twists could be on the way, and people with little to no experience in the USA setup can become important contributors.
One of those potential names is New York-born Arsenal forward Folarin Balogun, who is also eligible to represent England as well as Nigeria – where his parents hail from.
And while the 21-year-old has played at four different youth levels for England (and one for the USA, to be fair), he may relish the chance to be America’s main man.
He has eight goals in just 12 starts this season on loan for Ligue 1’s Reims, and despite his lack of involvement with the Gunners thus far, he’s been compared to Arsenal legend Ian Wright by his former teammate Martin Keown.
Folarin Balogun could wind up starting for the USMNT – if he commits to his birth country
Another interesting prospect is Matthew Hoppe, who was handed his USMNT debut in the 2021 Gold Cup and made his presence known as an energetic, physical presence up front in five games.
But he would make just one more appearance for the Stars and Stripes after that tournament.
Following a six-goal season at Schalke as a teenager, Hoppe has barely played at Mallorca and now Middlesbrough, where he’s been limited to just 62 minutes of action this season.
It looks like a long road back for Hoppe now, but it’d be foolish to shut the door on a player who scored a Bundesliga hat-trick as a 19-year-old.
While a certain sect of USA fans will take Ferreira’s ill-fated 45 minutes vs. Holland as a sign that MLS players should not be involved, there are a couple of players that will be hoping to change those opinions.
Brandon Vazquez forced himself into late consideration for Berhalter’s squad after a breakout 18-goal, eight-assist campaign for FC Cincinnati, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the uncapped 24-year-old called up soon.
The World Cup came too soon for the never-capped Vazquez, but he’ll hope to be there in 2026
Vazquez has great movement and composure in front of goal – as evidenced by his playoff game-winner this year vs. the Red Bulls.
But he’s also available to play for Mexico, so the US will have to be decisive.
There’s also Jeremy Ebobisse, who had 17 goals for the San Jose Earthquakes.
He’s made just one appearance for the USMNT, though with Berhalter possibly on the outs, that number could tick up for the 25-year-old.
Finally, it’s unlikely – but possible – that the US find their striker solution in someone who’s not currently playing the position.
Tim Weah, who played as a right winger in Qatar, has moonlighted in the center before, and could become more comfortable in that role ahead of 2026.
Ebobisse’s Earthquakes teammate, Cade Cowell (also eligible for Mexico) is one to watch as well.
He was named an All-Star as a 17-year-old, and despite tailing off a bit last season, is considered a player with big potential.
Many USA fans wanted to see Weah as No. 9 in Qatar and perhaps he could develop in that role
Cowell has played more on the wing than in the center, but should continue to grow into his physical frame and has flashed terrifying pace to get in behind defenses.
If the USA decide to go in a radical direction, Djordje Mihailovic could be the subject of a false-nine experiment.
The soon-to-be AZ Alkmaar player excelled for Montreal the last two seasons, scoring nine goals last year and registering 13 assists the season prior.
Mihailovic typically plays as a No. 10, but who knows what he’d look like slightly higher with Pulisic and Weah on either side of him.
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