Gioacchini, Soto braces enliven USMNT center forward discussion


The United States men’s national team has a talent pool as deep as ever, though some positions give coach Gregg Berhalter a lot more ammunition than others.

Wingers, center midfielders, and fullbacks are as exciting as it gets, but depth in goalkeeping, center back, and center forward is significantly less at this stage in the World Cup qualifying cycle.

[ MORE: Three things we learned ]

Berhalter and others might be arguing about including center forward after Monday’s 6-2 defeat of Panama, which saw two young men score their first national team goals and braces.

The contrast was more stark when compared to Berhalter shoehorning midfielder Sebastian Lletget into the role in a scoreless draw against Wales last week.

With Werder Bremen not allowing Josh Sargent to leave Germany due to COVID-19 restrictions and Berhalter favorite Gyasi Zardes in preparation for the MLS Cup Playoffs, this camp presented a tremendous opportunity for Caen forward Nicholas Gioacchini and Norwich City’s Sebastian Soto.

Chance seized. And Berhalter did not play down what their performances meant to their short-term USMNT futures, as starter Gioacchini scored twice in the first half and Soto finished two Richy Ledezma crosses in a quarter-hour cameo.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT – Panama ]

“It was really important for both of them,” Berhalter said. “Sebastian, what a dream start to play that many minutes and get two goals. It was a good performance from him and Nicholas. We talked about the depth chart being limited, any chance you get you have to take it.”

Berhalter had mentioned nearly calling up in-form Hammarby veteran Aron Johannsson, while the use of Lletget up top against Wales shows that the coach wasn’t about to hand out too many chances to new boys against better competition.

When you consider that Weah is a center forward for club despite mostly wing work with the United States youth national team and that you can easily see Berhalter turning to Jordan Morris in a pinch, this was huge for two players on the periphery. Jesus Ferreira of FC Dallas started at CF against Costa Rica in his lone call-up, though he had tepid production in MLS this summer.

“We’re all hungry to play, hungry to start, hungry to prove and show what we’re made of,” Gioacchini said. “That’s true for all players no matter what their path was. … I was nervous, even for this game. I’m coming here not just to play well but to score goals and help the team win. That part of my head was occupied with nerves.”

[ ICYMI: Wales-USMNT recap, Player ratingsThree things ]

Gioacchini has three goals in eight Ligue 2 appearances this season, while Soto has five goals in seven matches on loan to Telstar in the Dutch second tier.

Who knows if Berhalter would’ve been wooed by more goals at those levels, so these braces can help reset the order of center forwards in the USMNT system.

What does it look like now, at least to Berhalter? Here’s a guess:

  1. Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen
  2. Gyasi Zardes, Columbus Crew
  3. Timothy Weah, Lille
  4. Nicholas Gioacchini, Caen
  5. Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC
  6. Sebastian Soto, Norwich City (loan to Telstar)
  7. Jordan Morris (Seattle – much higher at wing)

Next: Daryl Dike (Orlando City), Charlie Kelman (QPR), Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas), Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC), Aron Johannsson, (Hammarby), Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers).