Please Wait . . .
As the U.S. men's national team marches towards what will be a program-defining 2021, there are several spots on the field that are already taken.
Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Zack Steffen, Sergino Dest and, now, Gio Reyna– these are names that will be penciled in immediately when the games really matter next summer.
However, one position that is not accounted for is perhaps the most important one on the field: the No. 9.
The U.S. has depth in the midfield, in defense, on the wings but, as things stand, there is some uncertainty regarding where exactly the goals will come from. You can be as talented as you want in this game but, if you can't score goals, you won't be winning any games at the highest level.
And, following a camp that saw the U.S. draw Wales before taking down CONCACAF rivals Panama, the bad news for Gregg Berhalter is that those questions over who should lead the line are set to continue.
The good news, though, is that there are now two more runners in the race to become the USMNT's go-to striker.
After seeing Sebastian Lletget struggle as a false nine in the USMNT's scoreless draw in Wales, both Nicholas Gioacchini and Sebastian Soto were given their own opportunities on Monday. And both of them took advantage in emphatic fashion.
Gioacchini fired two first-half goals after being handed his first senior start in the 6-2 battering of Panama, while Soto fired a brace of his own despite being tossed into the fray with just 13 minutes remaining in the match.
"It was really important for both of them," Berhalter said. "When we talked last week about the depth chart of the centre-forward position being limited, we said any chance you get, you need to take. And these guys did a good job tonight."
Thatdepth chart features Josh Sargent– who perhaps remains the favorite to spearhead the attack next summer despite not joining the USMNT for this camp at Werder Bremen's request.
Jozy Altidore is the incumbent, of course, even if he may not be a consistent 90-minute option anymore. Gyasi Zardes, Ayo Akinola, Jeremy Ebobisse and Daryl Dike are in the mix too, though, giving Berhalter plenty of options.
But someone will need to step up. World Cup qualifiers are just around the corner. So, too, are the Gold Cup, Nations League and Olympics.
And that is why it was so vital for Gioacchini and Soto to both make a mark in their first USMNT camp.
"My first impression, I don't think was a bad one," Gioacchini said,"butI could have done way better for myself. I could have been more available to the midfield, to the center backs.
"In the box, I still had areas where I felt like I should have been five steps ahead of where I was, even two steps ahead. So, it's always something to review and to remember. I feel like I have a lot to improve on. But still, two goals are not easy for anyone."
Gioacchini, previously unknown to most that follow American soccer, has emerged as an option after breaking through with Caen in France's second division. He entered camp in good form, scoring three goals in eight games with his club, and that form continued on right through the first half of Monday's match.
The 20-year-old's first goal came on a rebound, with Gioacchini pouncing on a loose ball after an Uly Llanez shot was parried away. His second, which came just four minutes later, was the result of a scrappy diving header, which saw him toss his body in the direction of a headed-on cross from Matt Miazga.
It would have been the perfect night but for one blemish: a penalty miss. Given the chance to seal his hat-trick, Gioacchini's spot-kick went directly at the goalkeeper, giving him one teachable moment from what was an otherwise standout performance.
For his efforts, Gioacchini was voted Man of the Match and Berhalter had nothing but good things to say about the forward.
"He's a fantastic kid and I've had a lot of conversations with him leading up to this," he said.
"You can tell he was a little bit apprehensive. My job was just to give him confidence and tell him that he's good enough, and he showed it to me.
He added: "He stretched the line a couple of times and it gave us what I think we're missing a little bit in Wales. And it was good to see it happen. It's a shame he didn't get the hat-trick on his debut as a starter, but it was a good performance from him."
But he wasn't the only striker that left Berhalter impressed. So, too, did Soto, a player who has come up through the U.S. youth system and is presently on loan with Dutch side Telstar from Norwich City.
He fired two goals in a matter of minutes, latching on to crosses from fellow newcomer Richie Ledezma. Both goals saw Soto beat his man on the back post before firing thumping headers, effectively sealing the match for the USMNT.
And those goals come in the wake of interest from abroad, with Soto recently being courted by Chile. Now, though, it appears that the forward's future may just be with this U.S. team, with Berhalter left thrilled by the impact Soto made.
"Sebastian, I mean what a dream start!" Berhalter enthused. "Heplayed how many minutes and got two goals? That's fantastic. Itshows quality as well.For me, it was a good performance by him andNicholas."
Both attackers, like the rest of the USMNT, will now return to their club teams as they look to build momentum heading into 2021. The U.S. is eyeing a game in December and potentially the annual January camp but, as it stands, those games will likely be largely-domestic-based squads as they take place outside of a FIFA window.
That means that Monday's match was the last chance to make an impression for quite a while. This U.S. group likely won't reassemble until the March international break, giving the MLS-based stars a chance to make their own statements in the coming months.