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For a striker, scoring goals is the objective, but when the ball isn’t hitting the back of the net, there are other ways to contribute to the team. Oliver Giroud is the poster player for this as France won the 2018 World Cup without him scoring a goal, and it’s something that the United States can look to emulate. This isn’t to say that the United States have half of the attacking threat that France have, but the strengths of the team lie in their wingers, not the striker, but Josh Sargent has begun to flourish leading the line and doing the hard work for manager Gregg Berhalter.
The United States scored in both games that Sargent has started with him being heavily involved in play despite not scoring. Against Wales, he pulled Joe Rodon out of position before starting play for Tim Weah’s goal, and his role was different against Iran. Sargent had to press, look for passes when the ball was played for him and do the dirty work to keep Iran off balance. He did a great job of that until being withdrawn with an ankle injury, with a source telling CBS Sports that he tentatively looks good to play Saturday in the round of 16 against the Netherlands.
His performance was noticed by Charlie Davies, CBS Sports soccer analyst and former USMNT striker, who on the “In Soccer We Trust“ podcast had quite a lot of praise for Sargent’s performance so far.
“Josh Sargent was a beast,” Davies said after the 1-0 win over Iran. “Josh Sargent’s holdup play, his involvement, the runs on both sides of the ball, defending, and checking back. Josh Sargent brought his A-game … And I don’t know if I would’ve picked him to play [against Iran] but after [this performance], he’s the nine. He didn’t get a great opportunity to score, but in terms of his involvement and what he brought to the table with his unselfishness in the final third.”
A look at where Josh Sargent took his touches backs up Davies’ point. Sargent covered every inch of the attacking half, and a bunch of territory back in his own half as well.
Sargent’s hold-up play has been effective in making the United States click in the final third and it’s just what a forward needs to do when they aren’t scoring. Goals would be nice, but as long as the team is clicking with Sargent in the lineup, it’s tough to justify taking him out of the lineup. Jesus Ferreira hasn’t played a minute during this World Cup while Haji Wright hasn’t impressed in his time so far.
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Former USMNT man Jimmy Conrad said on the episode that Wright simply has not had the desired impact, giving the ball away too much against Iran and looking clueless, with one turnover nearly leading to conceding a penalty. So, for now, it does feel like Sargent has earned the trust of Berhalter moving forward while others haven’t stepped up.
Time will tell if Sargent is fit to play, and Berhalter may end up having to scramble. But if Sargent can’t go, it makes the most sense to start Ferreira since he can bring some of those similar qualities to the table. But it will be hard to replace Sargent, who has looked sharp for both club and country after a fine start to the campaign with Norwich. It has been quite a rise since falling out of the national team picture in September of 2021, but Sargent has regained confidence in his game at Norwich City and regained his place with the red, white and blue until further notice.
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