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On Tuesday, U.S. Soccer announced that Jozy Altidore had withdrawn from the USMNT camp ahead of the Concacaf Nations League games against Cuba and Canada. The striker got injured on Sunday while playing in Toronto FC's final regular-season MLS game, and he'll now have a chance to recover before TFC's playoff game in two weeks.
Altidore presumably was going to start up top for Gregg Berhalter, if not against Cuba then certainly at BMO Field next week against Canada. When healthy, Altidore is still the best option at No. 9 for the Americans, possessing several qualities and skills that make him a good fit for Berhalter's system.
Without Altidore in the picture, though, it seems that the choice for Berhalter will come down to two options: Gyasi Zardes and Josh Sargent. There was no replacement called in for Altidore, and while Jordan Morris has the ability to play as a striker, it seems that Berhalter prefers the Seattle Sounder out wide, where he also plays for his club.
Most USMNT fans will be clamoring for Sargent to start over the course of the two games. Sargent is young, promising, and getting his fair share of minutes with Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga. Sargent has played in six of the seven league games for Bremen this year, starting four, with a goal and an assist to his name.
Still just 19 years old, Sargent has plenty of room to grow but seems to have found favor at his club in getting minutes this year after being in and out of the squad last year during his debut Bundesliga season. The striker has just three goals in 16 overall appearances for Bremen, but that shouldn't necessarily exclude him from starting against the likes of Cuba and Canada over the next week.
However, Berhalter has shown to be quite fond of Zardes, whom he also coached at the Columbus Crew. During the summer's Gold Cup, Sargent was left off the squad while Zardes split time with Altidore, as Jozy was brought back slowly after an injury.
Zardes didn't quite reach the same heights in 2019 as he did in 2018, when Berhalter brought him in from the LA Galaxy and turned him back into a deadly poacher with the Crew, as he netted a career-high 19 goals. This year for Caleb Porter, Zardes still found the back of the net 13 times in a season in which Columbus missed the playoffs.
But there are times when Zardes has inexplicable misses and can't take advantage of certain situations, usually when a first touch lets him down. Of course, he can also then play like an international-caliber forward at other times, which can make his inconsistency all the more maddening.
So with Altidore out of the picture for the next week, Berhalter has a decision to make. He could possibly decide to split the minutes, giving a start to one of Sargent or Zardes against Cuba, who likely won't put up much of a fight on Friday night at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. But who starts against Canada would indicate the current pecking order right now for the head coach, and whether or not he is willing to turn the spot over to the young Sargent.