Folarin Balogun and Ricardo Pepi make their case as USMNT defeats Oman

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Over the next two and a half years, as the World Cup approaches and Gregg Berhalter sets the course for the U.S. men’s national team, the question of who will be at the top of the rankings as a forward will continue to be at the top of the agenda. But in these early days of the 2026 World Cup cycle, Folarin Balogun and Ricardo Pepi are beginning to make their case.

On Tuesday, Balogun scored for the second time in his young U.S. career and Pepi scored his sixth goal in six appearances this year as the Americans cruised to a 4-0 victory over Oman in a friendly at Allianz Field.

Balogun’s decision in the spring to abandon the England program for the US team brought a promising 22-year-old talent from the Arsenal system into the team. (He’s now at Monaco.) Pepi, a 20-year-old employed by PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands, is regaining his strength after being left out of the 2022 World Cup team.

The forward competition comes after Berhalter fielded a number of candidates before and during the World Cup in Qatar but never found an answer to the Americans’ gap at that critical position.

“You always want your strikers to score goals,” Berhalter said. “Our job as teammates and as coaches is to put them in a position to score goals. That’s the most important thing, and then leave it to them.”

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As the competition for playing time escalates, Berhalter will be watching how his forwards fare with their clubs in Europe and the MLS and how they fare in the U.S. camps. The next US games will take place in mid-October.

“Some of them are easy to measure because they play 90 minutes every week [with their clubs], and sometimes they’re not and it gets complicated,” Berhalter said. “For me it’s more about how they work together [in U.S. camp]how they train, what attitude they have in camp and what they bring to the team when they are on the field.”

With playing time at PSV Eindhoven limited, Pepi knows how important it is to take advantage of the opportunities in the US camp.

“I think my job is to score some goals,” said Pepi, who scored as a substitute in the 3-0 win over Uzbekistan in St. Louis on Saturday. “I feel like I’ve done that, so of course I’m building some confidence. Good competition is always healthy, but I just need to focus on myself.”

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After seeing near-cost giveaways and sloppy passing in parts of Saturday’s game, Berhalter wanted to see better combination play and distribution from deep positions against 74th-ranked Oman. Midfielder Weston McKennie was in outstanding form, swinging long diagonal passes with precise placement.

As it did against Uzbekistan, when Tim Weah scored in the fourth minute, the 11th-place US team took the lead early on Tuesday. In the 13th minute, McKennie sent a cross-field pass to Weah, who touched the ball to right-back Sergiño Dest and scored a great one-timer from the top of the box. Goalkeeper Ibrahim al-Mukhaini parried the high danger but left the rebound to Balogun, who shot into the net, scoring his second goal in four appearances.

For the second game in a row, Pepi was substituted at half-time for Balogun, who had not had a proper pre-season to build up his fitness given the uncertainty of whether Arsenal would loan or sell him elsewhere in Europe. On August 29th he finally moved to Monaco and made his debut in the French first division four days later.

The Americans kept control of the game in the second half and doubled their lead in the 60th minute with a free kick from substitute Brendan Aaronson from about 28 yards. When Aaronson hit the ball, the Omani wall crumbled. It took a slight deflection to stop Mukhaini, who was able to save the ball but failed to get behind the ball.

In the 79th minute, Pepi scored for the second time in a row by turning at the top of the penalty area and firing a low shot into the far corner.

Two minutes later, Khalid al-Braiki pushed Kevin Paredes’ cross into the Omani net, scoring an own goal.

Here’s what else you should know about the US victory:

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The USA’s schedule will intensify with friendlies against Germany on October 14th in East Hartford, Connecticut, and Ghana on October 17th in Nashville. The 2023-24 Concacaf Nations League quarterfinals – home and away against a yet-to-be-determined opponent – ​​will take place at the end of November. The home game will be played in Austin on November 16th.

Players based in Europe boarded a charter late Tuesday evening to return to their clubs and prepare for the weekend’s league games. The most notable is on Saturday in Italy, where AC Milan (Christian Pulisic and Yunus Musah) will face Inter Milan, runners-up in the 2023 Champions League, at the San Siro, their shared stadium.

Paredes – a 20-year-old winger from South Riding, Virginia, who plays for German club Wolfsburg after starting his career with DC United – made his national team debut. He came on for Weah in the 79th minute.

Ben Cremaschi, an 18-year-old Inter Miami midfielder, made his debut in the 71st minute. He is eligible to play for the USA and Argentina and took part in training camps for the youth national teams of both countries. Since Tuesday’s game was a friendly, his options remain open. Folarin Balogun and Ricardo Pepi make their case as USMNT defeats Oman

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