Remember when the U.S. men's national team had barely any in-form, healthy strikers available and depth was a concern? It's something that seemingly comes up at the worst times, like during the 2014 World Cup, last year's Copa America and during World Cup qualifying in various blips.
But now, even just looking at MLS alone, the American striker pool looks pretty darn good. Last year, American strikers were pretty much invisible in MLS as foreigners dominated the leaderboard for the first time ever. But with a bunch of Americans in form and healthy, 2017 is shaping up to be a very different year.
Here is our ranking of the best American strikers in MLS right now:
Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
It's a little difficult to evaluate Zardes right now given that he only returned from injury in April after breaking his foot in August, but it's been a slow start for him (and the Galaxy). Zardes has mostly been used as a wide player this season, which may not really be his best spot. He has put up his best numbers from the central striker spot and he does his best when he only needs to focus on finishing.
The problem is, there are better American No. 9 strikers. Although Zardes has got good speed, his first touch often lets him down. He's been best when he can be the legs for the players around him and hold-up the ball, but it's a niche sort of role to fill. It's going to take some work for Zardes to prove otherwise this season and move up the ranks.
MLS season so far: Games played: 5 Goals: 0 Assists: 1
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY SportsTroy Wayrynen
Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)
Morris exploded onto the MLS scene last year almost out of necessity: The Sounders really didn't have any other decent goal-scorers, especially after Clint Dempsey was sidelined for the season, and the rookie had no choice but to pick up the slack, setting the rookie goals record for an American en route to an MLS Cup. This year, though, he's not facing nearly as much pressure and the Sounders, strangely enough, are still figuring out the best way to use him.
The 22-year-old has mainly broken through as a target striker, and he has grown leaps and bounds at his off-the-ball movement and hold-up play, expanding his game from merely being a speedster. But the Sounders discovered during last year's playoffs that Morris is actually a very good inverted winger who can cut inside and get balls into the box. That's where he's been this season, but it's still not the position he's most familiar with. He's growing into the role and, while he's not putting up big numbers yet, he's showing promise as an increasingly versatile attacker. Morris still needs more polish, but figures to be a good option in the future.
MLS season so far: Games played: 9 Goals: 2 Assists: 0
Troy TaorminaTroy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
C.J. Sapong (Philadelphia Union)
If you didn't predict that Sapong would be sitting at the top of the goal-scoring leaderboard a quarter of the way through this MLS season, you're forgiven. Sapong has already matched his entire 2016 MLS goal tally just 10 weeks into the 2017 season by scoring seven goals. His goal tally was boosted by a hat trick last weekend that did include a penalty kick and a shot that went in off a deflection, but he was the single best player on the field vs. the New York Red Bulls anyway – and he's also the best player for the (struggling) Union right now and it's not even close.
He barely has any USMNT experience to speak of, but he is a classic No. 9 who can fit the way the Americans play. Right now, he needs to keep it up in MLS and show he can be consistent.
MLS season so far: Games played: 9 Goals: 7 Assists: 1
Bill StreicherBill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
It's hard to count Wondolowski out, much to the chagrin of USMNT fans who are ready to see the team be built around a new crop of young strikers. He might never live down his missed sitter during the 2014 World Cup, which fans still manage to talk about, but he's been one of MLS's most prolific strikers, and he'll probably beat the all-time MLS goal-scoring record this season.
He's known for being a poacher, an opportunist who is best acting on his instincts rather than by out-muscling or out-maneuvering players. As true as that may be, he is also incredibly effective at it and he's a good finisher. At 34 years old, he may not be a first choice to run for 90 minutes on the USMNT level, but he is a player who isn't going anywhere as a depth option.
MLS season so far: Games played: 10 Goals: 4 Assists: 5
John HeftiJohn Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
Dom Dwyer (Sporting Kansas City)
At times the USMNT striker pool looked so thin that fans probably had the date of Dwyer's eligibility for American citizenship circled on their calendars. It's easy to see why: He's had double-digit goals for the past three full MLS seasons, and he's just the sort of incessant, aggressive target man the Americans seem to need at times.
He became an American citizen in March and he figures to get a look from national team coach Bruce Arena sooner rather than later. He's known for being a pest, the kind of striker who wants nothing more than to press hard and terrorize back lines by being ultra physical. Though anything less than his excellent 22-goal season with Kansas City in 2014 feels like falling short of his potential, Dwyer is off to a decent enough start this season.
MLS season so far: Games played: 10 Goals: 5 Assists: 1
Gary RohmanGary Rohman/MLS/USA TODAY Sports
Christian Ramirez (Minnesota United)
Even just two months ago, Ramirez wouldn't have made anyone's list of best American strikers. It's not that he wasn't a good striker in the NASL, but MLS is certainly a step up. But Ramirez has risen to the occasion and then some. He's been the best player for Minnesota United, a team that hasn't covered itself in glory to start the MLS season, but all their problems were on defense, not in the attack. Ramirez has been the undisputed leader of Minnesota's rather good attack, bypassing Miguel Ibarra, who has gotten USMNT call-ups.
Ramirez has shown he is good at getting himself into the right spots and he is a deft finisher. Can he do it on the international level? That's a question Bruce Arena might try to answer at this summer's Gold Cup, but right now he is getting it done in MLS.
MLS season so far: Games played: 10 Goals: 6 Assists: 1
Brace HemmelgarnBrace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport
Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders)
It's pretty safe to say that, after the USMNT's last couple World Cup qualifiers, Dempsey is one of the most important attackers on the American squad, even at age 34. But this MLS season has been a slower start for Dempsey, at least scoring-wise, as he has only found the back of the net three times.
But here's the thing: Dempsey has been playing good soccer. He's all over the field and he is as much a playmaker as he is a striker. As Bruce Arena has so eloquently put it, Dempsey "tries s***." Dempsey certainly won't be starting alone up top for the USMNT anytime soon, but he is a versatile attacking threat who is going to create as many goals as he scores, whether or not he gets the assist. He's proving that so far this season.
MLS season so far: Games played: 9 Goals: 3 Assists: 1
Jennifer BuchananJennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Spor
Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution)
You wouldn't know it by looking at his national team career, but Agudelo has quietly hit his stride and hit some great form in MLS this season. He has six goals in 10 games, but if you go back even further into last season, he has 10 goals in his last 17 MLS games. Include the U.S. Open Cup and he's at 13 goals and 3 assists in his last 17 games.
Agudelo is a versatile striker who can play across the attacking line and now that he's been healthy for a while, he's rising through the American striker ranks quickly. With his latest form, he's begging not only for a USMNT call-up, but real minutes in a starting role to show what he can do, probably during this summer's Gold Cup.
MLS season so far: Games played: 10 Goals: 6 Assists: 0
Winslow TownsonWinslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC)
Despite the fact that Altidore sits third on the USMNT's all-time scoring list, the 27-year-old manages to divide opinion among fans. He doesn't seem to divide opinion among national team coaches, though – Bruce Arena, just like Jurgen Klinsmann and Bob Bradley did, will probably continue to treat Altidore as a first-choice striker, and for good reason. Altidore has six goals in nine games and he continues to show his well-rounded form.
Last season is when Altidore really showed his growth as a striker, adding excellent passing, better off-the-ball movement and a higher defensive work rate to his resume of good hold-up play and solid finishing. So far in 2017, he appears to be continuing his top form.
MLS season so far: Games played: 10 Goals: 6 Assists: 3