What Is This USMNT Guy’s Deal: Jordan Pefok
3:19 PM EDT on April 15, 2022
Welcome to What Is This USMNT Guy’s Deal, a regular series in which Defector selects a name from the myriad number of exciting young American soccer men playing in Europe and answers the question: What is this USMNT guy’s deal?
In the few weeks since the USMNT formally qualified for the World Cup, American players have had a pretty poor run of form with their club teams. Gio Reyna's cursed season came to a fittingly grim end; Brenden Aaronson has gone from styling on Bayern Munich to the injury ward; Christian Pulisic blew a couple of good chances to send Real Madrid out of the Champions League; Weston McKennie is still hurt, and Tyler Adams and Sergiño Dest are only just now playing their way back into form. To those of us who wake up each weekend to watch our lads go Soccer Mode, these are spare times. But there's one guy who can't stop scoring, and so in the name of optimism, it is now time to explore the deal of Jordan Pefok.
Who Does He Play For?
Pefok plays for Young Boys, which is the name of a storied Swiss Super League club and not necessarily a descriptor of the roster of said team. Pefok was born in Washington, D.C. to Cameroonian parents, though he moved to France when he was only two years old, joining the Reims academy and working his way all the way up to scoring Ligue 1 goals for the club by the time he was still a teenager. Reims bounced back and forth between Ligue 1 and Ligue 2, though his 2017-18 breakout season, in which he scored 17 and assisted seven goals, was so good he wound up getting sold to Rennes for $11 million. As such, Pefok got onto the radar of the French national team system, whose senior team was then ramping up to go win the 2018 World Cup. The Americans also wanted to bring him in that summer, though he declined, focusing on his big transfer. He played and scored for the French U-21s, and there's a version of Pefok's career where he develops rapidly, solidifies himself as a Ligue 1 stud, and American fans only sort of know him as a what-if.
Instead, the Rennes move flopped and Pefok's trajectory shifted. He scored a European goal for Rennes, though he struggled to replicate the scintillating form he was in at Reims. Like many other American players, Pefok thrived during the pandemic. He was loaned to two-time defending Swiss Super League champs Young Boys, where he immediately returned to top form. Pefok has been a consistent volume scorer for Young Boys in both league and European competition. He notched 15 goals and four assists last year as Young Boys won the league again, only to outdo himself this season with 23 goals and five assists this season. The U.S. again came calling, and Pefok has been in the center forward grab-bag since making his USMNT debut in March 2021.
A note on nomenclature: Pefok was born Theoson-Jordan Siebatcheu (the Jordan part is a tribute to Michael), and for a while, he went by Jordan Siebatcheu. However, he wore his mother's maiden name Pefok on the back of his jersey for years, and in 2021, he asked that everyone call him Pefok.
The Weston McKennie Mamma Mia Test refers to the following foolproof heuristic for determining whether or not a U.S. player is actually good or just good by our rosy American standards: Do fans tweet lovingly about them in their local language?
How Does He Play?
Pefok is a physical striker, who scores most of his goals from close range, often with his head, and often after overpowering a defender or shrugging off pressure. He's 6-foot-3 and athletic, which makes him an excellent target man. His highlight reel is fairly stunning for how consistent it is. There's Pefok, waiting in the box, and scoring off a cross or deflection from a few feet in front of goal. Surely, this level of production has something to do with the competition, though it is worth noting that Pefok has a very strong record of scoring in European competition, with goals against Atalanta and Manchester United in this year's Champions League, and a brace against Leverkusen last season.
There is often a dismissive posture towards target strikers, players who score by being in the right place at the right time rather than through blazing individual displays of skill. If one considered Pefok's scoring output cynically, one could make a case that he's a mere tap-in merchant, someone who gets to score so many relatively straightforward goals thanks to being on an overpowered team who can comfortably generate tons of threatening possession. But scoring goals is the most important part of soccer, and Pefok has excelled as a scorer for half a decade, on a number of teams. His so-so running ability and middling skills as an on-ball creator or dribbler limit his ceiling, though he excels in an important role, and he doesn't necessarily need to be Erling Haaland in open space to be a valuable striker at a very high level.
The Wonderteen Index is a holistic, objective metric that analyzes a player’s full array of skills and talents, distilling it all into a single number that corresponds to their ultimate potential and the likelihood that they will assume the title of Wonderteen.
Pefok turns 26 this month, so that's a demerit, but his team is called Young Boys, so that's a plus. Taken together, he gets 901 out of 1,241.
It is not inconceivable that Pefok could keep scoring against much better competition, simply because his combination of size, speed, and finishing ability is elite. In the right team, one eager to fling in crosses and set up shop on the edge of the opponent's penalty box, Pefok seems like he'd be a very useful fit. The problem is that he's not a particularly dangerous chance-creator for others, and his limitations as a technician hamstring him to a certain degree. Still, he has scored good goals against some of the bigger clubs in Europe, and since he has already proven himself at the Champions League level, the question about his ceiling is not whether he belongs in the biggest club competition in the world, but on how ambitious of a team can he do his thing.
Can He Play Right Back?
The U.S.’s European corps is absolutely silly with right backs, enough to stock a full XI. And so it is important to determine whether or not the USMNT guy of the week can play the position.
Preferred foot: right. Notable for: tackling and intercepting. You already know, he can play right back.
Show To Me A Cool Highlight
Here is his four-top against Lugano.
And here is his 95th-minute winner against Manchester United.
How Does He Fit In With The U.S. Team?
Pefok doesn't completely fit with the team's style. Berhalter demands consistent pressing, especially from his attackers, and he has tended to prefer strikers who are connectors rather than blunt objects. Jesus Ferreira has settled into the spot, for now, mostly because he's a hybrid attacking midfielder and forward, and can thus facilitate as well as score (in theory, anyway). The USMNT also prefers to attack on the run and from the flanks. However, Pefok is a very useful change-of-pace player for the USMNT, as his physicality is even harder to deal with if he enters a game in the 60th minute. If the USMNT is banging on the door but unable to score, Pefok is basically the perfect player to bring in. Indeed, Pefok's lone USMNT goal was of this exact sort. In the Nations League semifinal against Honduras, the USMNT was clearly the better team, though they looked sluggish and struggled to score despite all the possession and danger. Pefok came on as a substitute and scored the winner with his head in the 89th minute.
How Close Is He To The Hypothetical Best XI?
The striker position, as we've written several times here, is the most open starting spot on the team, and Pefok is certainly in contention. At this point, I have no idea where things will actually shake out and who will be on the plane to Qatar. Pefok might not figure as an every game starter, though he does seem like a perfect player to at least bring, as he demands a lot of a defense and can put direct pressure on the goal at times when the USMNT most needs it.