US forward Pefok’s bid for World Cup spot helps Union Berlin
BERLIN (AP) — Jordan Pefok’s bid to make the United States team for the World Cup is helping Union Berlin to an unprecedented spell at the top of the Bundesliga.
Pefok scored the opening goal in Union’s win over Wolfsburg on Sunday, only four days after he was omitted from U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter’s 26-man roster for games against Japan and Saudi Arabia.
“Who doesn’t hope to play at the World Cup when his country is qualified?” Pefok asked.
Berhalter said he already knows what Pefok can do. But with only two months to go before the tournament in the Qatar, Pefok wants to make sure.
The 26-year-old forward tormented Wolfsburg’s defense, tracked back time and again, and then capped his display with a glancing header that brought his tally to three goals in six Bundesliga appearances this season so far.
Union went on to win 2-0, opening a two-point lead over Borussia Dortmund after seven matches. It’s the first time the Köpenick-based club has ever been at the top. Union was only promoted to the Bundesliga in 2019.
“I’d be lying if I said I knew how well it would go,” said Pefok, who joined Union in the offseason from Young Boys, with whom he was the Swiss league’s top scorer with 22 goals last season.
“I joined a fantastic group — the staff at the club, the fans, a truly superb environment. And I think all of that is what makes us successful today,” Pefok said. “We really are a family who like to spend time together, who like to have fun together. Even after defeats, we get them out of our heads quickly, we talk, we rest, and we carry on. I hope it continues like this.”
Union has only experienced defeat in European competition this season — both narrow losses to Royale Union Saint-Gilloise and Braga in the Europa League, which Union is playing for the first time after its remarkable fifth-place finish in the Bundesliga last season.
This season, it’s the only remaining unbeaten team in the German league.
Pefok has played a key role in that, forming an exciting partnership with Suriname forward Sheraldo Becker, who scored the other goal Sunday, helping in defense and setting up two goals in addition to the three he scored.
Pefok was speaking after Sunday’s game when Wolfsburg sporting director Jörg Schmadtke stopped to congratulate the player on his display.
The French-speaking American hopes Berhalter was paying attention, too.
The United States coach selected Josh Sargent of second-division club Norwich, Jesús Ferreira of Dallas and Ricardo Pepi, loaned to Groningen by Augsburg, for the friendlies against Japan in Düsseldorf, Germany, on Friday and Saudi Arabia four days later in Murcia, Spain.
“We’ve been consistent in saying it may not be the best forward that is in the group. It’s a guy that fits what we’re doing the best,” Berhalter said.
Pefok said he’ll stay ready for the World Cup.
“The coach decides,” Pefok said. “Me, I play the games with happiness. I keep trying to give my best. Afterward, as we say in France, it’s at the end of the ball that we pay the musicians.”
Pefok, who has one goal in nine appearances for the United States, added: “I think it’s up to me to keep doing what I’m trying to do. Stay focused. I wasn’t called up this training camp but there you go, my chances are not at zero. We’ll see in the end who’s called up for the World Cup.”
Pefok, whose full name is Theoson-Jordan Siebatcheu, plays with “Jordan” on his Union jersey and “Pefok” on his national team shirt. Pefok is his mother’s maiden name.
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By CIARÁN FAHEY
AP Sports Writer