USMNT Rising Star: Josh Sargent within striking distance of soccer stardom

By James Nalton, Football Whispers

When we put together our shortlist of USMNT rising stars just a few months ago, Josh Sargent was yet to make his first team debut for German Bundesliga side Werder Bremen,

Since then he’s gone on to make his first appearance for the club and score his first goal, with both events happening within just 86 seconds of each other.

In a league game against Fortuna Düsseldorf on Friday December 7th he replaced Milot Rashica in the 76th minute, and his goal from the bench within two minutes gave his side a 3-1 win.

He has since gone on to score a second for Werder and has a similar goalscoring record for the USMNT.

The right-footed striker is seen as one of the most promising players in the national team pool in his position.

Background - who is Josh Sargent?

Sargent hails from one of America’s original soccer hotbeds — St Louis, Missouri. More specifically from the city of O’Fallon, which lies within the St Louis metropolitan area. Any sport-minded families will be aware of the region’s soccer history.

“No US city embraced soccer more unreservedly than St Louis,” wrote David Wangerin in his excellent book, Soccer in a Football World.

Soccer in the city developed in relative isolation to the rest of the country in the late 1800s, influenced by Irish immigrants but growing into a distinctly American sport in this region, even adopting its own variations on the rules such as 30 minutes halves — presumably with the clock being stopped for substitutions and injuries — and goal-line judges.

The St Louis Soccer League which existed between 1907 and 1938 was one of the best established professional soccer leagues in the early days of the sport in the country — a heritage which deserves more attention. The city still doesn’t have a ‘top flight’ club, and his having to go through the MLS expansion application process in order to get one.

The infamous USA team which defeated England at the 1950 World Cup, contained five players from St Louis.

Hailing from the nearby city which has a distinctly Irish name, Sargent could be one of the shining lights in a new era of soccer for the St Louis area.

His parents both played soccer in college to a high level, and the region is one of the few in the US where young players might have a rich family history of soccer to look back upon for inspiration.

Back home he played for local side St Louis Scott Gallagher before joining up with the US Soccer Residency Program in Bradenton, Florida.

As a youth "he told everyone that would listen that he was going to be a professional soccer player," his mother Liane told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

"I'm not sure anyone took me seriously,” says Sargent of this early confidence, 

"I was real little and people would just smile and say, 'That's nice.'“

This determination to succeed in the sport has seen him progress through the youth teams at both club and national team level, to the point where he is now — on the verge of the first team for both.

Key stats

The bare-faced stats show two goals in just 45 minutes of German Bundesliga football, which isn’t bad going.

However, the small sample size isn’t enough to provide data from other areas to help assess Sargent’s overall game.

For that we have to dig deeper, looking to his stats from the Regionalliga Nord where he played for Werder Bremen II.

Here he also boasts impressive goal scoring numbers, and has scored seven goals in 12 appearances this season, adding two assists.

His xG stands at 0,38 per 90 minutes, he averages 2.38 shots on target per 90, and makes one key pass per game on average.

Scout report

What these stats do show us is that Sargent is a striker. An instinctive goalscorer. 

It is often the case in modern football that young players will operate in all three attacking positions, often feeling more comfortable on the wings than playing as a centre forward where they know they will be judged on goals and little else.

Sargent, however, is different.

His heat map suggests that he’s a penalty box striker who can also drop deep to link up play, often coming as deep as the half-way to get involved. He may not be a trendy attacking midfielder or inside forward, but at least in theory he is modeling his game on some of the great centre forwards who act as complete strikers.

He’s a hard working forward with a good touch, who will use good movement rather than pace to get around the opposition defence and find spaces to use his finishing ability. Evidence of this is the amount of goals he’s scored so far, 

His second Bundesliga goal, against RB Leipzig, was a good example of his link up play and finishing. He helped start the move on the halfway line before making his way forward to finish from Yuya Osako’s pass.

He’s in the same mould as the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Harry Kane, and Roberto Firmino, and though he has some way to go before he reaches their level, he has the build (185cm - 6ft1 in) and the ability.

A lack of pace may not be a problem given his positional play and other traits, and given that he will rarely if even be used on the wing, he could be the perfect player to complement the array of quick and/or creative attacking midfielders coming through the ranks.

International  - USMNT

Sargent has been a regular in the USMNT throughout the age groups, from U14s all the way to U20s.

The goalscoring continued as he rose through the ranks, averaging more than a goal every other game.

He was still eligible for the U17s when he took his place in the U20 squad at the 2017 U20 World Cup, and only he and Freddy Adu have played for the country at U17 and U20 World Cups in the same year.

He scored four goals at the U20 tournament, putting him level with Golden Boot winner Dominic Solanke as the US made it to the quarterfinals.

He has since gone on to score on his senior international debut, just as he did on his club debut for Bremen, and there are signs that he could solve a problem for the US in the centre forward department.

He has two goals in 236 minutes of international football, which is a good start, and Gregg Berhalter must be tempted to make him an integral part of his plans going forward, or at least give him the chance to show he can be.

Potential

The next step is the biggest one, but Sargent’s appearances to date and the goals he’s scored are a good sign that he can make it.

Quality penalty box strikers are a rarity these days, perhaps because some of them are limited in what they can do throughout the rest of the pitch, but as we have seen this doesn’t apply to Sargent.

Fitness permitting, he will have a long career in professional football, but the opportunities he gets in the next year or so, and how well he takes them, will have a big say as to how far he can go in the game.

“At the end of the day I wanted to play for a club where I could get playing time," he recently told grant Wahl.

"I visited clubs and I had a really good feeling about Bremen and the coaching staff and everyone there. So I went with my gut, and I'm glad I made the decision."

It’s a good mindset to have -- go to a club a the top level which provides a good chance of getting first-team minutes -- and this decision is already starting to pay off.

He is already in the minds of his head coaches at club and national team level, which is a big part of the battle won already.

Now he needs to repay them on the occasions they do select him, and so far he has been able to do so.

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