Josh Sargent’s red hair could become as known in St. Louis as the Gateway Arch one day if he develops into an American soccer star.
Fresh off a spectacular strike for his first goal of the Bundesliga season, the 19-year-old forward is slated to start in his hometown Tuesday night when the United States plays Uruguay in an exhibition at Busch Stadium.
“There’s really no better feeling than playing for your country in your home city,” he said.
At least 60 family and friends are expected at the match.
Sargent left St. Dominic High School in O’Fallon, Missouri, in the middle of 10th grade and scored four goals at the 2017 Under-20 World Cup. He agreed to sign with Werder Bremen when he turned 18 the following February and added three goals at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup, joining Freddy Adu in 2007 as the only Americans to play in both FIFA youth tournaments in the same year.
He scored in his U.S. senior national team debut against Bolivia in May 2018, making an audacious interception of a goalkeeper’s pass over his head, at 18 years, 102 days the fourth-youngest American with an international goal. Then, on Dec. 7 against Fortuna Duesseldorf, he scored less than two minutes into his professional debut .
Success came fast.
And then his career stalled.
He made eight more substitute appearances, got his only start Feb. 22 against Stuttgart, then didn’t play at all after coming on in the 84th minute against Mainz on March 30.
“With the youth teams in growing up, I was always used to being one of the best players, always being one of the coach’s favorites,” he said. “So to go on the opposite side of that, yeah, it was pretty tough for me, I’d say. … With my confidence, it kind of hurt a little bit.”
New U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter picked Sargent for his training camp ahead of the CONCACAF Gold Cup rather than have Sargent make a repeat appearance at the Under-20 World Cup. But Sargent’s form was off, an injury to Sebastian Llletget changed Berhalter’s needs, and Sargent was cut from the 23-man roster for the tournament.
Sargent was angry and admits “it took a few days for me to really calm down about the situation.” He returned to his family in Missouri, went on vacation and reported to Bremen for the start of training on June 30.
“It’s not us making these decisions that can change the course of history. It’s completely up to the player in how he responds and I would say Josh responded in the fashion that we’d expect or we’d want,” Berhalter said. “He was very motivated. He used the time to first rest and then attack preseason. … He realized that positions are fragile in soccer, that you have to work for every single thing you get and he went out there and earned himself playing time.”
Sargent was on the field for only eight minutes in Bremen’s first two games, started against Augsburg on Sept. 1 and gave Bremen a 2-1 lead in a 3-2 victory. He streaked into the penalty area and controlled Nuri Sahin’s 30-yard pass over the defense with his right foot, chested the ball ahead, then used his right foot to loft the ball over Tomas Koubek as he sprinted past the goalkeeper. As the ball was about to hit the ground, Sargent volleyed it into the open net with his right foot from 6 yards.
“The biggest thing to be honest is just my overall confidence and how good I feel about myself,” Sargent said. “I definitely feel a lot more a part of the team this year and having played in a few games already last season, I feel more comfortable on the pitch. … The life is good and the city’s good, everything. I’m in a happy place right now.”
Sargent also scored for the U.S. in an October exhibition against Peru . He entered Friday’s friendly against Mexico in New Jersey in the 67th minute for his eighth international appearance and was given the ball by star midfielder Christian Pulisic for a late penalty kick. Sargent was stopped by goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco to preserve the shutout in Mexico’s 3-0 win.
“It happens,” Sargent said. “You’ve just got to move on to the next one.”
Berhalter cautions Sargent that he already is at a high level and that pro soccer players need a thick skin.
“How many guys are 19 years old and scoring in the Bundesliga?” the coach said. “We saw it took a little bit of toll on him, but again, what I’m focusing on now is how he used the summer, how he used disappointment to help his situation, and we’re really proud of him for that.”
NOTES: Berhalter said Sargent, defender Tim Ream and midfielder Jackson Yuiell will start. Ream, like Sargent, played for the St. Louis Scott Gallagher club … Four of Friday’s starters have returned to their clubs: Pulisic, goalkeeper Zack Steffen and midfielders Weston McKennie and Alfredo Morales. Injured defender John Brooks and backup goalkeeper Sean Johnson also have gone back to their teams.