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When Sebastian Lletget made his first appearance for the national team four years ago, he was the third-youngest player on the field. When he made his most recent appearance on Thursday, he was the second- oldest.
In between, the U.S. has gone through three coaches and well over 130 players. Yet Lletget, 28, continues to go quietly about his business, which Thursday included scoring two goals in the final seven minutes of a 4-1 win over Jamaica in an empty stadium in Wiener Neustadt, Austria.
“His performance spoke for itself,” coach Gregg Berhalter said of the Galaxy midfielder. “He’s a really, really good player, really technical player. Reads the game well and is able to arrive in the penalty box and finishes opportunities.”
On a team full of big-name players with even bigger contracts, Lletget, one of three MLS players on the roster, is a lunch-bucket guy. But one who has more than earned his keep. Lletget has played more minutes than other national team players over the last two years and he’s the only one to appear in the last six U.S. games — scoring four times in the last four.
The U.S. didn’t lose any of those six matches and is unbeaten in its last eight games.
“As far as the coaching staff, we’ve built a good trust,” said Lletget, whose two goals Thursday was his first brace for the national team. “That trust that they put on me and in me, it gives me confidence. Any time I step on the field, I know what I have to do. They make my role really clear.”
Lletget was the closing act in a three-act play against Jamaica, the first game for the full national team in what will be a consequential year with June’s Nations League, July’s Gold Cup and eight World Cup qualifiers on the schedule.
The first act belonged to Chelsea attacker Christian Pulisic, who was making his first appearance with the national team in 526 days, and Barcelona defender Sergiño Dest, who moved from his customary spot at right back to the left side to play behind Pulisic.
The two showed some chemistry but it was Dest who got the only goal of the first half on a brilliant individual effort, taking the ball near the midfield stripe, dribbling deep into the Jamaica end then cutting to his right to create space but unleashing a well-placed right-footed shot from 25 yards.
Pulisic went off at the half for Brenden Aaronson, the star of the second act, who doubled the lead in the 52nd minute by deflecting a low feed from Josh Sargent in from the edge of the six-yard box.
After Jamaica’s Jamal Lowe halved the lead in the 70th minute, chipping a soft shot over U.S. keeper Zack Steffen, Lletget closed the game out, banging in a one-timer from the top of the penalty area in the 83rd minute and another from deep inside the box in the final minute of regulation.
For Berhalter, the performance was little more than a good start to an important year.
“I don’t like to draw conclusions after 90 minutes,” he said. “It’s hard for me to say ‘OK, now we’re there.’ It’s a continuing process. We still have to improve.”
He can count on Lletget to help make that happen.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.