SHORT HILLS, N.J. — By his own admission, United States men’s national team striker Josh Sargent was not a happy camper after failing to make the USMNT roster for the CONCACAF Gold Cup earlier this summer.
Anointed the Striker of the Future by none other than Gregg Berhalter himself, the U.S. coach nonetheless preferred veterans Jozy Altidore and Gyasi Zardes to the 19-year-old Werder Bremen forward for the continental championship.
“It took a few days for me to really calm down about the situation,” Sargent told reporters here this week, after being recalled by Berhalter for this month’s international friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay. “When I had the time to think about it, I was able to be with my club the whole preseason, and it was a very good opportunity for myself and I thought I did a good job.
“Now,” he added, “I'm in a very happy place with myself and with my football.”
Back in May, Sargent was definitely not in a happy place. While he had scored with his first Bundesliga touch in December, adding a second goal weeks later, the Missouri native struggled with the demands of one of Europe’s elite leagues and barely played over the final three months of the German season.
“With the youth teams and growing up, I was always used to being one of the best players, always being one of the coach's favorites,” he said. “To go on the opposite side of that, it was pretty tough.”
Confidence is essential for any professional athlete, not least one who plays a position counted on to produce in a low-scoring sport. And the truth is, when Sargent was summoned to the USMNT’s pre-Gold Cup training camp, he wasn’t feeling anywhere near his best.
“At the time, seeing Josh and having him in camp, we thought the best decision was to leave him off the roster,” Berhalter said on Thursday, a day before the Gold Cup final rematch against El Tri [8:30 p.m. ET, FS1]. “It's completely up to the player in how he responds, and I would say Josh responded in the fashion that we'd want.
“He was very motivated. He used the time to first rest and then attack preseason. He was with Bremen from the very beginning, he had a very open mindset. 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. And that's all you can ask from a player, that he takes a situation that doesn't go his way, flips it and then can gain from it.”
While Sargent impressed coach Florian Kohfeldt during his first full preseason with Werder, the playing time Berhalter referred to didn’t materialize immediately. He played just eight minutes off Kohfeldt’s bench in the season opener, and didn’t play at all in its second contest.
It was exactly the sort of scenario that rocked Sargent’s self-belief last season. Now, he knows he can’t afford to be derailed by such decisions.
Berhalter noticed, rewarding Sargent with this month’s invite despite his lack of minutes. And the teenager showed off his growing maturity in Werder’s third match, taking advantage of just his second career Bundesliga start with a gem of a finish last weekend against Augsburg.
“You can have conversations with a player and you can say, ‘Listen, you're 19 years old. How many guys are 19 years old and scoring in the Bundesliga?’” Berhalter said. “But you don't know exactly how the player is internalizing all these things.
“We saw it took a little bit of toll on him,” Berhalter added. “But again, what I'm focusing on now is how he used the summer, how he used disappointment to help his situation. We're really proud of him for that. And we hope that it continues on this path.”
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