Josh Sargent spent a good chunk of 2021 playing his way off the U.S. men's national team. He entered last summer as the starting striker. By the fall, he wasn't even on rosters. He was neither starting nor scoring for Norwich City in the English Premier League. He hasn't played for the USMNT since September, when he was yanked off at halftime in Honduras.
But Sargent, once seen as the U.S. No. 9 for a decade to come, is now spending 2022 playing his way back into contention.
The 22-year-old scored his second and third goals of the week for Norwich on Friday in a 2-0 win over Millwall.
He combined with Danel Sinani and lashed a 50th-minute shot past a helpless keeper.
He then wreaked havoc on an overmatched defense, turning a nothing clearance into a 3-v-2 break that he finished off with aplomb.
He was not doing any of this last year for a variety of reasons. He was the overmatched one in the Premier League. He was also playing out of position, as a winger, on an overmatched team that finished 20th out of 20. He was not playing well, but hardly ever got an opportunity to show that he could.
Now, in the second-tier English Championship, he is showing that he can. And he might be an ideal fit for a reserve role at the 2022 World Cup.
It begins in November, and head coach Gregg Berhalter has said that his roster construction process is ongoing — especially up front. "We have guys that know how we wanna play, that have been in our system, and are candidates to be the number 9," Berhalter told ESPN's Fútbol Americas last month. "And then as we lead into this tournament, we’re gonna see who’s in the best form."
Sargent fits every piece of that description. He also fills a need. Jesús Ferreira, the 21-year-old FC Dallas forward, will likely start the USMNT's opener in Qatar. Berhalter will take at least two other strikers, one of whom should be his top option when in need of a goal, and one of whom will be his choice to kill off a game.
The former option could be Jordan Pefok, who is already scoring for Union Berlin in the German Bundesliga. It could be Ricardo Pepi — the first-choice striker throughout qualifying who hasn't scored since last fall — or even Brandon Vazquez, a breakout MLS star.
The latter option should be Sargent. Even as his confidence plummeted and his touch went awry in recent years, he worked his butt off every time he stepped on a field. He has pace to play in transition and a willingness to chase lost causes. He has the size and leaping ability to help defend set pieces — and to score from them as well.
He is an asset that, at the very least, Berhalter should cultivate at a September training camp — for which a roster will be named in a few weeks.
And if he continues scoring for Norwich, he has a very good chance at a plane ticket to Qatar.