USMNT: Josh Sargent a diamond in the rough

Josh Sargent showed glimpses of promise during the Bundesliga season. He is a diamond in the rough that the USMNT should be excited about.

The 2019/20 Bundesliga season came to a close last Monday afternoon as Werder Bremen beat FC Heidenheim in the relegation playoff to keep their first division status. Leading the line for Bremen in their biggest game of the year was 20-year-old Josh Sargent, showing just how much faith they have in the player. He didn’t score or get an assist, but he put in a solid shift that helped Werder fight off relegation for yet another year.

It was a trial by fire for the U.S. Men’s National Team striker, who has been tested throughout the campaign. Sargent has passed most of those, and even though he’s struggled on occasion, he is still full of promise and potential.

That is good news for fans of the USMNT, who will hope Sargent can grow into an elite striker in the future. And if this season is any indication, Sargent might become just that.

On the surface, four goals and four assists in 28 league appearances is decent enough. Considering some other factors, that tally comes across as even more impressive. Sargent was never a consistent starter for Bremen, who often relied on their more experienced strikers like Yuya Osako and Claudio Pizarro. When the American did feature, it was usually coming off the bench in a limited role.

In the few games he started early on in the season, Sargent consistently made an impact. It began with a wondergoal against FC Augsburg, controlling a long ball before instinctively flicking it over the goalkeeper and rolling the ball into the gaping net.

He then scored a month later versus Hertha Berlin, playing a clever one-two with a teammate before taking a shot that deflected past a helpless goalkeeper. The American also dished out two assists in four games during this stretch, with those coming against Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen, both high-quality sides. Most importantly, Bremen didn’t lose any of those games, before then suffering a four-game losing streak when the American was sidelined with a torn muscle fibre.

After a tough stretch, Sargent scored in the last game before the league went on hiatus. It came in quite spectacular fashion. He picked up the ball before driving forward and absolutely smashing a shot with his weaker left foot into the side netting.

Things were tough after the Bundesliga restart as Bremen opted for more experienced lineups against better opposition. Sargent was still able to contribute, though, getting two assists versus Paderborn while also scoring in the final game at home to FC Koln.

To further put his numbers into context, it is important to remember that Sargent wasn’t getting the best attacking support in Bremen. They were in the bottom five in terms of goals scored in the Bundesliga and were often held scoreless in matches. The team was set up in a defensive manner, hoping to grind out draws, not fluently win matches in a high-scoring manner. All in all, then, it was a solid return.

Sargent’s influence also went way beyond the scoresheet. His best trait is his work ethic. The youngster had fitness issues when he first made it to the professional level, but he’s grown past that now and is able to run for much longer.

Sargent has needed that extra stamina as he seems to spend all of his time on the field chasing down defenders or making runs in behind. That forces the opposition to be alert at all times. He is a nuisance for opposing defenders, which is a terrific trait for any young centre-forward to have.

He is also composed and skilful on the ball. The USMNT prospect has a quality first touch which helps him get out of tough situations, and when he does compose himself and starts driving towards goal, he is menacing and dangerous.

Sargent also loves a first-time flick and has already pulled off a few eye-catching passes during his career. He is a reliable finisher as well with few major misses and usually gets himself in a good position in the box to make things easier for himself.

There is still room for improvement, of course. Like most players his age, Sargent needs to have more composure in the final third. He’s too indecisive at times, not knowing when to play a pass and when to go for goal himself.

The American also needs to get a bit stronger if he wants to lead the line at the highest level. At 6-foot-1 he does not make his presence count. Sargent was pushed off the ball by bigger defenders on too many occasions.

That will all come with time. A 20-year-old with limited first-team experience is far from the finished product. But should Bremen not address the striker position in the summer, Sargent will have a good chance of winning the starting spot when next season comes around, and that can only be good for his continued development.

In terms of the USMNT, Sargent has consistently scored and really should be the go-to option when qualifying resumes. It would be a bold call for head coach Gregg Berhalter to make, sure, but showing that much faith in the youngster could pay off massively, especially given the long-term perspective that Berhalter has taken regarding the team thus far.

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Overall, Sargent has done well so far and it will be exciting to see once he fully develops physically and masters the nuances of the center-forward position. As Sargent grows into his rule as a full-time starter, the pressure will grow. But pressure makes diamonds, and he is a diamond in the rough.

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