The Most Wonderful Debut of Werder Bremen’s Josh Sargent

Sometimes life can be most wonderful.  It was on Friday for Werder Bremen debutant Josh Sargent…..the eighteen year-old American scored Werder Bremen’s final goal on the first Bundesliga touch of his career, 86 seconds after entering the match in the 76th minute, to help Werder Bremen defeat Fortuna Düsseldorf 3-1 and break a frustrating five-game winless streak.

St.Louis area native Sargent entered the match only five minutes after Werder Bremen had re-taken the lead from veteran Martin Harnik.  Although the green-whites dominated the match statistically (22-12 edge in shots, nearly 70% possession), Dusseldorf’s talismanic loanee, Dodi Lokebakio had equalized on a penalty kick near the end of the first half after Kevin Mohwald’s wonder strike had given the home side the lead in the 20th minute. Harnik again showed his quality when he got his outstretched foot on a long incoming ball near the box — the ball bounced into the air off Düsseldorf goalkeeper Michael Rensing and looped high near the goalmouth, and Sargent easily headed it into the net.  It wasn’t a particularly artful goal, but it showed young Sargent’s nose for being in the right place at the right time —  a quality he’s demonstrated with US junior national teams (29 goals in 49 appearances), the senior US team (two goals in five appearances) in 12 matches with the Bremen reserves side in Regionalliga Nord action (seven goals) —  and his sense of being a teammate was apparent, too, as, after scoring, he went immediately to pick up the fallen provider, Harnik, before the American began celebrating.

I’ve been very excited about Sargent and his future since I first learned in September, 2017 that he would sign with Werder Bremen once he turned 18 in February.  I love the Bundesliga — it’s the sporting competition I enjoy and pay the most attention to (the NBA is second), and to have another young American international signing with a traditional club like Werder Bremen was big in my world.  Additionally, the fact that Sargent is from my home town of St. Louis, MO (more specifically, the St. Charles county suburb of O’Fallon) means a great deal.  I take inordinate pride in the area where I was born and have lived my entire life, and the many influential people who have lived here — not saying that it’s better than where you live, but the area is so rich in history, from the indigenous Mississippian culture that flourished 800 years ago just miles from the Arch to the many famed people who have trod these streets, from Lewis & Clark readying for their great expedition up the Missouri River to Chuck Berry 150 years later helping define rock’n’roll. The Civil War general who saved the American experiment and later became President, Ulysses S. Grant, lived here.  So did Yogi Berra, Tina Turner, William S. Burroughs, Maya Angelou, T.S. Eliot, Tennessee Williams, William Tecumseh Sherman, Scott Joplin and so many others, including current Bostin Celtics’ star Jayson Tatum and USWNT star defender Becky Sauerbrunn.

And of course,I’m quite aware of the great soccer tradition of St. Louis, which began in the earliest years of the 1900s and the local players who dominated the US Open Cup and US national teams until the 1970s.  I have always taken pride in the accomplishments of Hertha Berlin captain Vedad Ibišević, the Bosnian international who went to high school here after his family resettled following the tragedy and genocide in the place of his birth.  And with his signing, Mr. Sargent was going to get a chance to build on the legacy of St. Louis soccer in an elite domestic league.

After that February signing (he’d spent the winter training with Werder Bremen) I looked forward to hearing of his exploits with one of Werder’s youth sides, until I learned that he would be ineligible to play with Werder until summer because his signing fell outside of the winter transfer window. Patience, I said to myself.  Then, heading into summer, I knew it would be an uphill struggle for him to find time with Werder’s senior squad, as they were stocked with good attacking players — veterans such as Max Kruse, Fin Bartels, Claudio Pizarro, Yuya Osako, Martin Harnik and Aron Johansson who can play up front, plus another youngster, German Johannes Eggestein, vying for playing time.  Since Sargent had yet to play regular club football, I was fine with him getting his feet wet with the reserves, gaining not only the experience of football in Germany but also the rhythms of playing club football. So once again, patience was called for.

And so the 2018/2019 Bundesliga season began, with Werder Bremen continuing their uptick under Florian Kohfeldt while Sargent adapted well to life in the Regionalliga, playing regularly and scoring goals.  With Sargent’s success, Kohfeldt announced in October that the teenaged striker was ready for time with the first team, but week after week passed without Sargent even making Werder’s matchday squad.  And Werder began dropping matches — in late October, Kohfeldt’s men  lost the plot at home and were slapped by Bayer 04 Leverkusen 2-6, with losses to Mainz, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bayern Munich following.  Patience was becoming strained for one who had faith in the skills of his homie.  And then, finally, it was announced that Sargent would be in Bremen’s squad for last Friday’s home fixture against Fortuna Düsseldorf.  Whether he would play or not, who knew, but at least he made the squad, a big step forward.

Werder’s  Friday match kickoff time meant that I would be at work, but I tried to monitor the match as well as possible on my phone.  I was so hoping that he would get into the match, but I missed his introduction, but luckily caught his goal.  While still at work, I shared video of the 6’1″ redhead scoring and the magical smile that erupted afterwards.  It was easy to see the emotion of the teenager and the happiness of his teammates.  I replayed video of his goal, and the ensuing celebration, five or six times that evening, and was quite pleased to see him humbly tweet “Beginner’s luck” regarding his wondrous debut. Luck may be involved,  but Sargent is now the only American of the post-1990 era to score in both in his international and club debuts.

What the future will bring, of course, is anyone’s guess.  But having watched Sargent play for the USMNT, there is no doubt that he has the talent to prosper.  Although he’s young and lacks club experience, he’s already amassed as many goals this Bundesliga season as notable attacking talents such as Franck Ribéry, Mario Götze , Julian Brandt, Davie Selke and Emil Forsberg, and in a little over 10 minutes has equaled the current goal production of fellow American internationals Pulisic, McKennie and Fabian Johnson.  Moreover, despite the number of skilled attackers on Werder’s roster, there are no players from the north German side among the Bundesliga’s top 20 goalscorers in 2018/2019 — midfielder Max Eggestein leads the club with four goals in league play.  There is room on this squad for Sargent to grow, and make his presence known.  I’ll be among the many who will be cheering him on.

The Red Baron and his pals celebrate their much-needed win
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Gerry Wittmann

Gerry is the founder of the Bundesliga Fanatic. Besides loving German football, he also enjoys the NBA, collecting jerseys and LPs, his pets and wishes he had more time for fishing, bicycling and learning the bass guitar.

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