Teenaged striker Josh Sargent is no stranger to headlines. A prodigious goal-scorer with American youth sides and a full international at the age of 18, the young striker signed with Werder Bremen last February on his 18th birthday after announcing his intention to sign with the north German side last September, big news both in his hometown of St. Louis and in Bremen. Unable to sign before his 18th birthday, Sargent was thus prevented from suiting up for any league matches involving Werder Bremen or its youth sides because his signing occurred outside the transfer window.
The young Missourian, though, was able to practice with the club’s U19 and reserve squads, along with some time training with the green-whites’ senior squad. And Sargent did get several games with Bremen’s U19 squad, as he featured for in the CRB U19 youth club tournament in Düsseldorf which featured youth sides from Borussia Mönchengladbach, Standard Liege, Everton, Legia Warsaw and Fortuna Düsseldorf among others. Because it was a friendly tournament, Sargent was eligible to compete and, scoring two goals, made the tournament’s all-star squad in early April.
Two months after the conclusion of the CRB tournament, Sargent earned his first cap for the US senior national team, debuting against Bolivia and scoring his first senior squad goal at the end of May. The 6’1″ striker, who had already netted 29 times for American national youth sides, made two more appearances for the USMNT before being the first arrival in Werder Bremen’s preseason training camp in early July. Since then, Sargent has scored two goals in friendlies with Werder’s senior side, and according to the latest episode of the Radio Free Weser Podcast (an English language pod devoted to all things Werder Bremen), the indications are such that Coach, Florian Kohfeldt will include Sargent on the club’s first team roster when they open the Bundesliga season August 25 against Hannover, despite his youth and lack of European match experience.
The difficulty for Sargent, though, is that the number of strikers/attacking midfielders on the Werder squad, making the attacking positions the deepest of any on the club’s roster. Headed by Max Kruse, Sargent will be fighting for playing time with holdovers Fin Bartels, Aron Johannsson (rumored to be headed to Fortuna Dusseldorf), Johannes Eggestein, Milot Rashica, Florian Kainz and newcomers Martin Harnik (who began his career alongside Kruse with the green-whites) and Yuya Osako, acquired this summer from demoted 1. FC Koln — all players older than Sargent, and obviously, with much more experience in the German game.
But don’t count the 18 year-old out. He’s been hyped a lot in the press, especially as the US looks to rebuild their national squad with young players after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup — the first absence of Americans from the tournament since 1986. But Sargent has earned all the positive publicity with his success internationally. And he has been a part of the regular rotation in Werder’s early preseason matches — this weekend he played about a total of 40 minutes in both 45 minute matches Werder played in the Essen tournament, against hosts RW Essen and English side Huddersfield Town. Given that we’re still in the part of the preseason where players only play about half a match as they work towards fitness, Sargent is in the mix as far as the amount of minutes he’s getting thus far this summer.
Additionally, Sargent’s mentality will also play an important role in his immediate future. According to Werder Bremen scouting director Tim Steidten
The first thing I recognised (about Sargent) was not something like skills or technical things – it was his mentality on the pitch. How he’s talking to his teammates, how he was running for every ball… he was a team player.
According to Dan Santaromita ‘s recent article, Sargent has always competed against older players, starting when he was three years old. With no league for 3 year-olds nearby in the St. Louis suburbs, his parents, Jeff and Liane, rounded up his age and the redhead scored nine goals in his first 4v4 game. Both parents played college soccer, and could see that their young son had inherited their competitive instincts and athletic skills.
Sargent joined youth club St. Louis Scott Gallagher, a nationally recognized power in youth soccer. Current St. Louis University Coach Kevin Kalish, who coached Sargent at Scott Gallagher, recalled Sargent at age 15, playing in the U16 Development Academy playoffs against the youth sides of MLS clubs FC Dallas and the LA Galaxy
When he performed in that type of setting he was clearly the most dangerous, and in my opinion the best player on the field. Every time he touched the ball he was a threat to score. He was doing this against two top academies in the country and he was playing up. For me that was a moment that I felt like he really had the ability to go on and do special things in the game
The need to constantly improve drives Sargent. As a US U14 and U15, he’d practice with the U17s that featured Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic and Haji Wright of Schalke, eventually ending up on the U17s. That jump up in level of competition helped Sargent, who says that “to this day I think it was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Being in an environment surrounded by the best players in the country just pushing you every day with good coaches like John Hackworth and Shaun Tsakiris.”
The Missourian captained the American U17s in the 2017 CONCACAF championships, and then, fifteen days later, joined the American squad for the U20 World Cup. Sargent, at age 17, was the youngest American player in the tournament, but had the ability to score three goals, winning the competition’s Silver Boot award.
So although he lacks European club match experience, Sargent has been practicing at several levels at Werder Bremen for six months now, and although not yet fluent in German, he’s picking up enough of the language to understand and be understood. Of course, the American can start the season with Werder’s U19s or the reserve team. There would be no shame in that, given his lack of game experience, and it would be a cautious approach. The green-whites are trying to keep Sargent somewhat out of the spotlight, not talking up the teen too much, keeping the pressure off and adhere to realistic expectations.
But don’t be surprised that, on Opening Day, Sargent is with the first team, and will make his Bundesliga debut before he celebrates his 19th birthday — it will be hard to hold back a player with his level of talent and determination. Sargent has conquered every challenge he’s faced on the pitch, risen to the level of competition and feels comfortable at the club. Exciting times are ahead, for Werder Bremen, and for its teenaged American and fans of both the green-whites worldwide and the US Men’s National Team.