Photo: Arnulfo Franco/AP

The United States U-20 national team has plenty of big names on respected clubs. Cameron Carter-Vickers will probably get to feature in the vile (and admittedly decent) Tottenham first team next year. Before suffering a devastating ACL injury, Gedion Zelalem looked set to flirt with playing time at Arsenal or go out on loan somewhere in Europe. Emmanuel Sabbi plays for La Liga’s Las Palmas and Brooks Lennon is a Liverpool alumnus. The team’s got talent and even a bit more pedigree than fans are used to, yet their most important player at the U-20 World Cup is just 17 and plays for something called St. Louis Scott Gallagher, a developmental team in St. Louis.

Josh Sargent was something of a surprise addition to America’s U-20 World Cup roster, seeing as how he made his name earlier this year by scoring five goals in U-17 World Cup qualifiers. Sargent had never played for the U-20s before, but coach Tab Ramos called him up for the tournament in South Korea and he has repeatedly delivered. Sargent is a classic striker, big enough to hold the ball up at both the U-17 and U-20 levels and deceptively speedy for a big dude. Check out the burst and tight control he showed while scoring his wondergoal against Mexico.

He started his tenure with the U-20 team with a bang, scoring the U.S.’s first two goals in their game against Ecuador and drawing his team back out of a 2-0 hole. He may have been one of the youngest players on the field, but he finished his opportunities like a seasoned goal sniper.

Yesterday morning the U.S. squared off against Senegal, perhaps the best team in their group, for the group lead. The Yanks’ defense was much stronger, thanks to steady work from Carter-Vickers, and Sargent was just as good. The redhead scored the game’s lone goal in the 34th minute and it was a beauty. Some very clever build up play from Tyler Adams and Luca de la Torre put the ball into a dangerous opening area, and Sargent brilliantly engineered a goal by running into space, pulling off to receive the pass, and spinning to finish with his left foot.

The U.S. now leads Group F with four points and one more game left against Saudi Arabia. As long as they don’t lose, they should advance to the knockout rounds and Sargent will get some more opportunities to show out. Naturally, since the 17-year-old Sargent is putting on a clinic against opponents one development stage ahead of him, he’s attracted the attention of Europe. Bundesliga club Werder Bremen had been rumored to be in position to sign him once he turns 18. Landing with a respectable Bundesliga club that features another American striker (for now anyway) would be a great spot for a young prospect to find himself, but it appears that Sargent might have just played his way out of Bremen’s grasp. Here’s Bremen’s sporting director speaking on the topic a couple days ago:

“We’ve been watching [Sargent] for quite some time,” says Werder’s sporting director Frank Baumann, “Josh is one of the greatest talents in his year in the US.”

“He has aroused the interest of many well-known clubs through his achievements,” continued Baumann, “so a commitment is rather unrealistic.”

Sargent is, of course, still a prospect with a lot of developmental work left to do. At this point, American soccer fans well versed in the pitfalls and troubles that can take down any potential savior (Freddy Adu is only ten years older than Sargent), and the hype on Sargent is by no means an ironclad guarantee that he’ll traipse through the world of soccer and pour in 30 goals a season for Barcelona alongside Christian Pulisic. But he appears to be on the way to establishing himself as part of a generation of American teenagers who are succeeding on the youth stage and attracting the attention of some very large clubs. Considering he’s just 17 and is already killing it in his U-20 debut, that’s not nothing. You’ll hear the name Josh Sargent plenty more over the years.

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