The Washington Post

Surging at the right time, Sargent reenters the fold with U.S. team

- BY STEVEN GOFF

cologne, germany — Josh Sargent rejoined the U.S. national soccer team this week on a torrential scoring tear with his English club, posting the type of gaudy numbers and carrying the accompanyi­ng confidence that surely belong on a World Cup roster.

Before reporting to training camp in this historic riverside city, the 22-year-old forward notched six goals in seven appearance­s for Norwich City, an English second-division side poised to return to the Premier League next spring.

He has surged into a share of second place in the league’s scoring race and become a favorite at Carrow Road, where the yellowclot­hed Canaries have been kicking about since 1935.

Six goals barely two months into the English Championsh­ip season are four more than he scored all of last season in the Premier League — a parched campaign that resulted in no U.S. invitation­s for more than a year.

“It’s been a fight,” he said Wednesday, “but glad to be back.”

No one saw this coming. Sargent was fresh off a 2021-22 campaign — his first in England after four with Werder Bremen in Germany — in which he scored twice in league play and four times in 29 appearance­s overall before missing the final few weeks with an ankle injury. Last among 20 clubs with a 5-26-7 record, Norwich City was relegated.

Poor form impacts national team status. It’s almost unavoidabl­e. Sargent was Berhalter’s firstchoic­e striker when World Cup qualifying began last fall, but after three appearance­s without a goal for the United States and worsening travails with Norwich City, he disappeare­d from the roster.

Sargent said watching qualifiers from afar was “upsetting, of course . . . wanting to be out there but still happy with how everything was turning out for the team.”

Sargent remained in the player pool, but for practical purposes, his World Cup outlook was grim. Ricardo Pepi stepped into the lead role in the qualifiers before Jesús Ferreira seized the job. Jordan Pefok and Haji Wright

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also were in the mix. This summer, fans began clamoring for FC Cincinnati’s Brandon Vazquez, one of MLS’S top scorers. Sargent, meanwhile, had plummeted on the depth chart.

“It was just a frustratin­g time, and I was trying to think about the situation I was in in Norwich and not so much about the national team,” he said. “If I start performing better, if the team starts performing better, I’ ll get the chances with the national team eventually. It was very important for me coming into this season to get off to a good start to kind of put myself back in that [U.S.] picture.”

Four games into the season, the goals began to flow. He scored against Huddersfie­ld Town, then twice against Millwall and once against Sunderland. After a onegame pause, Coventry City and Bristol City failed to stop him. In that stretch, Norwich (6-2-2) went 6-0-1 to jump into second place behind Sheffield United.

Sargent’s surge overlapped with Berhalter’s plans for his last pre-world Cup camp involving European-based players — a nineday convention featuring friendlies against Japan on Friday in Düsseldorf and Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in Murcia, Spain.

In announcing the roster last week, Berhalter said Sargent is in “great form” and earned another chance to make a case for a place on the World Cup squad.

Sargent’s performanc­es in the friendlies will not make or break his chances; Berhalter said he will continue monitoring players and evaluating the team’s needs before announcing 26 players Nov. 9 for the tournament in Qatar, which will start Nov. 20. But strong showings — and goals — will bolster his case.

Berhalter plans to select three strikers. Barring injury, Ferreira is a lock. Pepi, Sargent and Pefok seem to be fighting for the other two slots. Only Pepi and Sargent were invited to this camp. Pepi is trying to follow Sargent’s lead and regain his scoring form with Dutch club Groningen after a forgettabl­e season with Augsburg in Germany.

Sargent attributes his resurgence, in part, to playing more often in his natural position at the point of the attack. Last season, he often found himself in an uncomforta­ble role on the wing.

He had played a bit on the flank at Werder Bremen, but the central role suited him best. When Norwich City asked him to play on the wing last season, he was not in a position to say no.

“I was getting playing time in the best league in the world, so I wasn’t going to complain too much,” Sargent. “I am most free and feel most confident when I play striker.”

Norwich City’s top striker is Finland’s Teemu Pukki, but an early season injury opened the door for Sargent, who responded with four goals in three games.

“When I got that opportunit­y, I knew I had to take it,” he said. “Just thinking, you know: ‘ Do I still have my touch? I don’t know. I haven’t played there in a while.’ So it felt amazing to score that first game.”

Despite his fine form, Sargent returned to the wing when Pukki recovered, though with greater flexibilit­y.

“Even if I’m playing on the wing now, there’s an understand­ing between me and the coach [Dean Smith] and the team that I’ ll be playing a little bit more as a second striker and tucking more on the inside.”

The goal scoring has continued.

“I haven’t really had a season like this in terms of getting a lot of scoring chances, getting minutes at striker,” said Sargent, a native of O’fallon, Mo., a St. Louis suburb. “Confidence is at an all-time high at the moment — just trying to keep that momentum going as long as possible and keep scoring goals.”

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