Josh Sargent has enjoyed plenty of positive moments over the past few months with Norwich City, but now after earning his first-ever World Cup call-up to the U.S. men’s national team roster, the in-form forward is seeking a smooth transition from club play to the biggest tournament in the world.
Sargent earned the nod in Gregg Berhalter’s 26-player final roster last week and is busy preparing for the Americans’ opening match of the World Cup, a Monday showdown with Wales at Al Rayyan Stadium. After suffering English Premier League relegation with Norwich City last May, Sargent has picked himself back up in the English Football League Championship during the first half of the season.
Sargent is tied for the Championship lead with nine goals in 19 appearances for Dean Smith’s squad, a major step up from his two tallies in the Premier League last season. The 22-year-old is flying high ahead of his first World Cup appearance with the USMNT, and credits the Championship for helping him improve.
“I think going down one league to the Championship definitely helps,” Sargent said at a media roundtable in Qatar. “I’m not going to act like it doesn’t have anything to do with my form, but being able to get off to a good start with a couple of goals has helped get my confidence going. I think my mentality has changed a lot.
“Obviously playing against these types of players, every three days in the Championship helps give me a bit of knowledge of how those players like to play,” he added about the familiarity the Championship provides to the Wales squad. “It’s a very physical league. The defenders especially – big guys, very physical.”
Sargent’s impressive start to life in the Championship earned him a call-up to the USMNT’s September camp for friendlies against Japan and Saudi Arabia, but his form did not carry over to international play. Sargent only played 45 minutes in a 2-0 loss to Japan before being an unused substitute in a goal-less draw with Saudi Arabia in Murcia, Spain.
After not being selected for majority of the USMNT’s World Cup Qualifying schedule over the past 12 months, Sargent has returned with a vengeance and brought everything he’s learned at Norwich City with him to Qatar.
“It was obviously a very tough time when I wasn’t being called in,” Sargent said. “I felt like I was doing everything I could, but as a player, that’s all you can really do, is just work as hard as you can at your club. It’s his [USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter’s] decision. So if you’re doing everything you can, you don’t really have any time to hang your head.”
“I think being able to drop down and combine with the team as a false No. 9 is important, as well as scoring goals,” he added. “You’ve got to find the balance because you can’t come to the ball every time because you’ve got to get behind the backline as well. I think you have a big role of being able to pressure the backline too. I think I have all of those qualities and I have been doing the same things at Norwich.”
Both Wales and England will provide some familiarity to Sargent due to his involvement in the Premier League and Championship over the past year. Sargent has featured against players from both World Cup squads during his time with Norwich City, experiences that could benefit him in the upcoming matches.
Wales played with five defenders at the back during its struggling UEFA Nations League campaign, conceding 11 goals in six matches and finishing bottom of its group. Although there are several experienced players in Robert Page’s defensive unit, Sargent’s versatility could play a major role in an important first match of the group.
“Josh is an example of—he does a lot of things well,” Berhalter said about Sargent following the USMNT roster reveal. “He’s also competing against these guys from England and Wales every single week. He’ll have familiarity with the opponent, which we think will be valuable, and I think he gives a physical presence with his aerial duels and his competitive nature that’s going to help this group.”
“I played with a few of them and I think opposite movements will be good for us,” Sargent said. “Drawing their defenders out will be our goal, they play five in the back so it gets pretty tight. As soon as we see one of their defenders jump in to try and make a challenge, we have to try and find ways to get behind them and break them down.”