Werder Bremen’s Josh Sargent took another important step in his professional career by coming on in the USA’s friendly against the Republic of Ireland on Saturday, while Bobby Wood of Hamburg got a goal in the 2-1 defeat. bundesliga.com spoke to both strikers after a promising night.
Sargent signed his first professional contract with Werder when he turned 18 in February, but is ineligible to play for the senior team until next season. In the meantime the U.S. Soccer Young Male Player of the Year for 2017 has been making up for lost time while on international duty. He made his senior debut on Monday, netting in a 3-0 win over Bolivia to become the fifth-youngest player in U.S. history to get on the scoresheet.
On Saturday the U.S. faced a tougher test as they took on Ireland in Dublin, and, after Wood gave them a half-time lead, they lost out to a last-minute winner. It was another big night for Sargent though, as he came on for Wood with 20 minutes to play and showed some good touches against a physical Irish defence.
“It was unfortunate not to get a win but I did as much as I could,” he told bundesliga.com afterwards. “I worked hard, so I was pretty proud of my performance.
“Obviously when you take steps up from youth level to the men’s national team, it’s going to be a big step. But I definitely think I can hang in there and compete. It’s been a good test so far, but I really think I can do this.”
The Missouri native’s determined nature on the pitch and positive mindset off it should be an asset to Werder next season, and their coach Florian Kohfeldt suggested recently that the teenager is ready to “kick on” at club level. Sargent admits, however, that it’s been hard to watch from the sidelines in his first few months with the Green-Whites.
“A little frustrating not being able to play, obviously, but I’m just looking forward to next season,” he said when asked about his first impressions of Werder.
Settling in, though, has not been a major problem – thanks in no small part to players like fellow Werder forward Max Kruse. Sargent spent much of the second half of the season training with the first-team squad, and he feels he has been welcomed with open arms.
“Max has been a great mentor while I’ve been there,” he said. “I think they’ve all been a really good support system, helping with just guiding me through.
“Since I can’t play games they were all a really big help with that, just saying ‘wait ‘til next season’ and pushing me through. So it’s been a good experience so far.”
Life at Werder’s northern rivals Hamburg, meanwhile, has been somewhat more difficult recently. After being relegated with his club, though, Wood once again used an international break to showcase his talent.
Having already gone close with a sharp turn and shot from the edge of the box, the 25-year-old gave the U.S. the lead against Ireland on the stroke of half-time by pouncing on Matt Miazga’s header to poke home a smart finish.
“I kind of just read where the ball was going and I was at the right spot,” he told bundesliga.com. “So I was lucky to get in there.”
Perhaps understandably, Wood wasn’t too keen to look back on a painful season for his club. The ex-1860 Munich and Union Berlin attacker had scored a penalty in a vital win at Wolfsburg with three games to go, but ultimately Hamburg’s bid to avoid the drop came up just short.
“A lot of things went wrong but I don’t want to talk about it now,” he said. “There’s no point - it is what it is. We’ve just got to look forward, and we’ll see what happens.”
Much like Cologne and their mainstays Jonas Hector and Timo Horn, Hamburg have also been boosted by several key players committing their futures to the club in spite of relegation. Aaron Hunt has emulated Lewis Holtby and Gotoku Sakai by signing a new contract with the club, and Wood believes that is a good sign ahead of Hamburg’s bid to bounce back to the top flight.
“For sure,” said Wood, whose deal with the Red Shorts runs until 2021. “It’s great for the team that we’ve got very experienced players, and we’ve just got to look forward from there.”
Next up for the U.S., meanwhile, is a game against France next Saturday, when Sargent and Wood will take on one of the World Cup favourites in their own backyard.
“It’s going to be a real tough challenge for us,” Sargent said. “But we’re going to come out just like it’s any other game, and compete as hard as we can.”