Commentary

Josh Sargent: The pride of soccer-rich St. Louis

By Mike Woitalla

How did 17-year-old American Josh Sargent become one of the soccer world’s most exciting young prospects?

He joined the Scott Gallagher Soccer Club at age 8, but before its technical director, Kevin Kalish, cites how the club helped Sargent flourish, he talks about Sargent’s character -- and the soccer culture of St. Louis.

“First and foremost,” says Kalish, “From a young age, he stood out for being an ideal player to coach and an ideal player to have as a teammate.”

Sargent scored three goals in the USA’s first two U-20 World Cup games, a few weeks after scoring five goals as the USA qualified for the U-17 World Cup.

He became the youngest American to score at a U-20 World Cup when he struck twice in a 3-3 tie with Ecuador and he hit the winner in the USA’s 1-0 win over Senegal.

“He spent a ton of time in front of the goal working on various finishing activities,” says Kalish.

Scott Gallagher SC products include other goalscorers such as Taylor Twellman and Will Bruin, and the current U.S. defender Tim Ream, who stands out for his technical skills. Other alums include: Brad Davis, Pat Noonan, Steve Ralston, Mike Sorber.

“We’re fortunate to be in an area, St. Louis, where there’s a lot a lot of third- and fourth-generation players, so soccer is rooted in the culture,” says  Kalish. “There are a lot of kids who grew up with dads and moms who played, and I think when you have that kind of DNA in a city, you see a lot of parents who make soccer an important part of their kids’ lives.”

St. Louis is one of few parts of the USA where soccer thrived long before it became a mainstream American sport. In one of the most famous upsets in soccer history, the USA’s 1-0 win over England in the 1950 World Cup, five of the starters hailed from St. Louis.

Of course, in Sargent’s case, the soccer influences are much more recent.

“I give credit to the culture his parents created at their home and being born into a family that loves soccer and has two parents who were high level players at the collegiate level -- and the staff that’s been working with him throughout the years creating that environment,” says Kalish.

Liane (nee Deetman) and Jeff both played college ball, Liane at SIU-Edwardsville and Jeff at Sangamon State, now the University of Illinois-Springfield.


St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sept. 14, 1990

Is Kalish surprised that Sargent is doing so well at such a young age at the U-20 World Cup?

“You never know how a player will do until you throw him in the environment,” Kalish says. “I wouldn’t say surprised. I would say we’re excited that he’s in top form and that he’s seized the moment. We knew Josh’s ability level and now he gets to showcase it at the world stage.”

Sargent’s goal against Senegal: He received a pass from Luca de la Torre. The ball arrived behind Sargent, marked by Senegal captain Jean Ndecky. He settled the ball with his right foot, his back to Ndecky and the goal, and spun 180 degrees to unleash a fierce shot from 13 yards that flew into the right corner.

Like so many of his goals, it demonstrated a true knack for finding a way to put the ball into the net.

“While you do have to have innate abilities to execute like that, he does work on it a ton,” Kalish says. “He’s one of those players even on his own time, when he’s back at home, he spends a lot of time in front of the goal getting a lot of repetitions, finishing from all different angles.”

Scott Gallagher SC is named after the sheet-metal company owned by St. Louisan Jim Scott, who started sponsoring the club in 1976. In 2007, Scott Gallagher merged with St. Louis SC/Busch SC and Metro United.

Kalish himself played for Scott Gallagher, and credits one of its founders, Tom Howe, for emphasizing skillful soccer while training players.

“We’ve been fortunate,” he says. “Tom Howe was an unbelievable leader early on with the organization who trained and coached a lot of the pros you’re seeing today along with a lot of other coaches.

“From day one, we’ve always wanted to be a possession-oriented club that produces technical players, intelligent players, and players who can be flexible enough to play in multiple systems.”

Kalish says that 80 percent of the training at the club is attacking-based.

“We want to create that individual who can dominate,” he says. “We do give our attacking players freedom. The environment we’ve created over years and years is one we hope will result in unique players.”

A superb athlete, Sargent was a starter as a freshman on his high school basketball team before joining the U-17 Residency Program in Bradenton. Before that, Kalish thinks the club did its best to prepare Sargent for the higher levels of soccer.


Josh Sargent at age 11.

“At 11 or 12, did we think he could go far? 100 percent, yes,” he says. “We always want to build our environment around our better players to give them what they need in order to excel at the highest level, to meet their utmost potential.”

The club challenged him by having him play above his age group.

“We kind of have a hybrid where players train up, play up,” he says. “It’s not a set thing. We’re just looking for an environment to challenge them.”

In U.S. Soccer Development Academy play, Sargent, a 2000-born player, played against 1998s at U-16s. That’s when Kalish was really impressed.

“In the playoffs, they beat the Galaxy in the first game and then they played FC Dallas the second game,” he says. “FC Dallas won the game but Josh was just a menace the entire game. I felt like every time he touched the ball he was a threat to score. That was a moment for me where I thought he was really going to be unique.”

And, for Kalish, Sargent is a St. Louis kind of player.

“From a mentality perspective, the St. Louis player has an edge to him,” Kalish says. “They can play in a physical match, so to speak, but they can also play in a game that’s very technical and fast-paced. You get a good blend with a St. Louis player. You get very technical, proficient and intelligent players but also with a bit of edge to them as well.”

Sargent’s making a strong case for that claim.

17 comments about "Josh Sargent: The pride of soccer-rich St. Louis".
  1. Right Winger, May 26, 2017 at 3:11 p.m.

    Scott Gallagher has a truck load of good coaches who know how to develop kids. They know how to let kids have fun while learning the game.

    If US Soccer would take a look at these successful clubs across the country and there are more of them and draw from what they do soccer in this country would be much further along than it is now. Our national coaches at the younger ages are not capable of handling players who think for themselves. Ramos, is an exception and it shows on the field. The younger age coaches are only determined to go full speed ahead side stepping technical players and their creative ability. Kick the cover off the ball and hope the biggest kid gets to it in front of the goal. Sargent and the entire U20 team is fund to watch. Keep it up guys.

  2. Miguel Dedo replied, May 26, 2017 at 4:05 p.m.

    Ah yes, and we should remember that the native approach is the ideal. Josh Sargent should have been left to play pick-up games, in the street, with a ball made of old rags wrapped around a goat's head -- that is how Lionel Messi became a great player; David Beckham and Christian Pulisic, too.

  3. Ginger Peeler, May 26, 2017 at 4:29 p.m.

    When Klinsmann was hired and made technical director, or whatever his title was, he got rid of some of our existing coaches and hired more Europeans. I think it's past time USSoccer brings Hugo Perez back into the fold. He's an excellent coach and scout. We need his talents.

  4. Right Winger replied, May 26, 2017 at 10:16 p.m.

    Ginger, JK was a legend in his own mind. A player to be recognized but not a coach.

  5. Nick Daverese, May 26, 2017 at 7:36 p.m.

    Remember the trainer of Landon Donovan. After working with Donovan he thought he could write his own ticket. What ever happen to that guy?

  6. Nick Daverese, May 26, 2017 at 7:43 p.m.

    Fan our problem here is that coaches here love high percentage players. An good example of that kind of player was Claudio Reyner. The fact is very creative players are not always high percentage. I saw Claudio playing in a game he had the ball and was in the middle of the field 3o yards out. From that position you can do a lot of creative things. So what does he do he throws the ball out tona flank. He always did the same thing from that location. Is that high percentage yes. But it is not creative.

  7. Craig Cummings, May 26, 2017 at 7:46 p.m.

    Nick, I have not seen him for years and I ref all over So. Cal.

  8. Kent James, May 26, 2017 at 11:12 p.m.

    While I have no doubts the coaching described in the article is excellent, and I certainly approve of the Scott Gallagher emphasis on skillful, attacking soccer, these are not sufficient to produce players of the highest caliber. I think the key ingredient that is highlighted in the article, but is missing in many areas, is soccer culture (though it sounds like he's also got good genes). The soccer culture is what helps motivate him (and provides an outlet for his efforts); most outstanding players are internally driven, as Sargent clearly is, because that helps them maintain the tenacity to overcome the inevitable obstacles and setbacks. My hope is that in time, other areas can develop as deep a soccer culture as St. Louis has, and provide a steady stream of high quality players (though the distractions of today's culture make that by no means a foregone conclusion). But we're making progress...

  9. Bob Ashpole, May 27, 2017 at 3:40 a.m.

    You can talk about coaches all day long, but the most important person to a players development is the player. Good coaching is important too, but lets not forget who is the mentor and who is doing the work.

  10. Allan Lindh replied, May 27, 2017 at 10:11 p.m.

    Sorry, most important thing in a young players development is NOT himself, it is his parents, his siblings, his friends, his school and the soccer culture he grows up in. Whatever native talent he has only flourish if he is submerged in the beautiful game from a young age. Oh ya, and some coaches help to. And in this country, a lot don't help.

  11. don Lamb replied, May 29, 2017 at 7:52 p.m.

    You are correct. I polled my youth players (7-9 tear olds) the other day, and almost every one of them plays regularly outside of formal training. Our culture is growing by leaps and bounds.

  12. Nick Daverese, May 27, 2017 at 8:41 a.m.

    A coach will help the less motivated player. If he knows how to read people because all people are different. You can't do and say the same things for different people and expect to reach them all. That is why new coaches are not good at reaching everybody. They have not been around long enough to be able to do that. So there is a place for us old guys in this game. Hopefully, we learned from the mistakes we made as young guys.

  13. Right Winger replied, May 28, 2017 at 10:50 p.m.

    High school soccer is a no,no per US soccer. College soccer is not good for proper development per US Soccer. The DA program iS where it's at per US Soccer. What does US Soccer have for proof? Because if you look at the numbers US Soccer has no ground to stand on.

  14. don Lamb replied, May 29, 2017 at 7:58 p.m.

    The "proof" is in best practices from around the world, which the DA is much more closely aligned with than high school, college, recreational, and traditional club soccer.

  15. Joey Tremone, May 28, 2017 at 2:32 p.m.

    So Pulisic and Sargent have in common that both of their parents played NCAA soccer.

  16. Kent James replied, May 28, 2017 at 8:34 p.m.

    Good point. For all the negatives generally attributed to College soccer, for a long time (between the NASL and MLS), it was the only place that consistently devoted resources to soccer (aside from a few clubs in soccer hotbeds), so it kept the flame alive. While college soccer could never be the best way to produce world-class players, it has generally spread the reach of soccer to a lot of places that might not otherwise have it.

  17. George Vista, May 30, 2017 at 12:28 p.m.

    "...one of the soccer world’s most exciting young prospects"

    According to who?

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