Commentary

Tipping point: Josh Sargent and the flight of American teens to Germany

At just about the moment on Friday that MLS commissioner Don Garber was expressing his concerns about the flight of Americans to chase their European dreams -- he preferred to see it as European clubs chasing after Americans -- 18-year-old Josh Sargent was making his Bundesliga debut for Werder Bremen -- and scoring on his first touch of the ball.



After the 3-1 over Fortuna Duesseldorf, Sargent  downplayed what he had done, crediting the goal -- a header into an empty net from one yard out -- to "beginner's luck." But it was hardly the first time Sargent scored in his debut.

The Red Baron, as Werder Bremen likes to call him on social media, also scored twice in his first game for the USA at the 2017 U-20 World Cup and 2017 U-17 World Cup, in his debut for the senior national team against Bolivia in May and his first game for Werder Bremen II -- the U-23s -- in the Regionalliga.

This week, Werder Bremen coach Florian Kohfeldt tried to temper expectations about Sargent, saying if he plays five or six Bundesliga games this season, it will be a good year for him. The plan is to bring Sargent along so he's regular in the first-team rotation next season in place of veteran Peruvian Claudio Pizarro.

For an American, Sargent is a special talent -- a forward with an unusual ability to find pockets of space for himself in the penalty area and attack the goal from different angles --  but what Kohfeldt likes about Sargent is he is not too full of himself.

"Josh does not care whether he plays at the Weserstadion or Platz 11 [the U-23s' home field]," said the Bremen coach. "and he would not care about 80,000 in Dortmund. He can block that out, a quality Pizarro also has. That can make the difference between a good and an outstanding player."

Sargent, a member of the last U.S. U-17 residency class in Bradenton, is not a product of an MLS academy, but he and other young Americans turning pro are the first generation of players who have grown up from a young age on a fast track to a pro career and been prepared for the challenges they will face.

That is a credit to the general American youth soccer environment but also to MLS academies that have been at the forefront of preparing young players for pro careers. If anything, they are the victims of their own success.

The difference from even as recently as five years ago is night and day. Of the players on Tab Ramos' first U-20 World Cup team in 2013, more players are out of soccer altogether than playing regularly for a pro first team. His current team just won the Concacaf U-20  championship in spectacular fashion, but that team is remarkable for the players he didn't have available, including Sargent.

Garber is right that European clubs are coming after young MLS academy players. Tyler Adams, who has been on a path to the pros since he was 15 and is another of the U-20-eligible players playing on the senior national team, is the exception. After only two seasons with the Red Bulls, he's been transferred to RB Leipzig.

But for every Tyler Adams, there are many more Josh Sargents lured to Germany in the hope of achieving the European dream without ever playing in MLS. Christian Pulisic's success at Borussia Dortmund has had a lot to do with that.



For decades, young Americans have flocked to Germany to pursue soccer careers. Most have ended up at amateur clubs. Decades ago, Soccer America would tout the latest arrivals in the Verbandsliga. The signings sounded exciting until you realized the Verbandsliga was the sixth-tier of German soccer.

What has changed and picked up speed is the flight of American teens to German pro clubs -- the Pulisic effect, if you will. There are already this year and next almost as many signings with Bundesliga clubs as in the previous decade combined.

Americans to Germany:
2008 registration
(GP) PLAYER, TEAM (CURRENT TEAM)
(64) Bobby Wood
, 1860 Munich (Hannover 96)
2010 registration

(GP) PLAYER, TEAM (CURRENT TEAM)
Jared Jeffrey, Mainz (no club)
2011 registration
(GP) PLAYER, TEAM (CURRENT TEAM)
(6) Caleb Stanko
, Freiburg (Freiburg)
(3) Joe Gyau
, Hoffenheim (Duisburg/D2)
(1) Russell Canouse, Hoffenheim (D.C. United)
Charles Renken, Hoffenheim (no club)
2013 registration
(GP) PLAYER, TEAM (CURRENT TEAM)
Mario Rodriguez, Bor. M'Gladbach (no club)
2014 registration
(GP) PLAYER, TEAM (CURRENT TEAM)
Junior Flores, Bor. Dortmund (no club)
2015 registration
(GP) PLAYER, TEAM (CURRENT TEAM)
79 Christian Pulisic
, Bor. Dortmund (Bor. Dortmund)
2016 registration
(GP) PLAYER, TEAM (CURRENT TEAM)
34 Weston McKennie
, Schalke 04 (Schalke 04)
2 Haji Wright, Schalke 04 (Schalke 04)
Kevin Coleman, Kaiserslautern/D2 (Bayreuth/D4)
McKinze Gaines, Wolfsburg (Darmstadt/D2)
Nick Taitague, Schalke 04 (Schalke 04 II/D5)
2017 registration
(GP) PLAYER, TEAM (CURRENT TEAM)
Jonathan Klinsmann, Hertha Berlin (Hertha Berlin)
Brady Scott, FC Cologne (FC Cologne II/D4)
Isaiah Young, Werder Bremen (Werder Bremen II/D4)
2018 registration
(GP) PLAYER, TEAM (CURRENT TEAM)
(1) Josh Sargent
, Werder Bremen (Werder Bremen)
Blaine Ferri, Greuther Fuerth/D2 (Greuther Fuerth U19)
Chris Gloster, Hannover 96 (Hannover 96 II)
Zyen Jones, Schalke 04 (Schalke U19)
Mason Judge, Ein. Frankfurt (Ein. Frankfurt U17)
Chris Richards, Bayern Munich (Bayern Munich II)
Max Rugova, Nuremberg (Nuremberg U19)
Sebastian Soto, Hannover 96 (Hannover 96 U19)
Alex Vedamanikam, Ein. Braunschweig/D2 (Ein. Braunschweig U19)
2019 registration
PLAYER, TEAM
Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig
Taylor Booth, Bayern Munich
Alex Mendez, Freiburg
Uly Llanez, Wolfsburg
Gio Reyna, Bor. Dortmund
GP=Games played in the Bundesliga.
Note: Players registered on pro clubs from the age of 16 to 20.

9 comments about "Tipping point: Josh Sargent and the flight of American teens to Germany".
  1. beautiful game, December 13, 2018 at 10:38 a.m.

    It's a no brainer, MLS is not the place for a young and promsing player...end of story. 

  2. don Lamb replied, December 13, 2018 at 4:16 p.m.

    Not necessarily true. MLS has certainly been a good place for Tyler Adams, and there are a lot more players that are following in his footsteps. That does not mean that there aren't many who will find the Christian Pulisic route best for the them. The point is there is not one path to becoming a top player.

    Teens potentially ready to break out in MLS next season: Pomykal, Carleton, Servania, Sands, Lindsey, Ferreira, Bassett, Bello, Scally, etc.

  3. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, December 14, 2018 at 5:58 p.m.

    MLS needs to become better integrated in the global player market. Things are improving. There will still be guys who go over before playing in MLS but I think Adams' path is preferable.

  4. don Lamb replied, December 14, 2018 at 7:38 p.m.

    Me too, but that's mostly for selfish reasons. No doubt it's better for MLS for top prospects to spend a couple of years in MLS and be sold rather than go to Europe at 18 or before for no fee. At the end of the day, it's nice for there to be a variety of pathways since there are so many variables involved in each player's development/life.

  5. humble 1, December 13, 2018 at 1:26 p.m.

    Challenge is not just to MLS but also to mens NCAA D1 Universities, maybe the Universities now impacted by USL and Europe are more impacted than MLS to this german centric euro-poaching phenom.  Since there is no MLS / Garber punching bag equivalent for NCAA D1 Schools - the easier discussion is MLS.  The 'play one year of college soccer to get four years of scholarship' could be a reaction to this - which seems to have the unintended side effect - to benefit MLS a bit - of keeping players here one more year and maybe they then fall into the clutches of the single entity contract and the draft and all that implies, which is not to different from signing to one of the big name clubs in Europe which then gives most of the control of where the player is loaned.  Probably it is also true that having the DA academies has made it easier to track and monitor these players, and also it may be that Tab Ramos and his mens YNT associates have done a very good job of selecting and grooming players.  I don't know for sure but almost all those kids would have played for Tab.  He really is an top top coach that also knows how to identify and groom young players.  

  6. jay hondo, December 13, 2018 at 5:58 p.m.

    But, why so many to Germany and not England, Spain and France?

  7. don Lamb replied, December 13, 2018 at 8:30 p.m.

    England was hard to get into BEFORE Brexit...

    Spain does not have the money or the global ambition...

    France does not have the money in the youth or the cultural demand...

    Germany is easy to get into, wealthy, ambitious, committed to youth, and high pressure.

  8. R2 Dad replied, December 14, 2018 at 12:03 p.m.

    Germany has found a way to monetize these players. Spain, Italy and France struggle. I think the Dutch could be next.

  9. Right Winger, December 15, 2018 at 1:59 p.m.

    It is true that Germany has the money and can take more chances inviting multiple players.

    i don’t know much about France.  But Spain is very selective on players they invite or give the opportunity.  The majority of youth coming up today don’t have the technical ability to play the type of game they play in Spain.  Technical ability for US players is limited.   Take a look at the MNT and any given players first touch on the ball after receiving a pass.  I would say that 75% of the time they can’t control the ball properly which hinders the ability to attack and get to the goal.  Just look at our ability to get to the goal and then finish.  It happens right on down the line.  I watched the U17’s Nike Friendlies a couple weeks ago in Florida.  We probably have the best conditioned athletes in the tourney but the lack of attacking ability is evident.  No playmaker, no chance taker which limits your ability to get to the goal.  Spain or any other country will not accept this kind of play.

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