Josh Sargent, an 18-year-old native of O'Fallon, Mo., is now playing soccer professionally in Germany, continuing his family's long tradition in the sport. 

By Spencer Gleason

Soccer runs in the Sargent family. Both Liane and Jeff Sargent played collegiately for St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley’s campus, where they met, and transferred to larger universities to continue their college playing careers.

In the early 2000s, their oldest daughter began playing the sport and their second child, Josh, wanted to play, too. The problem, however, was that there wasn’t a league for three-year-olds. So Liane and Jeff fibbed and said that their only son was four-years-old.

“We got him on one of the teams and they asked the boys what they wanted to be named,” Jeff said. “One of them said, ‘Flies!’”

The name stuck and in his first game for the Flies, Josh – a three-year-old playing with four-year-olds – scored nine goals. It was a sign of what was to come and a glimpse into what the future had in store for the red-haired kid from O’Fallon, Mo.

A Dream Come True

Scoring nine goals in his very first soccer game was not why Josh wore No. 9 for the FIFA U-17 and U-20 US World Cup teams in 2017 and it wasn’t why the US men’s national team called him up for a friendly match against Portugal in November last year. 

“I didn’t even know I did that, to be honest,” Josh, now 18, said of his nine-goal performance.

Nor was it why the German soccer club SV Werder Bremen was so excited they had secured his services that they announced it in September 2017 – five months before he was allowed to sign with them. Josh officially signed on the dotted line with the Bundesliga team on Feb. 20 – his 18th birthday.

He is the 51st American player to play for a Bundesliga club.

“It was kind of a dream of his to play in Europe,” Jeff said of his son.

The Bundesliga league in Germany consists of 18 teams and has the highest average soccer attendance worldwide. Last year, they averaged more than 41,000 people per game, nearly doubling the average attendance of MLS games.

Signing with the MLS team Sporting Kansas City was on the table, but Josh opted to travel overseas. Since moving to Germany, at the beginning of 2018, he has been living in a dorm at Werder Bremen’s stadium and taking classes several times a week to learn German.

“There are actually dorms in the stadium, so he can see the field,” Jeff said. “They use that for motivation.” 

In the two months since he’s been there, Josh has already made an impression with his new team. In his first game with their U-23 squad, he tallied an assist in a 2-1 loss against Dynamo Dresden during a match in Spain and he has been called up to practice with the first-team. 

“There’ll be tough times and everything,” Jeff said of his son playing in Germany. “But there are also not a lot of people that get to play a game that they love for a living. So you have to balance that with all the rough times. It beats working.”

Moving Away at 16

For Josh, sports are life. He attended St. Dominic High School and played in 15 varsity basketball games for the Crusaders, as a freshman. He led them in assists (69) and steals (74), averaging almost five of each per game.

Although on the soccer field is where Josh got down to business. The St. Louis Scott Gallagher club player began traveling to soccer camps throughout the Midwest at 13-years-old and midway through his sophomore year at St. Dominic, he was invited to the illustrious IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Since he was young kid, Josh knew that IMG Academy was the place to go to further his soccer prowess. The gated sports campus is situated on the Gulf Coast-side of Florida and provides state-of-the-art facilities for athletic teams. 

“We weren’t going to stop him from doing what he wanted to do,” Jeff said. “That’s what he really wanted to do, but it didn’t make it an easy choice.”

The Sargents would travel down to Florida to visit Josh once every four-to-six weeks for a long weekend, throughout the rest of high school.

“It was good to have him down there and go down for a little getaway,” Jeff said. 

In the morning, Josh and his teammates would have practice. In the afternoon, they’d go to school and afterward, the entire property had a curfew of 9:30 p.m.

“It’s like a college campus,” Josh said. “It’s a huge sports academy, but they have regular classes. We’d have three classes a day, just super long classes. But they were normal.

“It was a good time, besides the school part,” he continued. “If we could’ve just lived there and play soccer all day, that’d be the life. But that’s what we actually get to do, if we go play. I’d do it all again, if I could.”

That was two years ago, when Josh was first invited to IMG Academy.

“A lot’s happened in those two years,” Jeff said. 

A Rise up the Ranks

Josh was scouted out of the academy to make the cut for the US Soccer programs. The coaches selected him captain of the U-17 World Cup team and they won their first six games after his promotion.

“It was going well,” he said. “And I was getting better with the guys.”

After leading the U-17 squad through qualifiers in Panama, the coach told Josh that the U-20 team wanted him for their World Cup games in South Korea. He made the jump and helped them advance to the Cup’s quarterfinals last summer. 

In the process, Josh won the World Cup’s Silver Boot Award, tallying four goals in five games.

“South Korea was really nice,” he said. “It was really beautiful. It’s a developing country, so they’re still building. But the people there were so kind. Everything was really nice.” 

After returning to the States, Josh rejoined the U-17 team and prepared to travel to India for their World Cup in October 2017. He led them to a quarterfinal appearance, as well.

In total, Josh accounted for nearly a quarter of the U-17 team’s goals, scoring 15 of their 62 tallies and he was tied second on the team with five assists.

“When you’re scoring goals, they tend to like you a lot more,” Josh said. “I get along with people pretty well. Of course, you have to prove yourself when you go on these teams, and as I was doing better, I got closer with everybody and developed good relationships.”

He is just the second US soccer player to participate in two World Cups in the same year. Freddy Adu did it in 2007. He also tied Adu’s US record of seven goals in the men’s youth World Cups.

The St. Louis native would go one step further, however, when he received a call up to the US men’s national team in November 2017.

After failing to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the US squad traveled to Faro, Portugal to play Portugal in a friendly and they asked Josh to join them. Although a right hip flexor injury would prevent him from tallying any minutes in the match. The game ended in a 1-1 tie.

“It was nice going and being with the guys and seeing how everything worked,” Josh said. “I had to do my initiation, so I got that over with. I had to stand up on a chair, in front of all of the staff, too – the coaches and everybody – and sing.”

Josh had to belt out “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepson. Luckily, however, the US team wanted him more for his soccer skills and not for his singing voice. 

The natural scorer tallied 19 goals combined between the U-17 and U-20 FIFA World Cup teams and he capped off 2017 being named the US Young Male Player of the Year. The award, which started in 1998, lists Landon Donovan, Adu and Jozy Altidore, among others, as previous recipients.

 Instead of going out to celebrate, however, the Sargents stayed home. 

“We’re just trying to spend time together and get as prepared as we can for him leaving,” Jeff said at the time.

A Kid at Heart

The time spent together at home, in St. Louis, is more quality than quantity these days for the entire Sargent family. Josh won’t return home until early summertime, when Werder Bremen’s season ends. Their season will end earlier than normal, in mid-May, because it’s a World Cup year.

Although, when he does come home, his parents stress the importance of still being a kid and spending time with friends.

“When I come home and everything, you have to make sure that you still have fun,” Josh said.

Away from the professional soccer environment, Josh still kicks the ball around – but this time it’s with his childhood buddies from St. Dominic.

“It’s what I love to do,” Josh said. “It’s always been fun to me.”

In its truest form, that’s what the game is. Take away all of the splendor – the stadium, the fans, the spotlight – and he’s the same guy that scored nine goals in his first game for the Flies as a three-year-old kid. Except now, he’s doing it on a bigger stage.

You have to realize what you’re doing and that not a lot of other people can say that,” Josh said. 

Throughout US soccer history, not many people can say they’ve traveled the world representing their country on three different World Cup teams in the same calendar year and agreed to play the sport professionally – all by their 18th birthday. 

In fact, he’s the only one.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of pressure that you have to put on yourself to make sure that you do well every day,” Josh said. “But it’s nice whenever practice is over; you get to be a kid again.”