Six goals barely a month into the English Championship season is four more than he scored all of last season in the Premier League — a parched campaign that resulted in no U.S. invitations for more than a year.
“It’s been a fight,” he said Wednesday, “but glad to be back.”
No one saw this coming. Sargent was coming off a 2021-22 campaign — his first in England after four with Werder Bremen in Germany — in which he scored twice in league play and four times in 29 appearances overall before missing the few weeks with an ankle injury. Last among 20 clubs with a 5-26-7 record, Norwich City was relegated.
Poor form impacts national team status. It’s almost unavoidable. Sargent was Berhalter’s first-choice striker when World Cup qualifying began last fall, but after three goal-less appearances for the United States and worsening travails with Norwich City, he disappeared from the roster.
Sargent said watching qualifiers from afar was “upsetting, of course … wanting to be out there but still happy with how everything was turning out for the team.”
Sargent remained in the player pool, but for practical purposes, his World Cup outlook was grim. Ricardo Pepi stepped into the lead role in the qualifiers before Jesús Ferreira seized the job.
Jordan Pefok and Haji Wright were in the mix. This summer, fans began clamoring for FC Cincinnati’s Brandon Vazquez, one of MLS’s top scorers. Sargent, meantime, had plummeted on the depth chart.
“It was just a frustrating time and I was trying to think about the situation I was in Norwich and not so much about the national team,” he said. “If I start performing better, if the team starts performing better, I’ll get the chances with the national team eventually. It was very important for me coming into this season to get off to a good start to kind of put myself back in that [U.S.] picture.”
Four games into the season, the goals began to flow. He scored against Huddersfield Town, then twice against Millwall and once against Sunderland. After a one-game pause, Coventry City and West Bromwich Albion failed to stop him. In that stretch, Norwich (6-2-2) went 6-0-1 to jump into second place behind Sheffield United.
Sargent’s surge overlapped with Berhalter’s plans for his last pre-World Cup camp involving European-based players — a nine-day convention featuring friendlies against Japan on Friday in Düsseldorf and Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in Murcia, Spain.
In announcing the roster last week, Berhalter said Sargent is in “great form” and earned another chance to make a case for a place on the World Cup squad.
Sargent’s performances in the friendlies will not make or break his chances; Berhalter said he will continue monitoring players and evaluating the team’s needs before announced 26 players Nov. 9 for the tournament in Qatar, which will start Nov. 20. But strong showings — and goals — will bolster his case.
Berhalter plans to select three strikers. Barring injury, Ferreira is a lock. Pepi, Sargent and Pefok seem to be fighting for the other two slots. Only Pepi and Sargent were invited to this camp. Pepi is trying to follow Sargent’s lead and regain his scoring form with Dutch club Groningen after a forgettable season with Augsburg in Germany.
Sargent attributes his resurgence, in part, to playing more often in his natural position at the point of the attack. Last season, he often found himself in an uncomfortable role on the wing.
He had played a bit on the flank at Werder Bremen, but the central role suited him best. When Norwich City asked him to play on the wing last season, he was not in a position to say no.
“I was getting playing time in the best league in the world, so I wasn’t going to complain too much,” Sargent. “I feel most free and feel most confident when I play striker.”
Norwich City’s top striker is Finland’s Teemu Pukki, but an early-season injury opened the door to Sargent, who responded with four goals in three games.
“When I got that opportunity, I knew I had to take it,” he said. “Just thinking, you know, ‘Do I still have my touch? I don’t know. I haven’t played there in a while.’ So it felt amazing to score that first game.”
Despite his fine form, Sargent returned to the wing when Pukki recovered, though with greater flexibility.
“Even if I’m playing on the wing now, there’s an understanding between me and the coach [Dean Smith] and the team that I’ll be playing a little bit more as a second striker and tucking more on the inside.”
The goal-scoring has continued.
“I haven’t really had a season like this in terms of getting a lot of scoring chances, getting minutes at striker,” said Sargent, a native of O’Fallon, Mo., a St. Louis suburb. “Confidence is at an all-time high at the moment — just trying to keep that momentum going as long as possible and keep scoring goals.”