SAN JOSE, Calif. – This time, Sebastian Lletget was the last member of the US national team to reach the bus outside the locker room at Avaya Stadium, rather than the first.
And instead of carrying a mind full of injury-related worry, he cradled the game ball.
It was a Saturday afternoon that brought the LA Galaxy midfielder to tears: Making his first Avaya appearance since suffering a possibly career-ending foot injury at the stadium in March 2017, Lletget scored his second career USMNT goal and an assisted on another as the Americans secured a 2-0 victory over Costa Rica.
“It’s just a sense of relief,” said Lletget, who missed nearly a full year after Honduran defender Ever Alvarado’s shattering tackle left him with a Lisfranc injury – something more commonly seen in automobile or industrial accidents – in his left foot. “Getting back to where I’m at now, it’s definitely overwhelming, very emotional.”
Adding to the emotions was the fact that it all played out in front of his family, just as the original injury did nearly two years ago. Lletget was a youth star in the Bay Area and attended El Camino High in South San Francisco before leaving for Europe, having been discovered by scouts for West Ham United.
“People don’t realize what it is for an athlete, when you get injured like that,” Lletget said. “I got the goosebumps even training here [Friday] morning with the team. … Moving forward, I want to be part of this team, and I know what I can do on the field, it just took me so long to really get there and be fit. I’m glad I feel at 100 percent, finally.”
Teammates knew the symbolism of Lletget getting on the end of Jonathan Lewis’ 80th-minute cross.
“Not only to just get on the field, but to work his way back after that horrific injury,” US midfielder Wil Trapp said. “He’s a quality player and you couldn’t be happier for a guy to step on the field and score in this game.”
The storyline regarding Avaya masked some other aspects of Lletget’s return to the USMNT fold. He was a substitute in both victories, a fact due in part perhaps to the demanding learning curve of new coach Gregg Berhalter’s tactical revamp.
“He’ll be the first to say he struggled with the structure a little bit, in the beginning,” Berhalter said. “All the credit goes to Sebastian and how, when he plays within the structure, now his skill set can take over and help him to be very effective.”
Lletget disagreed with the use of “struggle,” but did allow it was a heavy load of granular information for players to absorb.
“Our job is to learn, and he’s teaching a style of play that – it’s not going to come easy to a lot of guys,” Lletget said. “Many of us have never been coached like this, to so much detail. But we appreciate it, especially me. I learned a lot, and that’s one thing I told him after the game, is that I learned so much in this camp, and I’ll continue to learn and study the way he wants to play this game. I’m definitely up for it.”
Lletget may not have gotten a start against either Panama or Costa Rica, but he came off the pitch healthy in both instances and carried the game ball from the latter match against his hip through the mixed zone.
“Gregg gave it to me,” Lletget said. “He knows everything that this moment means to me and the team, and I appreciate the gesture. … I couldn’t have written it any better, but this is only the start for me.”