He was the only player to appear in all four of the USMNT’s matches in 2020, a sign of how much head coach Gregg Berhalter values the LA Galaxy midfielder. And he’s kicking off his 2021 with an understated leadership role at the program’s ongoing January camp in Bradenton, Florida with a combined senior squad/Under-23 Olympic group.
“I'm maybe not one to be very vocal and screaming at everybody or things like that, but I try to lead by example and I try to get to know guys,” Lletget explained to reporters in a conference call on Tuesday. “When I was younger I had people like Clint [Dempsey], even Jozy [Altidore], who's also at this camp, too. Even just to chat walking in the hallway can can go a long way and you feel like by the time you get to the field, you know that player a little bit better, or better than you did before.”
Lletget’s USMNT career has encompassed the national team’s roller-coaster ride of the past few years. He made his senior international debut during the 2017 January camp and scored in the 6-0 World Cup qualifying rout of Honduras a few weeks later, only to break a bone in his foot later in that game, a Lisfranc injury that sidelined him for most of that year as the U.S. struggled and eventually crashed short of Russia 2018 in stunning fashion.
He would quickly earn Berhalter’s trust after the coach took the helm in December 2018, and now finally sees the USMNT headed on an upward trajectory again. Lletget hopes that the new year can bring a comparable turnabout in the Galaxy’s fortunes after their sustained underachievement over the same timeframe. He’s already met with new coach Greg Vanney and looks forward to a “good new beginning” under the former Toronto FC boss.
“As we all know he's had a lot of success in Toronto,” said Lletget of Vanney, “and anybody who I've spoken to spoke very highly of him. I did get a chance to meet with him before I flew to Sarasota to be with the team here. He talked me through his ideas and how we can create a positive culture in the club which, honestly, we've been missing for some years now. So I think he's going to be great. I have a really good feeling about it and yeah, I'm just really excited.”
If there’s a downside to Berhalter’s obvious faith in Lletget, it’s the willingness to hand him tricky assignments like the “false 9” role he played in November’s friendly at Wales. It was a late-breaking tactical tweak that the player had little experience with, and it earned mixed reviews amid a promising overall performance by a young US side packed with European-based talent.
“It was something that we kind of thought of last-minute and I thought it was a good opportunity to try something different,” said Lletget on Tuesday, “and I think it just shows that with me and Gregg, at least he trusts me that I can do something like that, and he knows I'm going to do my best.”
He’s much more comfortable as a No. 8 or No. 10, though given the hectic 2021 schedule looming for the USMNT – Berhalter has already said “we're going to have to get creative” – Lletget is ready and willing to take on difficult jobs wherever and whenever he’s asked to.
“I mean, if that ever happens again I think it'll be a little bit more ready,” he said. “And who knows? We know there's a lot of games this year and we definitely want to go far in all of the competitions.”