On Friday night in San Jose, the U.S. national soccer team was in trouble. After having dropped the first two games of World Cup qualifying, USMNT badly needed a strong start in their third match against Honduras. Enter Sebastian Lletget, a 24-year old striker who two years ago mulled walking away from the game completely. Lletget scored in the fifth minute against Honduras, igniting his team and starting what could be a productive career with Team USA.
Here’s what you need to know about Lletget:
1. It’s Pronounced ‘Luh-Jet’
Sebastian Lletget was, for a time, one of America’s most promising youth prospects. Born in northern California to Argentine parents, Lletget gained noteriety at a very young age while playing for Sporting Santa Clara before being picked up by U.S. Soccer’s U-17 residency program.
Lletget’s enthusiasm came from Francisco Lletget, who was eager to share the game with his only son. At just eleven years old, the elder Lletget took his son to Argentina to audition for River Plate’s youth squad. He made the cut, but his mother objected to her son leaving home at such a young age. So Lletget stayed in California, but it wasn’t long before other clubs overseas took notice.
2. Lletget Spent Time With Premier League Club West Ham United
Sebastian’s mom finally allowed a move in high school, and Lletget was bound for England. He was able to gain a European passport via his maternal grandfather, and began training with West Ham at 16 years old. There he was allowed to see how top-flight soccer players train, and was quickly recognized as a rising talent. But a severe case of mononucleosis caused him to miss extended time, and it derailed his track to the senior roster.
Lletget made one appearance for the senior team: he played the full 90 minutes in an FA Cup match against Nottingham Forest in 2014. They lost 5-0.
3. Bruce Arena Sparked Lletget’s Domestic Resurgence
With things not working out at West Ham, then-La Galaxy manager Bruce Arena reached out to Lletget. A return to California would be a fresh start for Lletget, who at 23, still had not gotten a full chance at professional soccer. Lletget signed with the Galaxy on May 8, 2015, and it didn’t take long for him to showcase his skills.
While MLS is considered a retirement home for elitist soccer pundits, it was a rebirth for Lletget. Despite playing his entire career as an attacking midfielder, Lletget adjusted to playing on the wing. He logged almost 1,500 minutes in his first MLS season, and finished with seven goals and two assists. He started 23 games for the Galaxy in 2016, and has started every game for the Galaxy early in the 2017 season.
4. Arena is Also Responsible For Lletget’s USA Call-up
Former USMNT boss Jurgen Klinsmann loved bringing in American players from overseas, but that list never included Lletget. Lletget appeared for USA’s youth squad at every age level, but had never earned a spot on the senior squad. That changed in January, when former Galaxy and new USMNT manager Arena invited Lletget to the senior squad camp.
Lletget made his USMNT debut against Serbia, and performed well in a scoreless draw. With Jermaine Jones injured for his team’s critical World Cup qualifier against Honduras, Arena called on Lletget to fill the void in the central midfield.
Lletget made his first start in a non-friendly against Honduras at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, just minutes from his hometown. After being away from his home for so long he returned in style, tapping in a ball at the back post for his first international goal.
5. His Girlfriend is Pop Star Becky G
It’s not a requirement for LA-based athletes, but Lletget does, in fact, have a celebrity girlfriend. Lletget is dating Becky G, soon to be known best for portraying the Yellow Ranger in the new Power Rangers movie.
The couple met through Becky’s co-star Naomi Scott, who is married to former West Ham player Jordan Spence. According to the singer/actress, she wasn’t looking for a boyfriend when Scott insisted she meet Lletget.
“I was like, ‘Nah, I don’t want to be with anybody,” She told LA radio station Mega 96.3. I’ve been there, done that [with] the relationship thing. I’m focused right now. I’m good. I’m good.’ She’s like, ‘It’s fine, it’s fine, I already know who you’re going to marry. It’s fine, it’s fine.'”