After Devastating Injury, Sebastian Lletget Celebrates Personal Milestone in Return Against England

By: Jeff Crandall

Though it came with little fanfare, Sebastian Lletget’s 76th minute entry into the USA’s friendly match against England on Thursday served as a personal milestone in the MNT midfielder’s long road to recovery.

At the beginning of 2017, Sebastian Lletget had just taken his first steps with the U.S. Men’s National Team. Earning his first caps in January and February, the LA Galaxy midfielder was tapped to start the USA’s World Cup Qualifying match that March against Honduras in San Jose, Calif.

Born in San Francisco, Lletget had a dream start to his first cap in a qualifier, tapping in the rebound of a saved shot from Christian Pulisic to give the USA a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute. The trajectory of his night changed dramatically nine minutes later when Honduran defender Ever Alvarado leveled Lletget with a nasty challenge near the sideline. Hobbled, he tried to grind through the ailment but was forced to come off in the 18th minute.

That moment was the last time he would see the field for club or country in 2018. Diagnosed with a lisfrac injury to his foot, the condition required surgery and a lengthy recovery timetable.

“It was the ultimate high to the ultimate low a few minutes later,” Lletget told this week. “Things happen. You can’t blame anybody. It’s just part of the sport.”

A 10-month recovery process followed, one which Lletget says tested him mentally but only made him stronger.

“I’ve learned so much and I wouldn’t change anything to be honest with you. As a player, as a person, you grow through that time. Now that I’m healthy, I think I’m better for it. I look back and feel like I learned so much about myself that I wouldn’t have learned if it hadn’t happened. Of course when things are going well, you want to stay with that, but that’s not always what happens. In this case it wasn’t the plan.”

Nearly a year later, Lletget was back on the field for the Galaxy’s season opener and played well enough to earn a recall to the MNT for its September friendlies. In that moment, he hit another road block, suffering an abdominal injury with the Galaxy before arriving in camp. After a few days with the MNT, he returned to the Galaxy.

“Mentally it was another test, and I asked myself if my time to get back on the field was ever going to come,” he said.  “You get another lesson. I was feeling healthy, but life keeps hitting me with some lessons. Now I’m happy that I’m fully fit and I feel even better than back in September. I think I can offer more to the team being 100 percent than being 60 percent.”

Appearing in 28 matches for the Galaxy this season, Lletget finished the season in good form and earned a return for the MNT’s matches in November. Though he didn’t start against England, the former West Ham United Academy product finally got back on the field with the MNT in the same city he spent much of his developmental years.

“To come back from what I went through, the journey and how hard it was to just get back, from walking to running and actually playing this year, it was definitely uphill, but I didn’t give up and I climbed my way up. To be back here and step back out at Wembley was an amazing experience, given that it was so much time to get back to this. It was a beautiful moment for me, for my friends and family that kept me going through the tough time.”

Like his teammates, Lletget will hope to end the year on a high note with Tuesday’s match against Italy and as the MNT turns another chapter in 2019.

“I’m working my way back to where I was and I keep building on my strengths and improving my weaknesses. There is going to be a new coach and new feel around this team, and I think there are plenty of things to be excited about. I know we have a long way until the World Cup, but we have lots of important games in the next year so I think there is a lot to look forward to, both individually and as a team. We have a lot of promising playersObviously right now we’re still building and I think you can see this, but I think as we grow together this team can become something special.”