Lletget facing major audition in USA's final pre-qualifying warmup

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The LA Galaxy midfielder is set to start for the U.S. against Jamaica, with a chance to earn a key role in March's World Cup qualifiers.

Sebastian Lletget has exactly one U.S. national team cap, and is expected to make his first start for the national team on Friday, but that lack of international experience isn't keeping him from landing the biggest audition of his career.

When, as expected, Lletget starts against Jamaica on Friday in the final tune-up before the U.S. plays crucial World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama in March, the LA Galaxy midfielder will be playing for a chance to potentially start that all-important home qualifier against Honduras.

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It might seem far-fetched, but the stars have aligned to create a big opportunity for the 24-year-old San Francisco native.

Just two months ago, Jurgen Klinsmann was still U.S. coach and Lletget had yet to set foot in a senior national team camp. Everything changed when Klinsmann was fired and replaced by Bruce Arena, the very man who brought Lletget to the Galaxy from West Ham United and helped jumpstart his career. Arena called Lletget into the January U.S. camp, and has made it clear the midfielder has shown well and positioned himself to be a candidate to start against Honduras in place of the suspended Jermaine Jones.

"I think he's a player with a bright future, obviously at the club level and hopefully internationally," Arena told Goal. "We continue to work with him in finding his best position, but he keeps getting better as a player so I think all of that stuff will take care of itself."

Lletget's national team debut certainly didn't hurt his stock. He came on at halftime of last Sunday's 0-0 draw with Serbia and made an immediate impact, showing confidence on the ball along with skill and poise.

Arena PS

"He looked good, I thought he came on and was bright," Jozy Altidore said of Lletget's performance against Serbia. "He's good going forward, I thought he was a really good two-way player and he didn't look out of his depth at all."

"I think (Serbia) was a good first step, and I just wanted to show I could do this," Lletget said. "I think (against Jamaica) the team will take more risks and be sharper."

Lletget also had the opportunity, at least for a handful of minutes, to play alongside Michael Bradley and Sacha Kljestan, whom he could be partnered with against Honduras.
 
"Playing with them is fantastic," Lletget said. "I think with their experience, and the way they've really taken me under their wing in this camp, and showing me the ropes on the international level, hopefully moving forward we can stick with that."
 
Arena will have to consider Lletget because he will be without Jones for the Honduras qualifier. Given that match is at home, the Americans will be expected to be on the attack and if Arena wants a box-to-box midfielder with good attacking qualities, Lletget fits the bill. Arena knows him better than he knows some of the other candidates for the role.

"(Arena) knows me very well, I know him, I think I know what he wants and he knows what I can give to the team," Lletget said.

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Something else Arena knows is that Lletget is versatile enough to play on the wing and in central midfield. Given Arena's proclamation on Thursday that the U.S. will play with two forwards, that makes it likely we will see Lletget play on the wing against Jamaica, at least to start. Lletget has shown during his time with the Galaxy that he is a capable winger, though his strong form toward the end of the 2016 season appeared to offer evidence that Lletget is better in the middle of the field.

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The past two years have been a whirlwind for Lletget, who came up as a highly touted youth national team standout. His career stalled at West Ham United though, leading him to make the difficult decision to leave Europe and try to revive his career in MLS.

"It was not an easy decision by any means, being in Europe was all I really knew at the time," Lletget told Goal. "I thought about it, and whether it might be a step back, but it's definitely been a step forward for my career and an amazing experience.

"Considering the position I was in at West Ham, to be where I am now, two years later, getting this chance with the national team, is pretty special."

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