Sebastian Lletget should be feeling all the positive vibes of enjoying a homecoming this week, but his first match back at Avaya Stadium in almost two years will also bring back painful memories along with plenty of good ones.
Having grown up in San Francisco, and played youth soccer in nearby Santa Clara, Lletget knows the area well, and his family and friends will gather at Avaya Stadium on Saturday to watch him play for the U.S. national team against Costa Rica. Some of those same supporters were also in attendance on March 24, 2017, when Lletget scored a goal to help spark the USMNT to a desperately-needed win in World Cup qualifying. It was that same night when Lletget was the victim of a brutal tackle that left him injured, and eventually sidelined for almost a full year.
"It’s one of the best moments, and one of the worst in a way," Lletget said on Friday. "But I’m moving forward from these things and I think I wouldn’t have been so eager to come back if it was something that was going to hurt. It’s a special place, but for sure it has some bad memories."
The LA Galaxy midfielder tried to avoid spending too much time discussing the injury, though he knew from the moment the friendly was announced that he would be facing some familiar emotions upon his return to Avaya Stadium.
"I think it will be in the back of his mind, for sure," USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter said. "When you get injured that (severely) it leaves a lasting impression on your memory. I’ve talked to Sebastian at length about his injury and it’s a tough one. Lisfranc (fracture) is very uncommon in soccer players, but when it happens it’s potentially devastating."
Almost two years later, Lletget has worked his way back into the national team picture, ending a 19-month absence from the USMNT when he came on as a substitute against England in November. He came on as a substitute in the USMNT's recent 3-0 win against Panama, and Lletget has enjoyed his time under the new U.S. coach.
"I feel really good in that system, Lletget said of Berhalter's preferred playing system. "I can play a couple of positions, but definitely in the midfield is where I belong so I’m really excited.
"I think (a number 10 role) is the way forward, especially in this system," Lletget said. "I think that’s where Gregg likes me and hopefully it works out (on Saturday) too."
Berhalter is still working out where best to deploy Lletget, and Saturday's match against Costa Rica should a more clear idea of where Lletget will fit the best.
"We’re still working on his positioning because we know if we can get him the ball in dangerous positions he can be very effective," Berhalter said. I think he’s done a good job of really building his performance throughout the camp."
Lletget will look to close out his latest national team camp with a strong showing against Costa Rica, and is determined to focus on his performance rather than thinking about the ghosts of past painful memories.
"Emotionally you have to block that stuff and put up a wall,” Lletget said. “You don’t need to think about that too much because it can mess with your energy. I just want to enjoy being back on the field with the national team."