PROFILE: Competing with Haaland, the U20 World Cup and Dortmund interest - but now Soto makes a fresh start
PUBLISHED: 12:17 28 July 2020 | UPDATED: 20:12 28 July 2020
It was at the Fifa Under-20 World Cup last year where Norwich City new boy Sebastian Soto really started to turn heads, where superstar in the making Erling Haaland was the only player to score more goals than him.
Haaland, the son of former Leeds defender Alf-Inge Haaland, has since seen his career launched into the football stratosphere after moving from Red Bull Salzburg to Borussia Dortmund. Yet while the Norway international has been tearing it up in the Bundesliga and Champions League, Soto has been made to wait patiently in the German second tier.
The 20-year-old Californian scored four goals for the USA at the 2019 U20 World Cup, notching a brace in a 2-0 win over Nigeria in the group stages and in an impressive 3-2 win over France in the first knockout round.
That gave way to disappointment after a 2-1 defeat to Ecuador in the quarter-finals and Soto finished joint second in the race for the Golden Boot with three other players, trailing in the wake of Haaland’s nine goals - which were all scored in a 12-0 destruction of Honduras in the group stage.
Yet a season on the fringes followed in Bundesliga Two with Hannover, making just two brief appearances as a substitute for his team as they fell short of the promotion mix in the German second tier, in sixth place.
That has led to Soto leaving when his contract expired, in search of fresh chances to breakthrough at senior level. While he has joined Norwich it seems a loan move will continue his education first, as work permit issues are resolved, after Dutch second-tier side Telstar confirmed the forward was training with them ahead of the new season.
His first season with Hannover had been very different though, finishing with 17 goals and six assists from 24 games for the under-19 team, competing against the young prospects of clubs including Red Bull Leipzig, Wolfsburg and Hertha Berlin.
That had propelled him into first-team contention and three appearances as a substitute followed towards the end of the 2018-19 Bundesliga season, sending him off to the U20 World Cup in Poland that summer in high spirits.
However, a change of coach left Soto on the fringes when he returned to his club. Former Germany midfielder Thomas Doll was replaced after relegation from the top flight. Mirko Slomka returned for a second spell, having been in charge of Hannover when they reached the Europa League quarter-finals in 2012.
That only lasted four months and with another change of coach, Soto found himself an unused substitute during 10 games, making three appearances for the second team in the fourth tier of German football during the campaign.
In the background, it seems, were contract negotiations. ESPN reported last summer than Hannover were keen to get Soto signed to a longer term deal as he entered the final 12 months of his initial contract, claiming that Borussia Dortmund were monitoring the situation.
After coming through the youth ranks initially at San Diego Surf back home in the US, he was signed by Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise Real Salt Lake and had a prolific record.
During 2017-18 he was top scorer in the U18/19 Development Academy system, scoring 42 goals in 27 games and being named in the West Conference Best XI for his displays.
It was internationally where his profile was really boosted though, with five goals in four games at the Slovakia Cup for the U19s having kick-started his USA career.
He is so highly thought of that he was reportedly set to be included in the senior squad for the first time for friendlies against Wales and Holland in March, prior to the season being suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. The youngster, who stands at around six-feet tall, was also expected to be a part of the U23 squad that would have been heading to the Olympics in Japan, which has now been postponed until 2021.
When you look back at those goals he scored at the U20 World Cup though, the movement to go clean through for his goals against France hints at the instinct which may have attracted the Canaries - potentially even bearing a similarity to the goals of a certain Teemu Pukki.
His first against Nigeria was a powerful header but the second was another where he waited on the shoulder of a centre-back to burst on to a through-ball. Clearly the striker still has plenty to learn but with size and pace on his side, if he can continue developing that instinct, his progress will be very interesting.