LONDON — On Friday night at Craven Cottage against the No.3-ranked team in the world, 18-year-old striker Rubio Rubin was thrown in at the deep end by Jurgen Klinsmann.
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It was sink or swim time, and in his own words Rubin did “fine.” He’s being modest, it was one of the best debuts from a U.S. teenager in recent memory.
After making nine appearances for FC Utrecht in Holland’s Eredivisie this season, Rubin has been in the past couple of U.S. national team squads but earned his first cap in London among hostile surroundings where a cacophony of Colombian noise filled the air in West London. That didn’t put Rubin off.
“Nah, I wasn’t nervous at all going into the game,” Rubin said nonchalantly. “I just wanted to go out there and do my best, work hard for the team. I wanted to work to get a win today but unfortunately that didn’t happen today. If I played 10 minutes or 90 minutes I am always going to do my best as possible. Coach called me in to start and it didn’t change anything. I just go out there and do my best.”
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This kid is confident and twice came close through headers either side of half time and was integral in winning the USA’s penalty kick for their only goal in the 9th minute, as Rubin provided Jozy Altidore with a perfect foil as they started up top together. That delighted the USA’s head coach.
“I saw an 18-year-old kid, Rubio Rubin, show that he is coming through the system which is exciting to see,” Klinsmann beamed. “We saw individual performances that were just fun to watch.”
Rubin is looking forward to developing a close partnership with Altidore and on this showing the 18-year-old is ready to take up a more prominent role with the USA. Speaking to reporters after the game, Altidore revealed that he’s always talking with Rubin after coming through the Dutch top-flight himself. Their bond was evident against Colombia.
“Jozy and I have been practicing this whole week with each other and just seeing how we play,” Rubin said. “He knows how to play with me and I know how to play with him. Everything is not perfect right now but if we continue to play together we are going to bond and that just happens over time.”
Rubin’s big moment to score a memorable debut goal, which would have put the USA 2-0 up, arrived in the 47th minute as Alejandro Bedoya got the ball on the left flank and he picked out the Oregon native at the back post. But as Rubin stooped to get in front of Colombia’s Pablo Armero, he sent a spectacular diving header just past the post.
“I just played behind the defenders back and right when the ball was going to be played, I went in front of him [Armero] but unfortunately I kind of mishit the ball a little bit,’ Rubin explained. “It was an unfortunate chance that I missed, I wish I could have put it away.”
That missed chance aside, Rubin showed so much promise for a teenager starting his first game up top and he put in a great shift for 67 minutes until he was replaced by Bobby Wood. In the lead up to Colombia’s goal you could argue that he could have shielded the ball better, but that’s something he must learn from occasions such as this. That said, with the likes of Chris Wondolowski, Aron Johansson and others failing to take chances up top over the past six months, there’s definitely a chance for the American forward to fastrack his way into the national team.
Klinsmann wanted his young players to get a taste of a hostile atmosphere against a great team on foreign soil to help aid their development. Rubin was a big winner from this match against Colombia and he enjoyed his special night among a sea of yellow in West London.
“Yeah, there were a lot of Colombians out here today. It was like a home game for Colombia,” Rubin smiled. “I didn’t even believe how many Colombians are living in London. It was definitely one of the biggest matches I’ve played in.”
On this showing, he will get to play in plenty more for the USA.