Young star Rubio Rubin aims to take next step with USA, dreams of Olympic glory

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MANCHESTER — After making his full debut for the U.S. national team at the age of 18, striker Rubio Rubin is being fast-tracked to success.

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Currently with the U.S. U-23 squad on a week’s training camp in England, 19-year-old Rubin has been rewarded for shining at the U-20 World Cup for the USA in June, as the predatory striker continues to impress. The FC Utrecht forward scored three times for Tab Ramos’ U-20 team as he spearheaded their run to the quarterfinals in New Zealand where they lost to eventual world champs Serbia on penalty kicks.

Reflecting on the transition from the U-20 side to the U-23 side, Rubin is eager to make a splash at the next age group after making it all the way through the U.S. residency program in Bradenton, Florida and playing at major tournaments for the U.S. along the way.

“This is my second time into camp and I’m trying to find some minutes and to prove a point. Just because it is guys from the 1993 group to whoever is old enough to play on the U-23s, I want to be on the qualifying roster and also at the Olympics in the future. As a team we want to prepare ourselves for the big qualifying tournament coming up, because it will not be easy.”

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Coming off the back of a stellar display at the U-20 World Cup, Rubin believes the goals he scored in New Zealand, plus getting first team experience in the Dutch top-flight as a teenager over the past 12 months, has helped his progression and his confidence levels.

“It gave me a lot of confidence, especially after playing first team minutes at Utrecht last season,” Rubin explained. “And although I got a lot of first team minutes, there wasn’t as many scoring opportunities as I wanted and I was creating opportunities but not finishing them off. With the World Cup, I really needed to go in there and put away my chances. When the first goal came, I was like ‘man, this is great’ and then I started to gain confidence. Being with guys I grew up with and played with throughout the entire youth national team level down at IMG, those guys definitely give you confidence and playing with people you know definitely gives you confidence. That was the great part about playing at your own age  level. It was great. We had a good run, but unfortunately we lost on PKs.”

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Making his first start for the USMNT.
Making his first start for the USMNT.

From that group of players who starred for the U.S. at the U-20 World Cup, seven were called in by head coach Andi Herzog for this training camp ahead of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in October. Rubin is confident that familiarity between this talented group of youngsters will help brings success at the next age group too.

“We have 24 guys here and to have seven guys from the U-20s shows a lot about how our youth teams are doing and how much competition there is. At the end of the day its about business but also about enjoying your football. They are going to pick the best players for qualifying and for the Olympics. If a guy is better and he is younger, no matter what they are always going to take the guy that is better… right? Fortunately we have seven guys and we deserve to be here and just want to take advantage of this opportunity and go out there and prove a point.”

What about his full debut for the U.S. which came out of the blue?

Rubin smiles uncontrollably when recalling a chilly night at Craven Cottage last November when he found out the day before the high-profile friendly vs. Colombia that he would be starting up top alongside Jozy Altidore. This is how he found out, with a little help from the latter…

“I remember the day before,” Rubin smiled. “We had a training session and had one hour on the field. Jozy Altidore went to the coach, Jurgen called him over, and Jurgen told Jozy that I was going to start with Jozy up top. And I remember doing the warmup and Jozy said something to me in Spanish, ‘estoy listo’ which translates to ‘be ready.’ And I was like, ‘what are you talking about?’ My emotions in that training session were already up because we were already going to see who’s going to start. Jozy just said ‘you’re starting tomorrow bro’ and from there I was like ‘damn.’

“I think I was more nervous for that training session than I was for the game. Game time came around and I wasn’t nervous at all. I was more excited and looking forward to the opportunity. Knowing that I was young and not everything was going to be perfect that day, but to keep everything as simple as possible. I tried to create opportunities and play my own game because there was a reason why I started. They aren’t going to start somebody who isn’t ready and I gained that mental aspect to myself and that confidence. I tried to do my best and I had a couple of opportunities that I should have finished, it was definitely the best moment so far of my career. It was amazing to play against James Rodriguez and guys who play top level football. It is just something you will never forget. People back home were watching and family members were crying to see that happening. It was a blessing to play in that game and start for your country. It is amazing to wear the United States’ colors.”

With three caps under his belt for his country, Rubin already has a strong connection to Team USA and particularly the Olympics. When asked what his favorite Olympic moment he watched while growing up in the U.S. Rubin took little time to deliberate before picking out his most memorable moment.

“Michael Phelps. When he won eight gold medals and seven of them were world records,” Rubin reminisced. “I still go back and actually last week I was watching videos of him, the video of all of his eight gold medals again. I get this feeling inside, of patriotism, when he wins the second and the seventh medal. The second medal is, I think, the relay race, and the French are talking smack before the race and then Lochte and the French guy are swimming and the commentator is saying ‘they won’t catch the French, I think USA is going to take Silver’ and then Lochte comes out of nowhere and beats him to the line. The fans go crazy and in the Summer Olympics, those moments are pretty crazy memories, especially that summer because Phelps was trying to break all the records and all the eyes were on him.”

How would Rubin fancy emulating those Olympic memories etched into his brain at Rio 2016 next summer?

“I’ve been to most tournaments with the youth teams apart from the U-17 World Cup and that’s a goal for sure,” Rubin said. “It would always be amazing to represent your country at the Olympics. There are so many memories and so much history. Hopefully as a team we can qualify first, that’s the main objective, and then hopefully as a team go to the Olympics and perform and try to win.”

Scoring the winner for USA v Colombia at the 2015 U-20 World Cup.
Scoring the winner for USA v Colombia at the 2015 U-20 World Cup.

Right here, right now, Rubin is focused on making an impression in the USA’s final warmup game before Olympic qualifying as they face Qatar on Tuesday in Bury, England. Along with making a splash for his country, pushing on for his club and becoming the next American striker to make a name for himself in the Dutch Eredivisie, following on from Jozy Altidore and Aron Johannsson, is also his aim. After scoring three goals in 29 appearances for Utrecht during his debut season as a professional in 2014-15, Rubin is ready to impress

“Eventually I want to come in week in, week out and try score goals and goals and goals,” Rubin said. “It takes time. As you can see with Jozy and Aron, it takes time. And also it’s about confidence as well because once you score a couple of goals, your momentum starts to go. I am just waiting for my moment to play more this year, it has been a little bit hard this year with competition because our strikers are scoring. I am still young and learning from them. Every single time I get a moment to play I want to take advantage of it and to score goals for my team and everything is going to be fine. I continue to chip away and learn from these guys and train on the things I need to work on, then hopefully, the goals come.”

What are those goals and targets for the immediate future? As you’ve probably gathered by now, it’s all about one thing for the poacher from Oregon: goals, goals and more goals.

“I want to double what I did last year,” Rubin laughed. “So that’s six goals or more. If I go more then I will be happy. Hopefully I get more playing time and then continue to score goals. Last year I scored three, so I want double this year and if I score six this year, I want 12 next year… then 24. I always want double.”