EXCLUSIVE: Tottenham Hotspur, USA youngster Cameron Carter-Vickers eager to continue incredible ascension

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MANCHESTER — A soft-spoken Anglo-American center back is causing quite a stir at Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur.

[ MORE: Negative vibes surround USMNT ]

Cameron Carter-Vickers, just 17, has captained Spurs’ U-21 side for the opening three games of the 2015-16 season and the defender from Westcliff-on-Sea in England has since been called into Andi Herzog’s U.S. U-23 side for their week-long training camp in Manchester, England which included two friendlies, a 1-0 friendly defeat to a star-studded England U-21 side and a 2-0 win over Qatar’s equivalent to close out their final tune-ups before Olympic qualifying next month.

Speaking exclusively to ProSoccerTalk from a country hotel in the suburbs of Lancashire’s largest city, the youngest player on the U.S. squad is a calm and composed individual.

[ EXCLUSIVE: Rubin speaks about U.S. future, Olympic dreams ]

On the pitch, he is a dominant central defender who has size, speed and power beyond his tender years, leading many within Tottenham’s training ground at Enfield, north London, to whisper about having found “the next Ledley King.” He was, of course, club captain, played for England and is still a legendary figure at White Hart Lane after chronic injuries cut his career short. That’s how highly this young center back is regarded at Spurs, even though he is only a second-year academy player.

[ EXCLUSIVE: JPW sits down with Olympic head coach, Andi Herzog

For now, Carter-Vickers is fully focused on making the U.S. squad for CONCACAF Olympic qualifying which begins on Oct. 1 and runs until Oct. 13, but a bright future lies ahead.

What has he made of the step-up to the U-23 side for the first time?

“I’ve really enjoyed it. It is a new group of players and it is a bigger test,” Carter-Vickers said. “We are going to be playing better teams than we were at the U-20 level. It is always good to test yourself.”

Carter-Vickers came through one of the biggest tests of his career back in June with flying colors, as he anchored a U.S. backline which reached the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand and ignited belief among U.S. fans that a new crop of players capable of making the full national team in years to come were coming through the ranks. Seven of that successful U-20 side — Rubio Rubin, Zack Steffen, Emerson Hyndman, Maki Tall, Gedion Zelalem, Matt Miazga and Carter-Vickers — were called up by Herzog for this squad.

“It was a really good experience,” Carter-Vickers said of the U-20 World Cup. “When you play against a lot of different nations with lots of different styles, you learn a lot. I do think we could have gone further but I think overall we did well. The U-20 age group, we are really close and I think we’ve really bonded well so coming up to the U-23s, it will benefit us.”

What is next for Carter-Vickers? He is fully focused on being in Herzog’s roster for Olympic qualifying. He played the final 30 minutes against England last week and played the full 90 minutes of the 2-0 win vs. Qatar, and was pivotal in anchoring a solid defensive display.

“Hopefully I can make the qualifying roster and help the U.S. qualify for the Olympics. From there go back to my club and work hard to try and improve as much as I can,” Carter-Vickers added. “After that the next goal has to be to try and make the roster for the Olympics in Rio.”

As for his club, Tottenham, Carter-Vickers seems to be in a great environment to further his career. With academy products Harry Kane, Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb, plus young English defender Eric Dier, breaking into Spurs’ first team and becoming regulars since head coach Mauricio Pochettino arrived 12 months ago, there is a pathway there for the young U.S. center back. Pochettino has played youngsters wherever he has gone and has a proven track record at improving their talents, while in a recent chat with the head coach of the U.S. Olympic team Andi Herzog, he told me that when clubs in England or Europe sense a teenager is ready to progress, they tend to accelerate the development of youngsters like Carter-Vickers quicker than teams in Major League Soccer would do.

Carter-Vickers is obviously very highly thought of at Spurs after being handed the captains armband for the opening three U-21 matches this season.

“For the first three games I have been captain, which is a great experience,” Carter-Vickers said, modestly. “It gives me added confidence and when I go out to play I can just go out there and focus on playing. It is really good. He [Pochettino] gives youth a chance and he looks for hard work so as long as you are always giving 100 percent and you’re being honest, then it will be good.”

With international caliber center backs such as Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen around to learn from, plus former England international and long-time Premier League center back Ugo Ehiogu around as a coach at Spurs’ academy to help him develop, Carter-Vickers has all the help he could wish for.

“You just have to watch them and you can see how good they are. There are bits and bobs from all of them you can take and see, then try and model your game around that,” Carter-Vickers added.

One of the interesting things about this U.S. U-23 side he is part of is that there are plenty of players from different backgrounds. Some, like Carter-Vickers, have grown up in academies in Europe, while others have developed in Major League Soccer or at the Collegiate level in the USA. Carter-Vickers believes that diversity is a strength the USA has over the competition and he also sheds some light on the pressure of coming up through one of the PL’s top academies.

“The more diversity we have in the team, it will help us,” Carter-Vickers said. “If you look at Rubio playing in Holland, he might be used to playing this style, then Emerson is playing at Fulham and he is used to this. But when we come together we can almost get the the best of everything… There is a lot of expectation [at Spurs] but if you look around here, for example, I haven’t played a professional men’s game yet, where a lot of players in this team have. You could say there is pressure coming from Spurs, but there are also very good players around me as well.”

The ultimate goal for Carter-Vickers is to play for the U.S. and although he is still eligible to play for the England, he is fully focused on committing to the Stars and Stripes.

“I would love to eventually play for the full national team,” Carter-Vickers smiled. “Whether it is in two, three, five… however many years, that is the goal. At the moment I am focused on the U.S. and every camp I’ve been in I have really enjoyed it.”

In terms of the next step, first it is all about making the U.S. Olympic squad for qualifying and then hopefully for Rio next summer. Carter-Vickers’ father, Howard, is American and was a star basketball player at LSU before being drafted to the NBA by the Denver Nuggets back in 1983. Carter-Vickers reminisced about his own Olympics memories after attending the London 2012 games, plus he knows representing the USA at the Olympics would make his father extremely proud.

“I went to the swimming and the basketball at London 2012 with my Mom,” Carter-Vickers revaled. “The atmosphere, as it always is at the Olympics, was great, so I can only imagine what it would be like if we did qualify and I get to play there. It would be fantastic. It would make [my Dad] proud. He tells me he is proud already, but to represent America at a higher level would be great.”

Dropped points in Top Four race point to wild February

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Regardless of whether Wolves end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season on Thursday, there will be five teams within seven points of fourth place heading into Matchweek 25.

Chelsea has 40, a comfortable-enough six-point lead on Manchester United, Spurs, and Wolves (who meet Liverpool at 3 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Sheffield United has 33 points.

February, specifically the next three matchweeks, will see the teams inside that group learn a lot more about their fates, and give Chelsea and Sheffield United big opportunities to cement their places in the Top Four and Seven, respectively.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

In the case of the latter, it’s because the Blades are the only team in the bunch who don’t face a Top Four six-pointer; Chris Wilder‘s men will meet Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Brighton, while the others will be beating up each other.

Chelsea’s path is fraught, but a big opportunity. The Blues travel to Leicester City before hosting both Manchester United and Spurs. Nine points there would effectively Top Four-proof Frank Lampard‘s side.

By the way, how’s this for a hot take? If any of Chelsea, Man Utd, or Spurs find their center forward or playmaker help in the window, they’ll have a leg up on their Top Four rivals. And, really, is that extra few million pounds worth the spoils of the Champions League? Yup.

Bruno Fernandes is not (yet) with United, and the Red Devils face Wolves and Chelsea in their next two matches. Spurs have City and Chelsea. Tumult is probable!

A draw with Newcastle and loss at Watford dampened Wolves’ hopes of riding into fourth. Beginning with Thursday’s visit from Liverpool, however, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men face three of the Top Seven and then a visit from Norwich City. It’s not over.

And don’t entirely rule out Leicester City from dropping into the fray; The Foxes host Chelsea and Man City, and visit Wolves.

One more nod, however improbable: Arsenal sits 10 points back of fourth but meets Burnley, Newcastle, and Everton over those three match weeks. A perfect run could have the Gunners thinking big (Man City is after that, alas).

Matchday 25
Leicester City v. Chelsea
Crystal Palace v. Sheffield United
Manchester United v. Wolves
Spurs v. Man City

Matchday 25
Sheffield United v. Bournemouth
Wolves v. Leicester City
Chelsea v. Manchester United
Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur

Matchday 27
Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City v. Man City
Wolves v. Norwich City
Sheffield United v. Brighton
Manchester United v. Watford

Spurs play Wolves the next week, too!

Mourinho doesn’t have attacking options, but he does have ‘family’

Mourinho on Spurs win
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In this “whole new Jose Mourinho” world, the key word is family.

Mourinho said it six times in his post-match presser after Tottenham Hotspur scrapped to a 2-1 defeat of Norwich City on Wednesday in London.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Spurs had an early lead disappear when Ryan Sessegnon gave away a penalty to Max Aarons, and Teemu Pukki converted it for a 70th-minute deadlock.

Heung-Min Son scored nine minutes later. It was a win that is good for the whole family.

From Football.London:

“It was fantastic what happened after the 1-1, which happens in a difficult moment for us where I look to the bench and I don’t have attacking players to change the game the team is a little bit fatigued, especially Lucas, Son and of course Lamela. I took him off because he was in trouble and he is a player who is coming from very important and long injury, so very difficult.

“How can we change the game? With the family spirit, the family character and desire.”

Mourinho also praised Giovani Lo Celso‘s work on the wing for attack-short Spurs as “a good experience for the family,” and Paulo Gazzaniga‘s support for returned goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as “a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo.”

I mean, I’m getting the warm and fuzzies.

Clearly, Mourinho is stressing unity and there’s a bit of bunker mentality involved, as the manager mentioned some dicey calls not going their way against Watford, Liverpool, and now Norwich.

Solskjaer: Manchester United ‘looked mentally tired’ versus Burnley

Solskjaer reacts to Manchester United loss
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OIe Gunnar Solskjaer doesn’t have the answers to what ails Manchester United without Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba, and he can’t even fake it.

The United boss could only hang his side’s 2-0 loss to Burnley on sharpness, as the Red Devils out-attempted the visitors by a 24-5 margin.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

United also had 72 percent of the ball, but Burnley’s whole philosophy is cool with you having the ball if you don’t have the lead.

The Red Devils never looked quite ready to grab that, either, from the moment an early Aaron Wan-Bissaka cross sailed through the six absent receiver. From the BBC:

“The boys looked mentally tired towards the end, we didn’t find that creativity,” Solskjaer said. “We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. When you are at Man United you are privileged because you are playing for the best club in the world.

“Sometimes you go through periods like that and it is a test I am sure they are going to come through.”

It’s all formulaic from the Norwegian manager. “The we’re United and it’s a special place” struck all the right chords when he first took the reins at Old Trafford, but the club hasn’t bought much quality since then and it’s ringing hollow as the depth fails to bail them out.

Spoiler alert: He did.

You can accept that Solskjaer is going nowhere and also accept that the whole thing is not going to improve any time soon. United should absolutely be in the Top Four given the failings of Chelsea, but cannot stop tripping over its own feet.

Man Utd shocked by advantageous Burnley

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Manchester United never showed up at Old Trafford, and Burnley reaped all the benefits.

Chris Wood and Jay Rodriguez scored as the Clarets stunned the Red Devils 2-0 on Wednesday.

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United fails to take advantage of Chelsea’s draw with Arsenal, and sits six points back of the Top Four.

Burnley climbs seven points clear of the drop zone, level with five teams on 30 points.


Three things we learned

1. Wood shines up top: It was a 10th goal to go with his first assist of the season for the New Zealand international, who used a half-yard of space from Harry Maguire to put Burnley in front. Burnley’s philosophy is to find their forwards at all cost, and when Wood is delivering that ethos looks genius.

2. United’s absent wings cost it dear (and jeer): Juan Mata and Anthony Martial were lively, but both Daniel James and Andreas Pereira did little to inspire hope of a goal for the home side. The Red Devils were the focus of crowd derision on the day, as they again wasted a chance to improve their Top Four credentials. Most teams will suffer without their top two attackers, but this is Manchester United. Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford missing or not, Wednesday was iugly stuff.

3. Jay Rodriguez’s new nickname is “Bangers Only”: Joking aside, it’s difficult to remember Rodriguez goals that don’t get you out of your seat. His insurance goal absolutely buried United, and gives him seven across all competitions. It also gives Sean Dyche plenty of competition in training, with Ashley Barnes on the periphery.

Man of the Match: Wood


United’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka cut a promising 15th minute cross through the 18, but no teammate could get a foot to it.

Fred continued his lively play when he hit a low drive to Nick Pope in the 23rd, good endeavor without the required sharpness.

Daniel James forced Pope into a leaping save in the 32nd, and Martial couldn’t get his feet right when Nemanja Matic rolled him to the doorstep in the 34th.

Burnley took the lead out of absolute nothing, Wood taking advantage of Harry Maguire when Ben Mee flicked a long free kick to the Kiwi.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Rodriguez went bar down with a beauty in the 57th minute to make it 2-0, and real trouble arrived at Old Trafford.