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

Leave a comment

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.”

Reports: Antonio Conte will be next Inter manager

Getty Images
Leave a comment

According to a number of reports across Europe, including The Guardian and The Mirror, Antonio Conte has agreed to terms to become the next manager at Inter Milan and will take over this summer, with Luciano Spalletti departing.

Conte has signed a four-year deal at Inter that will earn him around $11 million per season, with the Italian excited to return home and face the challenge of finishing the task at Inter. The Italian giants have slumped in recent years, but this year showed promise that the project may finally be coming to an end. Spalletti appears to have turned the team into a Champions League contender again, but there are reports that he is struggling to maintain the support of the locker room and the front office.

Inter’s qualification to next year’s Champions League is no guarantee either, with the club sitting just a point ahead of rivals AC Milan for the final Serie A spot heading into the final week of the season. They have just three wins in their final nine matches, leaving them vulnerable.

Conte most recently managed Chelsea for two seasons, winning both the Premier League and the FA Cup in his first season but missing out on Champions League qualification last campaign before departing. He recently won a lawsuit against Chelsea that will see the Blues pay him an additional $11 million as part of his severance package. Other than his Premier League stint at Stamford Bridge, Conte has spent his entire career in Italy, managing Juventus, Atalanta, and the Italian national team among others. He has eight Serie A titles to his name between playing and managing.

Rumors say that Conte is zeroing Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku as his first transfer target of the summer.

Red Bulls slump to disappointing draw with Vancouver

Associated Press
Leave a comment

The New York Red Bulls coughed up a second-half lead in a disappointing 2-2 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday, pegged back by Freddy Montero’s equalizing penalty in the 61st minute that came just six minutes after the hosts had taken the lead.

New York dominated possession at home, holding just under 70% of the ball, but they struggled mightily in goal. New York had 18 shots to Vancouver’s 13, but could manage just three on target, whereas the visitors put seven on frame. Vancouver jumped in front right on the half-hour mark as Sean Nealis got burned down the left by Joaquin Ardaiz, and while his cross was deflected by Connor Lade, it fell to Scott Sutter at a tight angle for a roofed finish.

The hosts would level things up before halftime, as a looped cross by Kaku found the head of Amro Tarek who powered it on frame, but before it could reach the net it was slightly redirected by Brian White’s head and found the back of the net. In the celebration, a smiling White could be seen sheepishly apologizing to Tarek for stealing what may already have been a goal, but New York wasn’t complaining.

After the break, the Red Bulls went in front on an own goal as White’s effort was redirected into the back of the net by Andy Rose. That should have been the goal to see New York ease past the ninth-place Whitecaps and send New York to a strong fourth-place spot in the Eastern Conference table, but the visitors continued to attack and would eventually find a way through.

First, Luis Robles was required to turn a 8Felipe Martins header off the post and out, before eight minutes later when Montero would be the man to bring Vancouver back level after coming on at halftime. VAR determined correctly that Nealis whiffed on a header attempt and instead got his arm to the ball, giving Martins the opportunity from the spot, which he deposited cooly, sending Robles the wrong way.

That would leave the teams level, with New York desperately looking for more than a point to savor, but they were unable to do so. The draw leaves the Red Bulls in fifth, level on points with cross-town rivals NYCFC and two behind Atlanta United. They remain unbeaten in three, but the opportunity for three straight victories was there. Vancouver, meanwhile, sits in ninth in the West, drawing level on points with San Jose thanks to the road draw.

Ghana striker Gyan changes mind 2 days after retiring

Getty Images
Leave a comment

ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — Two days after announcing his international retirement, Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan has changed his mind and been included in a provisional squad for the African Cup of Nations starting next month.

Gyan says his change of heart came after speaking with Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo.

The 33-year-old Gyan said Monday he was retiring because he was replaced as Ghana captain by Andre Ayew.

Gyan says he had a phone conversation with Akufo-Addo, who asked him to reconsider, and “a presidential request is one that cannot be disregarded.”

Gyan was named in a preliminary 29-man squad on Wednesday. He made his international debut at 17 and is Ghana’s record goalscorer with 51 goals in 106 games although he hasn’t played for his country since late 2017.

U-20 World Cup preview: Ramos to make history

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The United States U-20 side is set to begin its 2019 World Cup campaign on Friday when it begins Group D play in Poland.

Tab Ramos will make history in the process, equalling the FIFA record of most championship tournaments participated as a player or coach. The 52-year-old will officially take part in his 11th FIFA championship event, matching the record held by Germany’s U-20 women head coach Maren Meinert.

United States

The United States side is one of the best ever on paper, with a mix of emerging domestic talent alongside youngsters from the best clubs in Europe. They will take on Ukraine, Nigeria, and Qatar in high-leverage group stage play. Riding on the result of group play is a place in the knockout phase, with a massive gulf in difference between finishing first and second in the group. The first-place finisher in Group D draws the strongest third-place side from Groups B, E, and F – possibilities include the likes of Mali, South Korea, Panama, or Italy. Meanwhile, the second-place finisher from Group D takes on the winner of Group E, which will almost definitely come in the form of championship hopeful France.

An exciting group of young American players with more well-known names including Timothy Weah and Paxton Pomykal mixes with supreme talents like Barcelona youth product Konrad de la Fuente in attack and Bayern Munich teen Chris Richards who will look to anchor the defense. While the U.S. isn’t exactly a favorite to win the tournament, they are a strong contender looking to reach at least the quarterfinals if not further.

US U-20 squad

GK: CJ Dos Santos (Benfica), David Ochoa (Real Salt Lake), Brady Scott (Koln).
DEF: Sergino Dest (Ajax), Chris Gloster (Hannover 96), Aboubacar Keita (Columbus Crew/Richmond Kickers), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union), Matthew Real (Philadelphia Union), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich).
MID: Edwin Cerrillo (FC Dallas), Chris Durkin (D.C. United), Richard Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven), Alex Mendez (Freiburg), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), Brandon Servania (FC Dallas).
FWD: Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC), Konrad De La Fuente (Barcelona), Ulysses Llanez (Wolfsburg), Justin Rennicks (New England Revolution), Sebastian Soto (Hannover 96), Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain/Celtic FC)

Potential breakout players

Aside from the United States squad, there is a host of young talent at the tournament in Poland. These are the players you should keep a close eye on.

Diego Lainez (winger, Mexico) – Mexico’s 18-year-old winger has been a fixture for the national team at every youth level, playing every minute for the U-17 side in the 2017 World Cup. He has since earned a quartet of senior side call-ups and looked electric in his time on the field.

Radoslaw Majecki (goalkeeper, Poland) – At just 19 years old, Majecki has been the starting goalkeeper for Champions League regulars Legia Warsaw since he won the job in November. While he has yet to make his CL debut (having earned the starting job after Legia Warsaw was eliminated from the competition in the qualifying stages), he is as experienced as they come for players in this competition and a huge asset for his country.

Jackson Porozo (defender, Ecuador) – The 18-year-old was an absolute monster in the South American U-20 championships back in late January and early February, helping Ecuador keep five clean sheets and finish the competition on a stunning 298-minute streak without conceding a single goal as they shocked the continent by winning the tournament. Porozo, who joined the Santos youth setup last summer, was a man among boys in the South American championships, and long with his goalkeeper Moises Ramirez – who also has high expectations for a solid future – this Ecuador side has a shot at making it out of an absolutely loaded Group B.

Interesting storylines

Group B – The most loaded group in the tournament sees Mexico, Italy, Ecuador, and Japan all come together for a brutal battle. While the top two teams are guaranteed to advance, it could also be a factor for one of the coveted third-place spots, of particular interest to the United States, who would take on a Group B third-place qualifier should they win Group D. Mexico won the CONCACAF U-20 championships, Ecuador stunningly reigned supreme in CONMEBOL over traditional superpowers Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia, while both Italy and Japan performed quite well in their own tournaments, each reaching the semifinals. This is easily the most fun early storyline.

France as favorites – Portugal, Poland, Nigeria, and Argentina are all firmly in the mix, but France is considered the favorite according to most oddsmakers. Bernard Diomede will have a challenge as Lyon’s young star Amine Gouiri will be missing as he takes part in the U-21 UEFA championships this summer, but he does have Borussia Dortmund youngster Dan Axel-Zagadou leading the back line. While the French senior side is on top of the world, the youth team has plenty of talent coming down the pipeline.

Can Argentina bounce back? – The six-time champions slipped a bit at the CONMEBOL championships earlier this year, falling to both Ecuador and Brazil in the final stage while beating Uruguay and Colombia by just a goal. The traditionally dominant South American powerhouse has proven fallable over the last year or so, and while they most certainly have a squad capable of placing in this tournament, they will need more consistency. The squad sports Atlanta United winger Ezequiel Barco, who has four goals in eight MLS appearances this season and is in good form. Other big names include Atletico Madrid defender and youth team captain Nehuen Perez, Boca Juniors goalkeeper Manuel Roffo – who trained with the senior team earlier this year – and midfielder Santiago Sosa who has dabbled in the River Plate senior squad at just 19.