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.”

The Canadian Premier League is building buzz

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Maybe he’s just new on the job, but a conversation with Canadian Premier League commissioner David Clanachan is like an imperial stout from one of Ontario’s many breweries: It gets you buzzing really quickly.

[ MORE: MLS State of Play ]

Sure, the man who knows how to politick, crediting NBC and EA Sports for the uptick in soccer popularity in North America, but it’s more than salesmanship for the former Tim Horton’s chief operating officer (Tim’s is an inescapable Canadian coffee chain).

But in discussing the construction of Canada’s new league, there’s an unavoidable energy that tracks from the ground up (and there’s little doubt their publicity and communications crew has won its mission). From the league’s very open trials in seven cities — announcing cut lists after Day One of each — to several other notable announcements, there’s an optimism in a new North American soccer league that hasn’t been felt in some time.

“You’d think in sports mad North American it should be easy to do, and many have tried but it hasn’t worked in Canada,” Clanachan says of trying to build a new league. “The bottom line is we took a very different approach. We’re building from the community level in everything we’ve done. You surround yourself with a group of storytellers who really know the game and how it shows that great passion. That’s driven by the movement and passion of the spectators. Soccer supporters are there whether their team is in third-last or first. They are all in.”

And so when the CPL started with teams in Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, Halifax, Langford, Winnipeg, and York, it made sure those fan bases got a different taste of pro sports.

Who had the hardest shot or best agility at the Winnipeg trials? It’s all right there. Who made it to the second day of trials in Quebec? Just look at the list. Why did the league choose one uniform designer for all the teams? They’ll tell you, plainly.

Transparency is a big claim, but one the CPL has so far embraced in a big way.

“I talk about that incessantly with our people,” Clanachan said. “From everything when we announced the league and the league identity, people were blown away with us being very transparent. We believe that to really build it is to take people with you on the journey. It helps people understand who we are and what we want to do. Then it just became about continuing the momentum.”

Clanachan has said he dreams of a 2-3 division league with promotion and relegation one day, but is focused very much on keeping his seven teams strong at the start.

Clanachan (canpl.ca)

He credits club owners’ ownership of the league with helping idea sharing, saying the NBA is a good model for intra-league support.

And he thinks the relative lack of jobs for Canadians, especially in MLS, is only going to help his league start stronger.

“When you look at the entire MLS, there are only four Canadians that are playing meaningful minutes and only 28 total, and that’s the largest pro league close to this country,” Clanachan said.

Four, really?!?

“That’s what our guys are telling me.”

I expected him to be wrong, but there are only four Canadians in the Top 200 for minutes in MLS despite three teams playing North of the U.S. border. The number expands to eight over 300, but point well-taken.

And the open trials reflect that. NCAA college stars, MLS draft picks, and players from smaller European clubs dot the open tryout list, and these are just the names hungry to get on the radar of coaches who clearly have their own lists of players.

“Players from Singapore, Japan, South Korea are all getting attention, and they’ve paid their own way,” Clanachan raves. “Two nights ago Canada played Dominica. Our whole staff went. One of the starting forwards for Dominica was at our York trials last week. Dominica’s a very small country, let’s be honest, but a lot of people want to live in these countries, Canada and the U.S.”

And so, it follows that Canada is going to have fan enthusiasm and a decent level when it begins its way into the North American soccer landscape.

“What I took from Tim Horton’s is we built it community by community,” he said. “When you do it that way, you make a lot of deposits, and they’re with you when the withdrawal comes when you want support. And they are there in spades. Because they see you with them every day.
“When these owners came looking for me, I heard two words ‘legacy’ and ‘Canadians.’ And that to me was not the typical, ‘Well we gotta make money at this.’ Because people who go into sport to make money are going into it for the wrong reasons. They’ve gotta be into it for development of the sport. It rang a true bell. You look at why we’re having success: We’ve haven’t kicked a ball yet and people are over the moon. We’ve sold thousands of season tickets without announcing a roster. And it’s all calculated.”
The league kicks off in April. The league web site is canpl.ca.

Jurgen Klopp has some hot takes on the UEFA Nations League

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Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Jurgen Klopp loves tepid friendlies.

Of course, we’re kidding, but the Liverpool manager is not happy with the new UEFA Nations League, which has amped up matches during international breaks previously reserved for experimental XIs and low-key affairs.

[ MORE: MLS State of Play ]

With Liverpool losing several players to injury — albeit two during Africa Cup of Nations qualifying — Klopp was asked for his opinion on Friday.

The vociferous German did not disappoint. From The Liverpool Echo:

“They say ‘now we have proper games, real opponents and it’s better than having friendlies’, stuff like that. … Maybe people want to see (boxer Anthony) Joshua fighting every second night but it’s not possible. Nobody asks for it in other sports.

“Do we really want opera every night or every two months? That’s the question. We have to be careful. That’s all I said. I like competition of course but at one point someone has to step back and say ‘wait, they are players, I want to watch it, but if they don’t perform then I am angry’. How can we make sure they perform? That’s all I wanted to say.”

Now I’m all for more personalities like Klopp in sports, but I have to say this is about as poor a take as it gets. Do I want any event I watch, let alone pay to see, to be less intense? Nope. Not at all.

Do I like preseason matches, or dead rubber games late in the season? Only in-as-much as they are examples of sports I like. Sorry that your guys are hurt, Jurgen, but no one short of Liverpool fans and other club managers are giving thumbs up to your talk.

I mean, seriously, have you ever watched a game and thought, “I’m glad these guys or girls aren’t trying as hard as they can!” Doesn’t being less tuned into a game provide more chances for someone to get hurt.

I don’t buy it one bit. Anyone in Jurgen’s camp? I’m happy to argue in the comments section.

Reports: Atlanta seals deal for Pity Martinez, will head to club Jan. 1

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Atlanta United is still sorting out its Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup runs, but 2019 is also coming into focus.

[ MORE: MLS State of Play ]

Reports say that Argentine winger Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez will indeed be the star Atlanta signs to offset to presumed sale of Miguel Almiron, who may be moving to Arsenal amongst several rumored European clubs.

Multiple reports say the Five Stripes’ pursuit of Martinez has paid off, with the River Plate man ready to bring his flashy game to Georgia.

Martinez has 25 goals and 23 assists in 136 matches, and will reportedly cost Atlanta around $17.2 million. TNT Los Angeles says the move will happen January 1.

Martinez debuted for Argentina’s senior national team last month, and scored on debut against Guatemala. He ticks all the boxes for technical director Carlos Bocanegra and president Darren Eales.

MLS State of Play: The final playoff spots

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Major League Soccer’s playoff races still carry intrigue heading into the final two weekends of the season, but the midweek matches which threatened to either amp up the excitement or take it down a few notches fell decidedly in the latter category.

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Manchester United ]

DC, Seattle, and Real Salt Lake all won their matches, as only eliminated New England and Real have played more than 32 matches.

Here’s what still at play at the bottom of the East and West playoff pictures, with the latter going first:

Real Salt Lake puts its on Rio Tinto, then has to wait

Mike Petke’s men play their final match of the regular season on Sunday, nursing a four-point lead over the LA Galaxy. RSL’s opponents are equally desperate Portland, which has fallen behind Seattle in the race for one of two first round home matches.

Should Real win, it can not be caught by the Galaxy regardless of what Zlatan Ibrahimovic might have up his sleeve. It would put Portland in danger of missing the playoffs by losing out and seeing the Galaxy win both of their matches, as the second tiebreaker would decide it and LA would make amends on its current three goal disadvantage in differential on the virtue of simple math.

Oh, and Vancouver! The ‘Caps need to win out, have the Galaxy gain no more than two points, and have Real lose in Portland on Sunday.

Sunday
LA Galaxy at Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake at Portland Timbers
Vancouver Whitecaps at LAFC

Oct. 28
Houston Dynamo at LA Galaxy
Portland Timbers at Vancouver Whitecaps

Western
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – FC Dallas 32 16 9 7 51 39 12 10-5-1 6-4-6 57
x – Sporting KC 32 16 8 8 60 39 21 9-5-2 7-3-6 56
x – Los Angeles FC 32 16 8 8 65 48 17 9-6-1 7-2-7 56
x – Seattle 32 16 5 11 47 34 13 9-2-5 7-3-6 53
Portland 32 14 9 9 50 46 4 10-4-2 4-5-7 51
Real Salt Lake 33 14 7 12 55 55 0 11-4-2 3-3-10 49
Los Angeles 32 12 9 11 61 60 1 8-4-4 4-5-7 45
Vancouver 32 12 7 13 50 64 -14 6-5-5 6-2-8 43
Minnesota 32 11 3 18 46 65 -19 10-1-5 1-2-13 36
Houston 32 9 8 15 53 53 0 8-3-5 1-5-10 35
Colorado 32 7 6 19 34 62 -28 5-3-8 2-3-11 27
San Jose 32 4 8 20 48 69 -21 2-5-9 2-3-11 20

Let’s be honest: For seventh place Montreal to make the playoffs, the Impact need either DC United or Columbus to get a really bad team-wide flu.

The Impact are four points back of DC and five behind Columbus with two matches to go.

Columbus plays at Orlando City and home to Minnesota United. Orlando has a single win since May 16, while Minnesota has a win and two draws in 16 away matches this year.

DC is home to New York City and away to Chicago, so this is clearly the club Montreal will be seeing as its target. For as bad as the Fire have been, they’ve beat some decent teams at home (This is MLS, after all, where home teams run free).

So the Impact will want to win out, but at least get four points and hope DC loses out. The Impact is home to struggling Toronto in a derby match and away to New England. It’s not improbable it gets the points it needs, but will it get help.

Eastern
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Atlanta 32 20 6 6 67 39 28 10-4-2 10-2-4 66
x – New York 32 20 5 7 60 33 27 13-1-2 7-4-5 65
x – New York City FC 32 15 8 9 55 41 14 11-4-1 4-4-8 53
x – Philadelphia 32 15 5 12 48 46 2 9-2-5 6-3-7 50
Columbus 32 13 9 10 39 41 -2 10-4-2 3-5-8 48
D.C. 32 13 8 11 57 49 8 12-2-2 1-6-9 47
Montreal 32 13 4 15 45 52 -7 10-2-4 3-2-11 43
New England 33 9 11 13 48 55 -7 7-5-4 2-6-9 38
Toronto FC 32 9 6 17 55 61 -6 7-2-7 2-4-10 33
Chicago 32 8 7 17 47 59 -12 6-3-7 2-4-10 31
Orlando City SC 32 7 4 21 41 72 -31 5-4-7 2-0-14 25