Will Packwood

Preview: USMNT U-23s chasing Olympic qualification

1 Comment

On Thursday night, the United States U-23 national team will kick off its campaign to qualify for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics when head coach Andi Herzog’s side faces off against Canada at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

Needing to advance from their four-team group as one of the top two sides and win a single semifinal matchup to qualify for next summer’s tournament, the not-so-baby Yanks are a mere 360 (or 390) minutes away from righting the wrongs of 2012 and proving themselves capable of taking the torch from the likes of Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Tim Howard and Jermaine Jones over the next two World Cup cycles.

[ STREAM: Watch Olympic qualifying games live ]

So who’s on the roster? Who’s expected to start, and star? Who do they have to beat in order to qualify? And what are expectations for the team as a whole? Let’s dive right in…

For full coverage of the U-23s’ first two group games in KC, make sure you check back on PST throughout the week, and feel free to follow me on Twitter as I’ll be reporting live from Sporting Park through the weekend.

Goalkeepers (3) — Charlie Horton (Leeds United); Ethan Horvath (Molde FK); Zack Steffen (SC Freiburg)

As always, the U.S. player pool is rich with quality goalkeepers. Steffen starred during the U-20s’ run at the World Cup this summer, though he’s far from the most established of the bunch back at their respective club sides. Horvath was recently given a run of first-team minutes with Molde, one of Norway’s biggest clubs, and has so impressed during that stretch that Herzog said during a Wednesday conference call he felt it best to leave the 20-year-old Highlands Ranch, Colorado, native with his club until the official beginning of the upcoming international window.

For games no. 1 and 2, it’ll be either Steffen or Horton, who moved from Cardiff City to Leeds United this past summer.

Zack Steffen, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Harrison Shipp
Zack Steffen, University of Maryland — 2013

Defenders (6) — Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur); Eric Miller (Montreal Impact); Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls); Will Packwood (Unattached); Matt Polster (Chicago Fire); Dillon Serna (Colorado Rapids)

While Jurgen Klinsmann’s senior team might be struggling for capable center backs — maybe he’s the one struggling to select the right ones — Herzog’s U-23 squad has two of the brightest prospects we’ve seen at the position in a long, long time. Matt Miazga, already a regular starter and budding star for the Red Bulls, has come on by leaps and bounds from 2014 to 2015, fairly warranting talk about a call-up to the senior team sooner rather than later. He turned 20 over the summer.

Then there’s Cameron Carter-Vickers, who won’t turn 18 until New Years Eve later this year. Speaking of stars at the U-20 World Cup, no American player burst onto the scene and announced his arrival more loudly than Carter-Vickers. Built and sculpted like a 26-year-old veteran already — limbs like tree trunks — Carter-Vickers reads the game exceptionally well for a player his age. It won’t be long before he’s being considered by Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino for UEFA Europa League games. Carter-Vickers spoke at length to PST’s Joe Prince-Wright last month in England.

Polster, who has quickly become one of Major League Soccer’s best defensive midfielders as a rookie, gets pushed to the backline due to an abundance of quality, deep-lying midfielders. Having played fewer than a handful at center back this season, it will be interesting to see how much and how quickly Herzog goes to the 22-year-old Milwaukee, Wisconsin, native in the back.

Miller has reportedly been “recalled” by the Impact due to “injury” — his condescending air quotes, not mine, in a frustration-filled Twitter post on Wednesday that has since been deleted — meaning the starting right back job is wide open. Serna, who irregularly features as a midfielder for the Rapids, could actually end up winning that spot.

Cameron Carter-Vickers, USMNT U-23s
Cameron Carter-Vickers, USMNT U-23s

Midfielders (7) — Fatai Alashe (San Jose Earthquakes); Gboly Ariyibi (Chesterfield); Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake); Emerson Hyndman (Fulham); Marc Pelosi (San Jose Earthquakes); Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC); Gedion Zelalem (Rangers)

Trapp, Hyndman and Zelalem are three of the most gifted central midfield players — in that order, present moment — the U.S. system has produced in quite some time. There’s just one problem with that: the former two might be so close to identical players that they’re unable to play together. Trapp has flourished with Crew SC playing alongside big, strong Tony Tchani, a mountain of a tackling midfielder with great passing skills, awareness and ability to organize. That, Hyndman is not.

In a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 system, there’s certainly room for both players to fit into the same midfield, but there’s not enough soccer balls for two very ball-dominant operators. Fatai Alashe, another MLS rookie, seems the best fit to start alongside one of Trapp or Hyndman.

No player in the current U.S. pool has more hype surrounding him right now than Zelalem. The 18-year-old Ethiopian-German-American playmaker (Arsenal) has begun his loan stint with Rangers in scintillating form, becoming a first-team regular for the Scottish second-division side and frequently impressing with smooth dribbling skills and his ability to pick out the decisive pass into the final third. With a clear lack of attacking wing players on the roster, the onus of creating quality scoring chances will fall almost solely on the shoulders of Zelalem.

Gedion Zelalem, USMNT U-23s
Gedion Zelalem, USMNT U-23s

Forwards (4) — Alonso Hernandez (FC Juarez); Jerome Kiesewetter (VfB Stuttgart); Jordan Morris (Stanford); Maki Tall (FC Sion)

Up top, there’s Morris, followed by the great unknown. Tall showed well in the U-2os’ first World Cup game before missing the rest of the tournament through injury. Still just 19 years old, the Washington, D.C., native moved from Lille to Sion (Switzerland) this past summer.

As for Morris, it was a bit of a surprise to see the Stanford University standout on the U-23 roster when Klinsmann has so regularly called him into senior team camps over the last six months. With the CONCACAF Cup showdown with Mexico scheduled for October 10 — the same day as the U-23s’ potential semifinal appearance — the possibility still remains that Klinsmann plucks the 20-year-old after one or two group games. With Morris in the starting lineup, the U-23s have one of the quickest and craftiest strikers in the entire U.S. player pool, both in terms of getting from Point A to Point B and confounding defenders with intelligent, tough-to-track movement. Without Morris in the squad, who knows where the goals will come from.

Jordan Morris, USMNT U-23s
Jordan Morris, USMNT U-23s

Group A schedule

Thursday — vs. Canada (9 p.m. ET, live on NBC Universo)
Saturday — vs. Cuba (5 p.m. ET, live on Telemundo)
Tuesday, Oct. 6 — vs. Panama (9:30 p.m. ET, live on NBC Universo)

Outlook

The qualifying disaster of 2012, in which the U.S. U-23s failed to even get out of the group stage, both feels and is a long, long time ago now — not only in a literal sense, but considering how much better and deeper the under-23 talent pool is this time around.

Finishing top of Group A — seven of nine points is distinctly possible — should be the only target for Herzog’s squad. From there, it’s a win-and-you’re-in showdown against the runners-up from Group B, could be, but is unlikely to be, Mexico.

Failing to qualify for the Olympics won’t set the senior team back one bit — remember, it’s a U-23 competition with three overage players — but in terms of bridging the gap from the current generation of USMNT regulars to what is looking an increasingly promising group of youngsters working their way through the ranks, it would be a massive opportunity missed to gain invaluable major tournament competition before making the jump up to World Cup qualifying and the World Cup itself.

American Will Packwood set to join MLS, with New England interested

3 Comments

In a bit of reporting on the Birmingham City official website, the club confirmed that 21-year-old defender Will Packwood has requested to have his contract terminated so he can join Major League Soccer and “possibly” sign on with New England.

Already confirmed to have been released yesterday, Packwood requested he have his contract terminated immediately instead of letting it run out on June 30 so that he can join MLS before the May 12 transfer deadline. The club approved his request.

It’s unclear what Birmingham means by “possibly join the New England Revolution,” an odd word choice, but the fact that an official release included a destination club means a deal is likely imminent.

With an English mother and American father, Packwood was born in Concord, Massachusetts and grew up in the United States before joining Birmingham City’s youth system at 14 years old. He earned his first professional contract with the club and made his debut for the club three years ago at just 18 years of age. Since, he’s made 21 first-team appearances and peaked last season following a return from serious injury, but has struggled this year making just one lone Championship appearance before finding himself on loan in the lower leagues twice in 2015.

Packwood has been with the US international youth setup making appearances at both the U-20 and U-23 levels, but has not broken into the senior squad.

American defender Will Packwood released by Birmingham City, while Spector’s extended

Leave a comment

21-year-old American defender Will Packwood has thanked Birmingham City for eight years of loyalty after moving on from the club at the expiry of his contract.

The Championship side announced it has parted ways with Packwood, and the player posted a message on Twitter to express his gratitude for the club that groomed him as a youth and gave him his first professional contract.

He made just one appearance with the club in the Championship this year, instead spending the second half of the season on loan to League One club Colchester United and League Two side Cheltenham Town. He appeared just six total times for his loan clubs, scoring once in League Two.

Despite the occasional speculation surrounding a possible call-up, Packwood has yet to make his USMNT debut, but has been with the youth side for some time, making three appearances for the U-23 team last year and logging nine appearances for the U-20 team since 2010. He joined Birmingham City as a 14-year-old, and the club remained loyal to him despite a horrific leg-break injury in early 2013, even offering him an extension during his recovery.

Meanwhile, after re-solidifying his place in the first team, fellow American Jonathan Spector has been offered a new two-year contract by Birmingham City with an option for a third year, the club announced. The 29-year-old defender made 23 appearances in the Championship this season, only hampered by a thigh injury mid-season but otherwise remaining a constant fixture in the first team. The club finished a solid 10th in the Championship this season, although their defensive record was poor, conceding 64 goals, more than any club 14th or higher in the table.

Spector has been with Birmingham since 2011 when he moved from West Ham, and has made at least 22 appearances in every league season since joining. The Manchester United youth product also owns six seasons of Premier League experience with the Hammers and Charlton.

Young American defender Will Packwood leaving Birmingham City on short-term loan

Leave a comment

source: Getty ImagesYoung US defender Will Packwood has found playing time hard to come by under new Birmingham City boss Gary Rowett, and is leaving the Championship side on loan.

The 6-foot-3 Packwood, 21, made strides in the Brum lineup last season, making 13 appearances on top of another 8 while on loan to League Two side Bristol Rovers.

[ US Soccer: Americans Abroad review ]

But he’s off to League One’s Colchester United for a month after not appearing since 40-year-old Rowett took over in late October.

Packwood is headed from one relegation scrap to the next, with Birmingham City just above the Championship drop zone and Colchester in the relegation zone of League One.

Colchester, nicknamed The U’s, just were dealt a major blow at Packwood’s position. Captain Magnus Okuonghae ruptured his achilles tendon this weekend.

Packwood is a promising defender who can be a big part of the US U-23 picture and onward. With the USMNT defensive woes, he’s a player to monitor closely.

Brek Shea remains on loan at Birmingham City from Stoke City, while Jonathan Spector is injured but a regular for Brum.

Americans Abroad Review: Cameron scores, super sub Bedoya earns PK, Johnson a hero for Hoffenheim

3 Comments

Busy week abroad, so let’s get right to it:

The extreme highs and lows of the Premier League have hit Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan in recent weeks. One week after keeping a clean sheet against PL power Chelsea, Guzan was on the business end of a 4-1 beatdown at the hands of Stoke City, with the fourth goal coming from a USMNT teammate as the Potters are now three points ahead of the Villans.

Geoff Cameron finished a cut back pass from Marko Arnautovic to complete the visitors’ win at Villa Park. And while Arnautovic celebrated as if he scored, it was another feather in the cap of one of Stoke’s most consistent players. Cameron’s goal was his second of the year and he picked up an assist against Villa the first time the teams met up this season. He’s now played 2700 minutes this year, all but 90 of Stoke’s PL total, surpassing his 2637 played last season.

Jozy Altidore saw his first full 90 minutes in a Premier League match for the first time in three matches but it did not help him end his goal drought as Sunderland fell to Norwich City 2-0. Next up? A Wednesday date at Anfield.

Everton isn’t making it easy on its fans’ hearts nor its keeper’s mind, as Tim Howard had to hold on tight in order for Everton to beat Swansea City 3-2. The Toffees are in the driver’s seat to catch No. 5 Spurs, two points back with two matches-in-hand.

To the Championship, where Danny Williams did not feature in Reading’s 2-1 win at Birmingham City. The home team did have Americans Jonathan Spector and Will Packwood for the entire match, with the latter featuring in several good chances in the loss.

Oguchi Onyewu went 90 minutes for Sheffield Wednesday in its 1-0 loss at Doncaster Rovers. Wednesday remains in 15th place, 13 points ahead of the drop. Tim Ream played the whole match for Bolton as they earned another point towards ensuring safety in a 2-2 draw with Yeovil Town. They are nine points clear.

Icelandic-Alabaman forward Aron Johannsson earned and missed a penalty kick in AZ Alkmaar’s 2-1 win over PEC Zwolle. He was unable to add to his Eredivisie goal total during 73 minutes of action.

Terrence Boyd played the entire game for SK Rapid Wien as they beat RK Pellets WAC by a 3-0 score. He did not score or assist.

In Ligue 1, Ale Bedoya and Nantes earned their first league win since mid-January with a 2-1 decision over Montpellier. He played the final 40 minutes, earning a penalty kick that was not converted by Itay Shecter (the video makes it hard to tell whether theatrics played a role or Bedoya was properly felled). He was a nuisance for the visitors as a super sub and was unfortunate to not find his way on the scoresheet.

There was good news and bad news for Hertha Berlin’s John Anthony Brooks, who was in the starting lineup and went the duration. The problem with his featuring? They were skunked by Borussia Monchengladbach 3-0.

The Bundesliga was better to Fabian Johnson, whose cross became the match-winning assist after Anthony Modeste headed home in the 89th minute. The goal helped Hoffenheim offset the two blown leads in the match.

In Mexico, Tigres midfielder Jose Torres left the game after 31 minutes with an injury in a 2-0 home loss to Queretaro. There were assists for two Americans in Tijuana’s 3-1 win over Puebla. Edgar Castillo had a helper for the winners, while DaMarcus Beasley grabbed an ‘A’ on Puebla’s lone goal. Herculez Gomez played 15 minutes in the win, while Michael Orozco completed the entire loss.