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Midweek Report

Carter-Vickers, Other Young Yanks See Action Abroad

Midweek league cup matches provided a welcome opportunity for a number of Americans currently fighting to see playing time with their clubs. Brian Sciaretta shares the latest below. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
September 23, 2016
10:00 AM

MANY YOUNG AMERICANS playing abroad saw time on the field over the past few days, and Cameron Carter-Vickers made his long-awaited professional debut. But how will these developments shape the upcoming months of the season at both the club level and the international level?

Here is my take on some of these developments.

Perry Kitchen named captain at Hearts

On Wednesday, Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson named U.S. international Perry Kitchen as the team’s captain, replacing Alim Ozturk. Hearts currently sit second in the Scottish Premier League and should be in contention for another Europa League place next year.

The news was surprising given that Kitchen is just 24 years old—which is not young for a player but certainly young for a captain. It is also surprising because the Indianapolis native has only been at the club since March and has already emerged as a team leader.

The importance of this for Kitchen cannot be understated. U.S. national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has stressed that he wants his players to not just be role players at their clubs but rather to become impact players. Kitchen is one of Hearts' best players on a weekly basis and the captaincy not only reflects this but it also shows his mental strength and his leadership.

The Scottish Premier League has been on a gradual decline the past two decades and recent results in Europe have been poor. When Kitchen was sidelined with an injury this summer, Hearts bowed out of Europa League qualifying with a loss to a team from Malta. Moving from D.C. United to Hearts was either a step down in the quality of play or at best a lateral move. But Kitchen has still made the most of this opportunity.  

Kitchen is making a strong statement that he is ready to become an impact player and one that will be a confident leader when he arrives in his next U.S. camp.

Cameron Carter-Vickers debuts

Also on Wednesday, U.S. U-20 central defender Cameron Carter-Vickers made his professional debut as Tottenham head coach Mauricio Pochettino named the talented 18-year-old to the starting lineup for Spurs’ League Cup matchup against Gillingham.

Carter-Vickers ended up playing the full 90 minutes in the 5-0 rout. While he did not have to do much defensively, he handled his responsibilities well.

Earlier in the week, Pochettino had glowing praise for Carter-Vickers, confirming that what we saw of the central defender at the 2015 U-20 World Cup was no fluke.

“For me, he can be one of the best center backs in England in the future,” Pochettino said of Carter-Vickers. “He has a strong mentality and all the qualities for playing center back. Does he remind me of myself as a player? No, he is better than me. I said one of the best center backs in England.”

Statements like this highlight that Carter-Vickers is clearly on the fast track under Pochettino at Spurs. Should there be injuries to the first team duo of Tob Alderweireld and Jan Vertongen, it would hardly be surprising to see Carter-Vickers slide into a starting role.

Carter-Vickers is of course eligible for England, where he was born and raised. Understandably, he grew up a supporter of England’s national teams. Still, U.S. youth national teams invested heavily in him, by giving him important games at the U-18, U-20, and U-23 level. But as England never picked up on his talent, the comments from Pochettino as well has first-team minutes will likely attract the interest from England’s youth national teams. 

Central defense is in decent shape with the U.S. team as John Brooks is a lock starter when healthy and players like Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, Steve Birnbaum, and maybe even Matt Miazga (should he earn minutes for Vitesse) all are in the mix.

But the October friendlies might be a chance to call-up youngsters like Lynden Gooch and Carter-Vickers to keep them involved in the U.S. program.

Zelalem, Hyndman, and De la Torre

The midweek in England was dominated by League Cup action and that gave many coaches a chance to evaluate youngsters in a lower-pressure environment. For four young American players who have not been involved in league matches, this week’s round of League Cup games was an opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Gedion Zelalem made his first appearance of the season for Arsenal when he came on in the 83rd minute of a 4-0 win over Eric Lichaj and Nottingham Forest. Zelalem played relatively well and completed his passes although the game was virtually decided when he came in.

2015 U.S. U-20 World Cup captain Emerson Hyndman came off the bench for Bournemouth in the 89th minute against Preston North End with the score tied 2-2. He played the entire extra-time period but Bournemouth lost 3-2 on a goal in the 111th minute. For Hyndman, just seeing the field was a small step in the right direction after missing most of the preseason with an ankle injury.

The news was similar for current U.S. U-20 midfielder Luca de la Torre who came off the bench for Fulham in the 69th minute against Bristol City with the score tied 1-1. Unfortunately for the San Diego native, Bristol City scored a 90th-minute winner. After the final whistle, the crowd at Craven Cottage booed the hosts but the club used the opportunity to give youngsters like De la Torre a chance. While it won’t happen anytime soon, De la Torre is still in Fulham’s long-term plans.

Finally, Nicholas Hamalainen made his debut for Queens Park Rangers in a 2-1 loss to Sunderland at home (California’s Lynden Gooch started for Sunderland). For Hamalainen, it was just his second professional appearance after making one appearance for Dagenham & Redbridge in 2015. The left back, who was born and raised in Florida, came up through the FC Dallas Academy before moving abroad.

In the loss to Sunderland he started off strong but tired in the second half and was beaten on occasion. Hamalainen represents Finland internationally for now although is still available for the United States.

All in all, none of these players completely seized the day to be part of important league games in the near-future for their respective clubs. All the players, however, remain relevant prospects with Hyndman likely the closest to breaking through at his current club.

Johnson continues to shine in midfield 

With all the attention on Christian Pulisic right now, Fabian Johnson remains the most consistent American player and fully deserving of the top spot in the ASN 100. On Wednesday, Johnson scored a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw with RB Leipzig. This comes on the heels of another impressive performance over the weekend where he earned an assist in a convincing 4-1 win over Werder Bremen.

Important games are ahead for the United States national team and a priority for Klinsmann should be getting Johnson into the midfield where he shines on a regular basis for a Champions League-caliber club. If Johnson is the best and most dependable American player, the team should be built around doing what he does best. Instead, Johnson is being used to fill in holes where the U.S. team is weak—fullback.

It is not necessarily Klinsmann’s fault. Johnson has played mostly left back for the U.S. team simply because he still the best American at that position. If someone else stepped up to be a viable option at left back (along with DeAndre Yedlin on the right), I am sure Klinsmann would love to have Johnson in the midfield where he is exceptional in the Bundesliga. Perhaps Jorge Villafana could be that person or maybe Klinsmann tries Matt Besler at left back experiment again (which, to Klinsmann’s credit, worked at the Copa America quarterfinal against Ecuador).

Regardless of fault, it is too bad that Johnson does not play the position regularly for the nited States. The thought of Johnson and Pulisic together in the U.S. midfield is very alluring.

Wood, Cameron, and Johannsson

Right now there are several U.S. national team players that are stuck with teams that look terrible to start the year and could be in depressing relegation fights.

Nothing has gone right for Geoff Cameron and Stoke City which is dead last in the Premier League. Cameron has played both right back and central defense in the first few games and while he is not free from blame, he’s far from the weakest link. It’s a total team mess and Wednesday’s elimination from the League Cup in a loss to Hull was further evidence.

Bobby Wood similarly has been the best player on a Hamburg team that is facing yet another relegation fight. Rarely touching the ball due to the midfield’s inability to create, Wood is limited to “Route 1” play.

Aron Johannsson is happy to be back on the field after his long-term hip injury last year. He’s played well too but Werder Bremen has lost all four games this season and have a -11 goal differential. Johannsson could be back with the national team sooner than later but it could be a long season for him.

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