012015_miazga-cartervickers_isi_intbs072614219_bpi_ds_spursvchelsu21_22.2961049 Brad Smith/isiphotos.com; BPI/isiphotos.com
U.S. Under-20 Men's Team

Miazga and Carter-Vickers Bolster U.S. U-20 Back Line

The 19-year-old New Jersey native and the 17-year-old from England have formed a formidable partnership guarding the back line for the United States under-20 national team.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
January 20, 2015
8:11 PM
IT'S CRUNCH TIME for the United States U-20 team right now.

After a sluggish start to CONCACAF's World Cup qualification tournament in Jamaica, the young Americans are now riding a two-game winning streak and have outscored their opponents 10-0 over the last 180 minutes. But Tab Ramos' squad still must get a result Wednesday against Trinidad & Tobago (5:30pm, Fox Sports 2) just to reach a do-or-die contest on Saturday.

Win Saturday's game, most likely against Honduras or El Salvador, and the under-20 team will book passage to New Zealand for the big tournament.

Significant questions remain about the team's offensive capabilities: Aside from the blowout win over lowly Aruba, the U.S. has yet to score from the run of play.

The defense, however, has been very good throughout the tournament, allowing just two goals—including one miracle strike—over four matches. Much of the credit for this strong showing belongs to the central defense pairing of Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers.

“I think defensively we’re pretty solid,” Miazga told American Soccer Now from Jamaica. “With the back four, we’re all a good group of guys. The chemistry we have off the field translates over to the game. We cover for each other, we’re all aggressive, and we’re strong players. I think we’re all pretty experienced and mature players. We work together well.

"If one guy makes a mistake, we cover for each other. I think that’s a big benefit on the team.”

Trinidad & Tobago is likely to adopt a conservative approach for Wednesday's contest, bunkering defensively and relying on set pieces and counter attacks for its offense. The rationale is simple: Keep the game scoreless as long as possible and then make a late push for a game-winning goal that would send T&T through—and send the Americans packing.

The above scenario would create a high-pressure environment for the U.S. defense, as a single mistake could mean the difference between advancing and elimination.

Miazga and company welcome the responsibility.

“Our confidence is high right now,” said Miazga, 19, who started six games for the New York Red Bulls last season. “We won the past two games with good score lines. The opponents weren’t big European nations but this is CONCACAF. We have a massive game against Trinidad & Tobago and we’re going to go all out to get a result and get to that cross-over game and play defense to win that game as well.

“I think on the defensive side we are all solid,” the New York Red Bull said. “We have to do our job defensively and the offensive side will take care of itself.”

Miazga’s partner in central defense is Tottenham's Cameron Carter-Vickers, who has risen quickly within U.S. Soccer to become one of the country's most intriguing defensive prospects. Though he just turned 17 on New Year’s Eve, the youngest player on the U-20 roster is also one of the most impressive players so far.

“I think all four of us play well together,” Carter-Vickers said. “I think we’re pretty solid as a unit. I think we’re improving as the games are going on. I’m enjoying it. I am getting along with the players. I find them easy to play with on the pitch.

"Tab and Javier (Perez) have been really helpful and have been coaching me a lot, helping me learn the style of play they want me to play in.”

Perhaps most interesting about Carter-Vickers and his role on the World Cup qualifying team is that despite playing for a major English club that has first-rate facilities, he is thriving in his first taste of the rough nature of a serious CONCACAF tournament. In these games, officiating crews often allow a lot of rough physical play to go unpunished and the fields often are a far cry away from the well-maintained grounds at Tottenham.

Carter-Vickers, a solidly built six-footer who weighs in at 190 pounds, believes the highly physical matches play to his strengths as a player.

“The games are a bit more physical than what I’m used to and the pitch doesn’t help," he said. "I think the pitch being bad helps poorer teams become better. The game becomes more about physicality, about winning second balls, stuff like that. It’s different.

“I wouldn’t say it’s been tough for me to adjust to. I don’t mind having to battle through a match. I quite enjoy that. I like to help my team stand up to the physicality of other teams and, for myself, to stand up to the physicality of their strikers.”

Carter-Vickers has started each of the team’s four games so far in Jamaica, impressing both with his leadership and skill. In the team’s opening game against Guatemala, he used his dominant aerial ability to head home the Americans' lone goal in a 1-1 draw.

Carter-Vickers, the son of former NBA player Howard Carter—an American—was born and raised in England. He acquired his first American passport last year and made his U.S. debut with the U-18 team in the summer. By October, he was starting for the U.S. U-23 team even though he was just 16-years-old at the time.

“Cameron is actually a really good guy,” Miazga said. “We get along really well off the field. Obviously he’s a bit younger than the rest of us but we see him as one of the guys. He’s very strong and very physical. I think we complement each other well on the field. Whenever he steps up, I cover for him or when I step up, he covers for me. I think he’s a great player.

"Not much gets by us. We work hard together.”

The close-knit feeling between the two is mutual as Carter-Vickers believes that his partnership with Miazga has also been helpful with his quick integration into the team.

“I like Matt,” Carter-Vickers said. “We communicate a lot on the pitch and that helps when you’re not used to playing with players. I also feel we have a natural understanding, where I almost know what he is going to do and I think he knows what I want to do. That helps a lot.”

Even though the tournament has not gone according to plan from U.S. Soccer's perspective, the budding partnership between Miazga and Carter-Vickers could pay dividends for years to come. The youngsters are getting well acquainted with one another under high-pressure conditions—an invaluable experience.

“The game against Jamaica, they’re the games you want to play in and the games you look forward to,” Carter-Vickers said. “To beat Trinidad, which I think we’re capable of doing, and then see who we get in the cross-over game—that will be a big game as well.

“I’m really enjoying it.”

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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