Why you should care

Because in a game where talent is bred early, this wunderkind is one player to watch.

For once, the Americans might beat the Brits at their own sport. And it’s because a young English boy is hopping across the pond to play the beautiful game, soccer (we say with emphasis), internationally.

Coach of Team USA Jürgen Klinsmann must be counting his lucky stars at the coup. A British-born 16-year-old named Cameron Carter-Vickers is rapidly rising through the ranks of the American youth system and just became one of the youngest players ever selected for the U.S.’s under-23 team: He’s four years younger than most of his teammates. And now, Carter-Vickers is a prime candidate for the 2016 Olympic Games, where the U.S. will hope to field a team of up-and-comers. But he’s not the new Lionel Messi, a flashy player with ball-bending abilities — he’s a top-notch center-back defender, whose main asset is his ability to keep the other side from scoring. Tim Howard would be pleased.

“I was a bit surprised” at being chosen, Carter-Vickers told OZY following a morning training session in Brazil. The teenager was recently picked to play at a test match in Brazil, where the Americans lost 3-0 — but Carter-Vickers showed up well against one of the toughest offenses in the world. “It seems like a good opportunity to impress the U.S. coaches.”

“It is very rare, yes,” said Javier Perez, one of the coaches directing the group of Americans. But Perez praised the kid’s ability to beat older pros — many of whom already play in Major League Soccer.

He’s an example of how global U.S. soccer has become.

The burly, half-black teen speaks with a deep English accent and calls Westcliff-on-Sea in Essex, near London, home. He plays in the youth academy for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club of the English Premier League. The son of a British mother and an American father, Carter-Vickers has athletics in his gene pool: His father, Howard Carter, is a 6-foot-5-inch, two-time All-American guard who led Louisiana State University to the Final Four in 1981 before playing professional basketball overseas.

Young Cameron stands at 6 feet and weighs approximately 194 pounds. He’s an example of how global U.S. soccer has become under the leadership of Klinsmann; since 2011, the German transplant has expanded efforts to scour the planet for top talent abroad. During the 2014 World Cup, for instance, Klinsmann chose five German-Americans and a Norwegian with dual citizenship for his 23-man squad.

Soccer players in action

Liam Priestley (left) and Cameron Carter-Vickers (center) of Tottenham Hotspur compete against Alex O’Hanlon (right) of Liverpool.

The kid has an uncanny ability “to read the game,” said Perez; he anticipates the game, handles strikers — understood by many as the smartest players on the field.

Team USA first noticed the kid during matches at a club tournament in Florida late last year. His team, Tottenham’s U-18 squad, took second place, and his dogged defense meant his team conceded an average of just over a goal per match through four contests. And they trounced the U-17 U.S. national team 6-2. Ouch. The beating stuck in the minds of American coaches, who started pursuing him soon after.

Before he knew it, Carter-Vickers was applying for his U.S. passport. Loyalty to the queen? Pfft.

Carter-Vickers could be coming to America for good.

“England, they’ve never called me up, so it was never really much of a decision. The thing is, the USA did call me up, so it was an easy decision to go with them, to play for them,” he said.

Or, more succinctly: “It seemed like more opportunity, and stuff.”

It’s more and more common for not just coaches like Klinsmann but also players to rove the world, picking a country of choice in which they’re eligible to play. And since 2009, soccer’s international governing body, FIFA, has allowed such a one-time transfer of national association in circumstances like Carter-Vickers’, when a player is a multipassport holder. Which means Carter-Vickers could be coming to America for good.

When asked if he thought Carter-Vickers could be lost to the Brits before playing for the U.S. in an upper-level game, Perez said, “I’m not concerned about that.”

What about his long-term goals? “Um, that’s difficult,” Carter-Vickers said before a pause. He lists future hopes: the Olympics, the Premier League, the World Cup. But first, he’ll have to pick a homeland.

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