The ball was still bouncing inside the goal when Cameron Carter-Vickers and Maki Tall made eye contact and ran towards each other. With smiles across their faces, they slapped backhands and jumped, arms raised as they mimicked fade-away jump shots.
It was a somewhat spontaneous celebration after Carter-Vickers had assisted Tall on the game-tying goal against Myanmar in the first match of the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand, a game the USA eventually won with a goal from Emerson Hyndman.
“We’ve been watching the NBA Playoffs. He’s a big LeBron fan, so he thinks Cleveland are going to win. And I like Steph Curry of Golden State,” Carter-Vickers said of the NBA Finals opponents. “From that we made up a handshake and in the game it just came out. We didn’t really plan it; it was more spur of the moment. We were happy that we had scored.”
At just 17 years old, Carter-Vickers is the youngest member of the USA’s U-20 MNT at the U-20 World Cup. And while soccer has been his main focus for the past 10 years, basketball is in his genes.
Cam is a great player; he’s a beast. What he does for this team is just amazing. He’s physical, powerful and he has great skills too. For a defender, you can’t ask for more. I can’t imagine what he’s going to be like when he’s 25 – he’s going to be a great player. - U-20 MNT teammate Maki Tall
Cameron’s father, Howard Carter, was a star basketball player for Louisiana State University in the early 1980s, helping LSU reach the NCAA Final Four in 1981. The following year he was selected to represent the U.S. on the USA FIBA 50th Anniversary Team during a European tour. Also on the team was a player by the name of Michael Jordan.
Howard Carter was the 15th overall pick of the 1983 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets. After one season in Colorado, he played another season with the Dallas Mavericks before going to play in France for nearly a decade. In 1997, he joined a team in Greece and met Cameron’s mother, an Englishwoman named Geraldine Vickers.
His parents never married. Howard moved back to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Cameron grew up in Southend, England, with his mom and grandmother.
“I’ve lived in England my whole life, but my dad’s American and I’ve always been quite close to my dad, so that’s where the American connection comes in,” said Carter-Vickers, who carries both his parents’ names. “I went to the U.S. quite often when I was younger to see my dad and cousins and aunties and the rest of my family. Obviously it’s more difficult now because of football and other commitments.”
Cameron was a point guard on his grade school basketball team that won the Essex Cup, but it wasn’t a passion of his. He also played rugby and threw the shot put, making it to the national competition as a 14 year-old with a throw of some 13-odd meters.
But none of those sports won him over like soccer.
“Of course in England, soccer is the main sport, so I’ve been playing soccer since I was seven on a local team,” said Carter-Vickers. “From there, first I trained with Southend. And then when I was playing for our Sunday League team, a Tottehnam scout came to watch another good player on our team, but when he was watching him he saw me.”
Tottenham invited the then-10-year-old to train at their development center. The following year, Cameron got a formal trial and joined Spurs’ academy. Last year, as a 16-year-old, his soccer career took massive steps forward.
Carter-Vickers was playing for Tottenham’s U-18 team at the IMG Cup in Bradenton, Florida last year when they faced the U.S. U-17 MNT. Tottenham won 5-3 and the big center back caught the eye of the U.S. coaches.
“It was one of our U-17 coaches who mentioned to us about Cameron playing for Tottenham,” said U-20 assistant and U-18 head coach Javier Perez. “I had a chance to go to Tottenham and met with his coach and his mother, and asked him if he was interested in playing for the U.S. National Team. He was a player with a lot of talent, so we definitely wanted him, and he was interested.”
Perez called Carter-Vickers to the U-18 team for the Vaclav Jezek Tournament in the Czech Republic in August 2014. The USA won the tournament with victories over Czech Republic, Hungary, and Ukraine.
“It was impressive,” Perez said of Carter-Vickers’ first camp. “For that 1997 player pool, we have very good center backs, like Erik Palmer-Brown and Tommy Redding, very, very good center backs. But the fact that (Cameron) was able to deal with players of his age, the way he did it in that tournament, it was a very good reference for us.”
And for the youngster, choosing to represent the USA was a cherished opportunity to strengthen bonds with his dad.
“I’ve always been close to my dad, especially in sporting terms,” he said. “He’s always helped me and pushed me on, so obviously it was a great honor to represent the United States.”
A few months later, Carter-Vickers was named to the U.S. U-23 roster for a match against Brazil in Brasilia, where he started in the 3-0 loss. In January, two days after turning 17, he joined the U-20s for the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship in Jamaica.
“It’s all gone pretty quick since I first got called up,” Carter-Vickers said from New Zealand. “The Under-23s was a great experience. I didn’t expect to play, but I ended up starting. From there to be called in to the U-20s for qualifying and World Cup coming up, I was very pleased. I was hoping to do my best and get in the starting XI.”
Carter-Vickers scored his first international goal in the USA’s first qualifying match, a 1-1 draw with Guatemala. He went on to start all six games in the tournament that qualified the U.S. for the U-20 World Cup.
“Obviously we got off to a difficult start, but I think our team unity really showed,” Carter-Vickers recalls. “And the way we bounced back from the first two poor results and performances at the beginning of the tournament was really good.”
In March, Carter-Vickers captained Tottenham’s U-21 team for the first time. In all, he appeared in 10 games for the U-21s and 11 for the U-18s.
Now, he’s the youngest member of the USA’s U-20 World Cup team, and he’s been quickly embraced by his teammates.
“Coming in to a new group of players, the first thing I try to do is perform as well as I can,” he said. “I think it always helps if you’re performing good, then naturally you’ll get on better with people. And this group has been really helpful with that – they’re all really nice and I get along great with all of them.”
One of the players he quickly bonded with was Maki Tall, the forward from Washington, D.C., who plays professionally in France with Red Star.
“Cam is a great player; he’s a beast,” said Tall. “He’s still 17 and what he does for this team is just amazing. He’s physical, powerful and he has great skills too. For a defender, you can’t ask for more. I go up against him in training and it’s hard scoring goals against him. I can’t imagine what he’s going to be like when he’s 25 – he’s going to be a great player.”
Like the rest of his teammates, Carter-Vickers has similar goals for both club and country.
“Hopefully I can keep improving and keep playing well,” he said of his future. “Obviously it would be great to play on Tottenham’s first team one day. I’ve been there for a long time so that’s a big goal. And internationally, of course I’d love to play in big competitions for the U.S., like the Gold Cup and World Cup, competitions like those… any player would want to aim towards that.”