To say that the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team is young is to understand it in definition. All the players are, as titled, 23-years-old or younger, but for this week’s camp in Manchester, a group of seven players have tilted the average age even lower. Cameron Carter-Vickers, Emerson Hyndman, Matt Miazga, Rubio Rubin, Zack Steffen, Maki Tall and Gedion Zelalem, who will join the team on Sept. 6, players who competed for the U.S. in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand this summer, are in camp playing for a chance earn a spot on the U-23 roster that will compete for a spot in next summer’s Olympic Games at the 2015 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship next month.
“For us it’s an important camp,” U-23 MNT head coach Andi Herzog said. “With a few new players in from the Under-20 cycle with Tab Ramos, now we have a bigger group together and we left some players at home because we already know what they are able to do. Now some new players have the chance to show how good they are and finally at the end in two weeks we have to make the decision for the final roster for the Olympic Qualifying tournament. So it’s a great chance for every single player to show how good he is.”
After showing what they could do this summer when they battled to the World Cup quarterfinals in New Zealand, the youngsters will get the chance to do it again. For the players, their youth is only in age, as the seven have already built impressive soccer resumes.
Call-ups Rubio Rubin (back row, far left), Zack Steffen and Matt Miazga (back row, center pair), Cameron Carter-Vickers (back row, far right), Emerson Hyndman (front row center) and Maki Tall (front row, far right) were all in the starting XI for the U-20 MNT's first game of the 2015 World Cup against Myanmar.
Each of the players are a reflection of the next generation of U.S. Soccer. A group of experienced players, many of whom have grown up in the U.S. National Team program, ascending from the Development Academy through the Youth National Teams, with a couple already having earned call-ups to the senior team. Now a new opportunity is upon them. Following the biggest tournament of their careers at this past summer’s U-20 World Cup, the seven are ready to earn a spot with the U-23’s, the last and largest stop before the senior team.
Emerson Hyndman, who captained the U-20’s during the World Cup is excited for the challenge.
“Playing at the Olympics would be unbelievable,” Hyndman said. “A similar feeling to the World Cup. This summer was my first time playing in the World Cup and, if I get the opportunity, next summer would be my first time playing in the Olympics. The Olympics has so much history. I’ve watched it on TV all the time. To think about myself playing in it and representing my country is a just a special opportunity.”
The players were thrown right into the fire in this week’s training camp as the group readies for friendlies against England on Sept. 3 and Qatar on Sept. 8.
“We have to organize ourselves quickly,” Hyndman said. “We have a new group of guys coming in from the 20’s and some guys have been around for a while, but it’s just about getting that mix right. From the first day, the training was intense, and it’s going to be like that all week I imagine.”
Luis Gil, a player who played in the previous U-20 cycle, thinks the young guys fit in well. A success he feels is in part related to the fact that the players have already come through a number of U.S. Youth National Teams that all play a similar system.
“It’s an awesome experience being able to come through the ranks like that,” Gil said. “At the same time it helps us develop as a team. It keeps a core of players together, which helps you develop as we approach the Men’s National Team. You come up together and you play together and it always helps.”
With the team’s first game of camp against England (2:40 p.m. ET on ESPN3) just around the corner, Herzog notes the young players have done well in the first few days of training.
“They’ve looked very good so far,” he said. “Against England, it’s already a tough opponent so they’ll have to show their abilities, and I’m really confident because we have a lot of great young players. A few who are already playing on first teams here in Europe. I want them to be confident and fit into the group and show us they want to be an important part for the future.”
“It’s good to have these games,” Hyndman concluded. “Having played in the World Cup this summer against teams like Colombia and Serbia, who went on to win, and it’s the same here. You need to test yourself against the best teams when you can and it only makes you better when you do.”