Cameron Carter-Vickers could be next U.S. star after rising up Spurs' ranks
Already making waves in the Bundesliga and Champions League, Christian Pulisic is the great hope for American soccer, but national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann's latest squad includes another future star: Tottenham's Cameron Carter-Vickers. The 18-year-old centre-back was named in the 26-man group for the U.S.'s World Cup qualifiers against Mexico and Costa Rica, continuing his rapid route to international football, and Klinsmann will consider giving him a senior cap to end interest from England.
Carter-Vickers has been fast-tracked through the U.S. youth system -- at 16, he represented the under-23s, and he was one of his country's best players at last summer's U20 World Cup -- but he was born in Southend-on-Sea to an English mother, and until he plays for the U.S. senior side, he could yet be poached by England.
Klinsmann, a legend at Tottenham who keeps a close eye on the club, will be aware that the Football Association has raised inquiries, and he has been considering Carter-Vickers since before his Spurs debut in the 5-0 mauling of Gillingham in September.
"Cameron is absolutely in our picture. He is a very exciting player coming through the ranks," Klinsmann said last month. "But he also needs to break into things slowly, get into the team and get some minutes."
Carter-Vickers made another appearance in a 2-1 defeat to Liverpool in the next round of the EFL Cup, and he wasn't overwhelmed when facing Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi -- in fact, he looked more impressive than his centre-back partner, Kevin Wimmer.
An injury to Stoke's Geoff Cameron has given Klinsmann the opportunity to call Carter-Vickers up and, though he is not expected to start, he could debut from the bench. If Klinsmann decides the teenager is one of the three players of the 26 not to make the match-day squads, the experience will be a step toward ensuring Carter-Vickers spends his career as a U.S. international. The 18-year-old is understood to be committed to playing for the U.S., though he has not commented publicly on the situation since 2014, when he was not yet on England's radar.
Like Klinsmann, Mauricio Pochettino trusts Carter-Vickers. Ahead of that match against Gillingham, the Spurs manager went as far as to say he could be one of the best centre-backs in the Premier League in the future and insisted he would be a better player than he was, which said a lot. Pochettino, who is not short of ego, was an Argentina international centre-back.
Just as at the international level, Carter-Vickers has been fast-tracked through the youth setup at Spurs, and the manager hooked him from the U21s last season to deploy him full-time with the first team. He might have played sooner had a back injury not ruled him out back in March and this season he has regularly been on the bench ahead of Austria international Wimmer. If Pochettino adds the three-at-the-back formation, used at Arsenal on Sunday, to his permanent armoury, a league debut might not be far off for the teenager, though for now he is waiting patiently.
Physically, he is already ready for senior football, and all his coaches report that he is intelligent and mature beyond his years.
"Even though he's the youngest player on the squad, he's probably one of the most mature on the field in terms of the way he plays," U.S. under-20 coach Tab Ramos said after the World Cup. His emotional maturity owes a lot to his father, Howard "Hi-C" Carter, who had a promising but short-lived career in the NBA, and whom Carter-Vickers has credited with keeping him "level-headed."
The teenager is fiercely committed to learning on and off the field, too. Hours before leaving a training camp in Australia for the U20 World Cup in New Zealand, he went to the British embassy in Sydney to sit an A-Level maths exam.
Sources at Spurs report that Carter-Vickers genuinely reminds them of club legend Ledley King, not just for his strength and ability on the ball but because of his temperament. He has captained Spurs at every level except the senior team, and he is a fierce competitor on the pitch but placid and soft-spoken off it.
If Carter-Vickers makes his U.S. senior debut this week, it is unlikely to make many headlines -- particularly if Pulisic stars again -- but the signs are that Klinsmann will have secured a very talented player who could be every bit as important as the Dortmund winger to their future ambitions.
For England, he could be the one that got away.
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.