On the field, Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers are a working tandem. In this CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship, the pair of center backs know that when they’re on the field they’ll need to combine together to stop the opposition. The two are youngest players on the team, but are ready to step up as the U-23’s, looking to punch their ticket to the 2016 Olympics in Rio, need them most.
If the pair share the field in the Qualifying tournament, it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve done so in the red, white and blue.
“Cam and I have known each other for a while now,” Miazga said. “We worked together in the U-20 cycle for quite a while and played together in the U-20 World Cup and it was good. Now we’re up to the U-23 team and it’s another good step for us and we’re looking forward to it.”
Earlier this year the pair proved to be a dynamic defensive duo, leading a stifling U-20 UMNT defense that advanced to the U-20 World Cup quarterfinals.
Carter-Vickers (center) and Miazga (left) helped the USA pitch three shutouts in five games at the 2015 U-20 World Cup.
Now they know they have another big challenge that comes in the form of Olympic Qualifying. For them it’s another opportunity to play together on the field. The two know that in their position at center back, chemistry is important. It is something they’re constantly trying to build, on and off the field.
“We get on really well,” Carter-Vickers said. “Off the field, we’re roommates and even when we’re not playing, we’re talking about soccer. That helps us understand each other’s game and makes us even better when we do step back on the field.”
“We’re really just comfortable with each other off the field so, on the field, it makes us that much better,” Miazga added. “It’s very helpful when we have to cover each other and give instructions and work together to organize the team.”
The two center backs continue to grow accustomed to lining up next to each other and got the opportunity to do so again in the team’s final Olympic Qualifying preparation camp this past September in England.
“The more a center back pair plays together, the better they’ll get,” Carter-Vickers said. “Each game coming into your position, you see how each other handles the opposition and you can work with each other.”
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20-year-old Miazga and 17-year-old Carter-Vickers will be two of the youngest players in the tournament, but their youth, they say, won’t stop them from being leaders on the pitch.
“I think in general we’re both confident players, so we’re confident on the field and that helps us communicate with guys and organize and lead,” Miazga said. “Obviously we were leaders with the U-20’s and we’re going to try to lead and organize here as well because our position demands that. We’ll do our best and hopefully do well.”
“You also don’t just lead vocally,” Carter-Vickers, who captains Tottenham’s U-21 team said. “You can lead in the way that you play and in how much you give for your team.”
“We’re ready to give it all for our team,” Miazga concluded.Read more
U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team head coach Andi Herzog spoke with ussoccer.com about the USA’s CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying roster and the journey to earning a spot in Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games.
ussoccer.com: How did you go about assembling this roster?
Andi Herzog: “For us it was important that we find the right balance between attacking players and defensive-minded players. Because there are no FIFA dates for the first week of the tournament, there were challenges. We had discussions with a lot of teams, and while some clubs didn’t release their players overall we received a lot of support, especially from MLS. Until yesterday we were focused on getting the roster together, and there was a lot of competition for spots. Of course a few players will be disappointed that they didn’t make the roster and I understand, but we can only have 20 players on the roster and only 17 field players, so they weren’t easy decisions. Now we have to be focused on the games and we have to win.”
ussoccer.com: Why is qualifying for the Olympics so important?
AH: “With every youth national team, it doesn’t matter if it’s the U-17, U-20, or with the Olympic team, you always want to compete at the highest level with the best teams in the world. For everyone, I think it’s a dream to participate in the Olympic Games and it’s a great opportunity for us. But first we have to do our job and win the first game against Canada, which would make it a little bit easier for us because with a good start you get more and more confidence.”
ussoccer.com: What are the strengths of this group of players?
AH: “I think over the last couple of months the players had a very good working attitude and a lot of passion. They did very well and worked really hard and made it easier for us. This is a real ambitious group of players and hopefully we do well in the qualification.”
ussoccer.com: You made a point of scheduling challenging friendlies over the course of the year. How important were those in getting this group ready for this tournament?
AH: “These games were important for the players to make an impression. We got a couple new players in after the U-20 World Cup, and we had a camp in England to see them and the other players together. The Toulon Tournament was very special and we finished third out of 10 good teams, so I was impressed. For us that tournament was important because we had four games in seven days, and playing every two days will be similar to the schedule we have in Qualifying. We play on Oct. 1 and Oct. 3, and then on Oct. 6, so that means we have to be ready to mix the players from game to game and we got a good training run at that in Toulon.”
usssoccer.com: How important will the support of the fans be in this tournament that is played on U.S. soil?
AH: “It’s huge. For sure there will be a couple of moments where we need support from the fans to push the team. Overall I think everyone is excited. After the Men’s National Team qualified for the World Cup in 2014, and with the Women’s National Team winning this summer, this would be the next big thing for U.S. Soccer. We have a younger group that wants to show that the players in the U.S. have a really good quality.”
2015 has been a year with a single focus for the U-23 Men’s National Team: qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. It’s a feat that could not be achieved without a great deal of preparation; and accordingly, the team has played a rising number of preparatory training camps and friendlies.
Now the team has reached year’s climax, which comes in the form of the 2015 CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship that begins Oct. 1 in Kansas City and Los Angeles. A trip to the tournament final would earn the U.S. an automatic trip to the 2016 Olympic Games. A finish outside the top three and the road to Rio comes to an abrupt end.
The current U.S. team is made up of young talent, but possess an experienced core of 20 players who have grown up playing in U.S. Soccer’s Youth National Team program. They now find themselves on the verge of the biggest tournament of their budding careers.
“Playing at the Olympics would be unbelievable,” said midfielder Emerson Hyndman. “A similar feeling to the World Cup. This summer was my first time playing in the U-20 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.”
U.S. midfielder Emerson Hyndman made his first appearance of 2015 with the U-23 MNT when the team took on England in early September.
The stage is set for the U-23’s. Placed in Group A, the team will need to get through Canada, Panama and Cuba. Topping their group would hand them a semifinal matchup with the second place team from Group B, which includes Mexico, Costa Rica, Haiti and Honduras.
Should the U.S. advance to the tournament final, it would punch an automatic ticket to the Olympics. A second road also leads to Rio. That would require winning the tournament’s third place game and then a one-game playoff against Colombia.
“Obviously it’s a great honor for me to play for the U.S. and the goal is to do so in the Olympics,” said U-23 MNT forward Jerome Kiesewetter. “We want to achieve this really bad. All of our focus is on the qualifiers. It’s all we want to do. It’s all we play for.”
Jerome Kiesewetter (center) jumps through training drills during the U-23 MNT's September training camp in England.
The team comes in having defeated Qatar in its last game 2-0, and prior to that finished third at the renowned Toulon Tournament in France, where it defeated the Netherlands and England. Despite their accomplishments earlier in the year – that includes a 3-0 win against Mexico in April – the players only see success as qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
“There’s a lot to accomplish still. We’ve been giving it our all in every session and putting our best foot forward to making sure we’re ready when we get to qualifying,” said Kiesewetter. “Last Olympics we didn’t make it, but that just motivates us. We have a job to do, to get our country to Rio next summer.”
While the U.S. failed to qualify for the Olympics the last time around, this time it boasts a completely new group and a new opportunity for 20 players who have been playing together for a little over a year.
“It’s awesome having been able to come through the ranks,” said midfielder Luis Gil. “This is kind of like the last group before making it with the men’s team and usually you do have four or five core guys that make it to the men’s team. You come up together and you play together and it always helps.
Luis Gil challenges teammate Emerson Hyndman during U-23 MNT training in the team's final camp before Olympic Qualifying begins Oct. 1
“This means everything. Your country, yourself, your clubs, your family, everything. This is a part of you and it’s a huge opportunity and something to be grateful for and it’s going to be fun. Qualifying for the Olympics is a big opportunity for all of us.”Read more