The 19-year-old U.S. youth international finds himself on the cusp of an increased role for the Premier League contenders
HARRISON, N.J. — Cameron Carter-Vickers spent the 2016-17 Premier League campaign in something of a no man’s land.
A prized prospect at Tottenham, the U.S. youth international regularly cracked the game-day squad for Spurs. But opportunities to see the field were few and far between, to the tune of just four first-team appearances — two apiece in the FA Cup and League Cup. So Carter-Vickers found himself on the cusp of Premier League playing time, yet too advanced to earn minutes in Tottenham’s youth setup.
As the English-American center back travels with Spurs as part of their preseason preparations in the International Champions Cup, the opportunity the rebuild his fitness and sharpness looms large.
“I just want to keep working hard in training and get back to match fitness,” Carter-Vickers said after a match against Roma on Tuesday at Red Bull Arena. “Obviously everyone wants to play, but training’s at a high level, it keeps you sharp.”
The 19-year-old already earned the start for Tottenham’s first two ICC contests, and he’ll be hoping for another nod when Spurs face Manchester City on Saturday at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee.
While the club has been careful to temper expectations, Carter-Vickers appears to be the primary reserve behind starting center backs Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld — meaning he’s poised to play a more substantial role for Spurs in the Premier League and Champions League this season.
“He can improve and learn a lot,” Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino said. “He’s a rotation player, yes. … But it’s important that we’re talking about a player who is so young and needs time to settle in the first team.”
Carter-Vickers’ talent was on display Wednesday, as were his raw sensibilities. Playing 45 minutes on the right side of defense in a 3-4-3 formation, he stepped up with several strong tackles but saw himself whistled for handball in the box that led to Roma’s opener from the spot.
On one sequence, Carter-Vickers showcased his recovery speed by tracking down Edin Dzeko on the counter — then saw his vigorous challenge on the Roma striker punished with a yellow card.
“He’s only 19, but he’s got a lot of talent and he’s very strong,” Spurs captain Hugo Lloris said. “He’s got a personality and he’s got a good potential to become one good player. So he needs to keep going the same way with the same mentality, the same energy, and try to get the chance.”
At 6 feet tall and 203 pounds, Carter-Vickers has the profile of an imposing center back. That physical presence helped him stand out as he made three starts during the Americans’ run to the U-20 World Cup quarterfinals this past spring, despite seeing a dubious red card in the group stage finale against Saudi Arabia.
“You just look at him and you see the size and the physicality that he can bring to the game, which is always good,” said 18-year-old Tottenham goalkeeper Austin Davis, another English-American. “He’s still learning the game, but he’s a good ball-playing center half and, like I said, his physicality is something that really sets him apart from other defenders you might see at his age.”
While Carter-Vickers earned his first full U.S. national team call-up in November — for what turned out to be Jurgen Klinsmann’s final matches in charge — he hasn’t heard from new U.S. coach Bruce Arena.
With John Brooks and Geoff Cameron established at the first-choice duo in central defense, and Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Tim Ream, Matt Hedges, Matt Miazga and Steve Birnbaum also earning minutes under Arena, Carter-Vickers has a long way to go before he breaks into the center back picture.
But he hasn’t given up hope of staking his claim ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Should Carter-Vickers break into the lineup for a Premier League contender over the next few months, his case would be tough to ignore.
“First I have to focus on here at Tottenham and trying to get more minutes here,” Carter-Vickers said. “That’s the next step.”