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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Cameron Carter-Vickers deserves to be a key figure for USMNT

Some Rangers fans were already celebrating their team taking the league in the Scottish League Cup final. Indeed, the cross from the right side of the Celtic penalty box looked like it only needed a touch from one of the players in blue to find the back of the net. However, Cameron Carter-Vickers was there to ensure it stayed out, stretching out a leg to divert the ball wide.

It proved to be a pivotal moment in the match as Celtic scored either side of half time to ultimately win 2-1 and lift the first piece of domestic silverware of the season in Scotland. Japanese striker Kyogo Furuhashi scored both goals, but Carter-Vickers’ contribution in defence was just as significant. He was a rock.

This was nothing out of the ordinary for the 25-year-old, who has excelled since joining Celtic two years ago. Under Australian coach Ange Postecoglou, he has improved all areas of his game and is now an integral part of a team on course to winning its second Scottish Premiership title in two seasons. Celtic could win the Treble this term.

Of course, Carter-Vickers’ potential has been clear for some time. There was great excitement when he broke through as a youngster at Tottenham Hotspur with Mauricio Pochettino a fan of the defender. After that, though, Carter-Vickers lost his way somewhat as he was loaned out no fewer than six times in just four seasons.

Celtic, however, has been a good fit for Carter-Vickers. His passing game has improved immeasurably under Postecoglou who relies on the 25-year-old to play out from the back. Carter-Vickers has grown into a leader in a difficult environment where other players have crumbled under the pressure. Playing in Glasgow isn’t for everyone.

Carter-Vickers was included in Gregg Berhalter’s US men’s national team squad that travelled to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup, but he only played one match – the crucial group stage win over Iran. Without injuries to Miles Robinson and Chris Richards, he may not have been on the plane at all. 

Now, though, the USMNT finds itself at the start of a new cycle. The 2022 World Cup is in the past and full focus is now on preparing for the 2026 tournament which will be hosted on home soil along with Canada and Mexico. Carter-Vickers deserves his chance to become a key figure in that new cycle.

Robinson and Walker Zimmerman were widely considered the USMNT’s first-choice central defensive pairing for the 2022 World Cup until the former suffered a serious injury. Then in Qatar, the latter was made to look somewhat limited, leading to the argument an upgrade is needed before the next major tournament.

In a physical sense, Carter-Vickers might not be as imposing as Zimmerman, but his reading of the game is sharper than the Nashville defender’s and that prevents a lot of trouble before it even begins. While Carter-Vickers plays with a natural aggression, his time at Celtic has instilled a sense of calmness in his decision-making – defensive errors aren’t as regular as they used to be.

Richards is someone who could lift the level of the USMNT’s defence with the former Bayern Munich player now at Crystal Palace in the Premier League, but it’s entirely possible that he could play on the left side of the central pairing with Carter-Vickers on the right side. This is the partnership the USMNT should build their new team on top of.

The USMNT can’t fully plan for the 2026 World Cup until they have a head coach in place, with Berhalter still being assessed after making the round of 16 in Qatar. Zinedine Zidane was approached about the position, but resisted US Soccer’s overtures while Jesse Marsch and Jim Curtin are widely seen as other options.

There is no immediate rush for US Soccer to make an appointment, although this summer’s Gold Cup is starting to loom on the horizon. It won’t be until the new man is in the job that the picture with regards to the team on the pitch will become clearer. There is a lot more to consider than just the defence.

Nonetheless, Carter-Vickers has done enough over the last two seasons at Celtic to be a bigger part of the USMNT’s future. He could still improve further with some suggestion a return to the Premier League would help the 25-year-old reach an even higher level. The US should be riding on the back of his upward trajectory.

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