ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Cameron Carter-Vickers has become accustomed to keeping track of two teams at once. That’s part and parcel of a life on loan, in which your club isn’t really your club, and where your job is to impress two sets of coaches simultaneously. The 21-year-old defender readily acknowledges the complexity of it all, but he also sees it as an opportunity for growth.
“It improves your football, but it also kind of develops you as a person,” he said.
For the past year, Carter-Vickers’ focus has been in Wales, where he was playing for Championship club Swansea City, and in London, where he’s employed by Tottenham Hotspur. This Saturday, it’ll be here in the Maryland state capital, where he’s trying to make the USA’s Concacaf Gold Cup roster, and in Madrid, where Spurs—the club Carter-Vickers joined as an 11-year-old—will play the biggest match in its 137-year history.
There’s work to do on both fronts. Tottenham is a decided underdog in Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final against Liverpool, which finished 26 points higher in the Premier League table and is far more accustomed to the European stage. In Maryland, where the USA is preparing for Wednesday’s friendly against Jamaica at D.C. United’s Audi Field, coach Gregg Berhalter is weighing Carter-Vickers’ performance and Gold Cup potential against a relatively sizable pool of central defenders.
Carter-Vickers, the Essex-born son of an American father and English mother, chose to represent the USA in 2014 and made his senior debut in November 2017, a few weeks after Bruce Arena’s side crashed out of the World Cup. He’s been pegged as part of the national team’s next generation. Carter-Vickers made seven appearances under interim manager Dave Sarachan and showed well at times, notably in the 1-1 draw at eventual world champion France last June. But this week was his first opportunity to play under Berhalter, who’s spent more time with the likes of Omar Gonzalez, Matt Miazga (another loanee who saw his parent club play for—and win—a European trophy this week), Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman.
Fortunately for Carter-Vickers, he’s used to having to get comfortable with new coaches. Swansea City was his fourth club as a senior pro, including Spurs. He spent the first half of the 2017-18 campaign at Sheffield United, then moved to Ipswich Town. He owns a house near his mother, Geraldine Vickers, in Essex, and rents an apartment wherever he’s based. It’s a life of multiple homes, and layered responsibilities and perspectives. A loaned player can look at the assignment as an indication that his parent club is invested in him and doing what’s best for his career. Or he can worry that it views him as surplus and just wants to get him out of the way. Carter-Vickers’s contract at Tottenham runs for two more seasons.
“You can definitely look at it both ways,” he told SI.com following training at the Naval Academy. “I’ve been at Tottenham since I was 11, so I’ve got good relationships with all the coaches there and the academy coaches. Going on loan was something I wanted to do for selfish reasons. I wanted to go. I wanted to play games.”
He didn’t do much of that last fall, as newly-relegated Swansea adjusted to life in the Championship and Carter-Vickers adjusted to life in Wales. But he began to break through in December, and a January injury to Joe Rodon ensured the left center back spot was Carter-Vickers’s to lose. He didn’t.
Speaking to Wales Online last month before leaving Swansea for Brighton & Hove Albion, assistant manger Billy Reid said, “Cameron came here on loan from Tottenham and he had to bide his time to make the team. When he came into the team, he’s made huge progress. We asked him to step into the game with the ball and the progress he's made in that area has been exceptional.”
That last bit should matter to Berhalter, who wants his team to keep the ball and build out of the back. He’ll have been watching Carter-Vickers at Swansea, just like Tottenham was.
Spurs appointed a member of its technical stuff to keep tabs on Carter-Vickers, attend his matches and offer feedback on his performance. In addition, Swansea sent tactical game footage back to Tottenham, Carter-Vickers said.
“Throughout the season, Spurs kept quite close contact with me,” he said, adding that the whole process was “definitely a conversation, collaborative, between you, the club and the club you’re going to.”
He said he never felt abandoned or cut off by Tottenham. But that doesn’t necessarily make it easier to ingratiate yourself with another new team that isn’t really yours. Players want to be trusted by coaches, respected and befriended by teammates, praised by the press and embraced by supporters. When you’re not really “theirs,” how much tougher does that become?
“Every team you go to, it's a new challenge. It’s a new style of football, new coach, new teammates, and you’ve got to adjust and be flexible to how the team wants to play,” Carter-Vickers said. “In a way, I think it’s good. I’ve gotten to experience three fairly different styles of play, three different styles of football. That can only benefit me as I go forward. You just kind of develop as a person as well, having to get along with a new group of teammates, a new coach—all the stuff like that can develop some character as well.”
So now he attempts to adjust to Berhalter, who “gets his message across very clear,” Carter-Vickers said. The Gold Cup roster is expected to be unveiled next Thursday, the day after the Jamaica friendly. Although Carter-Vickers played at the 2015 U-20 World Cup, he’s yet to represent the USA in official senior competition and still isn’t cap-tied. He’s “trying to improve and trying to impress Gregg as much as I can,” without concentrating too much on the depth chart, he said.
But Saturday, for a few hours, he intends to turn his attention back toward his club, as Spurs' improbable Champions League run reaches its conclusion.
“I’m a fan,” Carter-Vickers said. “I’ve watched all their Champions League games. Most of the time when they’re on TV [on weekends] and I can get to watch the game, I watch it. It’s been enjoyable to watch—some close games. For me watching, it’s enjoyable. For them playing it, they probably want to be more comfortable in the game.”
But he’s not just a fan. He’s a Tottenham player. So he studies Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, trying to pick up what he can. He keeps in regular touch with some of the first-team players closer to his age, like Kyle Walker-Peters. Carter-Vickers will be about as far from Madrid as a person can be on Saturday, but still so much closer than most. It’s part of living a life on two footballing fronts.
“I think we’ve got a scrimmage on Saturday, so hopefully we’ll be done in time to get back and watch,” Carter-Vickers said. He said he hopes his USA teammates will join him. “Hopefully they’ll show it in the dining room so we can all watch it together.”