ASN Exclusive

After completing one-time switch and lifting U.S. U-19s past England, Campbell eyes bright American future

The United States opened the 2025 U-20 cycle with a big 3-2 win over England and the standout player was Borussia Dortmund's Cole Campbell who scored two goals in what was his USA debut. After the game, he spoke with ASN's Brian Sciaretta about playing for the USA, and switching from Iceland.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
March 27, 2024
11:00 AM

IT IS HARD TO think of a better way for a young player from Texas to make his international debut than scoring two goals in a 3-2 win over England, but that is how Cole Campbell began his American journey on Saturday.

The United States U-20 team opened its first camp of the cycle during the March window and Campbell, a versatile attacker who mostly plays as a winger, was seen as one of the team’s more intriguing players upon his arrival. Currently at Borussia Dortmund, Campbell had been playing for the youth national teams of Iceland – a country which his mother represented internationally.

But earlier this month, FIFA accepted his one-time change of association request to play for the United States. It is a move which permanently tied him internationally to U.S. Soccer.

“It was a crazy feeling to say I play for the U.S. national team,” Campbell told ASN from the U.S. U-19 camp about learning his one-time switch was approved. “It's a great, great opportunity. When it switched, it was real at that point. I'm super excited to see what the future holds. I’m very happy.”

“To get to play my first game for the country and win against England is obviously a great moment,” he added.

Campbell, 18, was born in Houston to parents who both played college soccer. His father played for Texas Lutheran University. His mother, Rakel Karvelsson, is a dual American-Icelandic citizen born in the United States who played for the University of North Carolina. After college she would play for Breiðablik in Iceland followed by the Philadelphia Charge of the WUSA. She would also go on to earn 10 caps with Iceland's women's national team where she scored seven goals. In 2000, she was named the Icelandic Women's Footballer of the Year.

For Campbell, his journey as a soccer player began in Texas where he lived until he was eight. Then when his family relocated to Georgia, he would play for the Atlanta United Academy. But in 2020, his family relocated again. This time to Iceland for non-soccer reasons has his maternal grandfather was battling an illness and the family wished to spend more time with him. Prior to that, he and his family had been traveling to Iceland every summer and according to Campbell, they “fell in love with the country.”

While In Iceland, Campbell continued to blossom as a player. At first it was with FH where he made his first team debut in the top division at just 15 years old. Then he moved to Breiðablik – where his mother had played. By 2021, he was also playing for Iceland’s U-17 national team.

“When I first started to play for Iceland, I was already living there and my friends were all there,” Campbell said. “I was playing with all of them, and it was great. My mom also played there. I wanted to represent what my mom represented and also my country. I felt like I was a part of it and integrated into the society very well, the culture.”

But it was also in Iceland, where the idea of playing for the United States first crossed his mind after an impromptu meeting with former U.S. national team forward Aron Johannsson. Johannsson had recently returned to play in Iceland after injuries stalled his career in Europe. But it was in 2012 when Johannsson had to make a similar decision with his international career after he was playing for Iceland at the youth levels but ultimately switched to the United States, where he was born while his Icelandic parents studied in Alabama. He would go on to make the U.S. World Cup team in 2014.

“It's kind of funny,” Campbell recalled of meeting Johannsson. “I made the switch to Breiðablik a few months before I left for Dortmund. We were playing against the team that Aron Johansson played for. After the game was over, he came over to me. I had never met him before and he was like you're Cole, right? I was like, yeah. Then he told me I’ve got to consider playing for the US. I was like, really? And he said it's such a great opportunity. It's such a big, big thing. He said he would do it all over again if he could. It kind of got me thinking.”

After Johansson planted the idea in Campbell’s mind, things started happening very quickly for him. He was able to secure a move to Borussia Dortmund in 2022 to play for their youth teams. He was also then scouted formally by U.S. Soccer.

First, it was a personal visit from Marco Mitrovic who is now the U.S. Olympic team coach but who was the U.S. U-19 coach at the time. Then it was a visit from Garrett Biller, who works for U.S. Soccer in talent identification.

“I spoke to Marko,” Campbell said of his initial meetings with U.S. Soccer. “He came and watched a game I played and he explained how the U.S. plays, the system, and everything. He talked to me about what they have to offer. It felt good. I liked what I heard. I also spoke with Garrett Biller. He came over also. After he came, I just had a great feeling.”

“The U.S. came calling and really pursued me. I felt really wanted,” he added. “Also, it's an amazing opportunity to get to play for the U.S. national team. It's really big and at the end of the day, I had to just look and say, Iceland was good, but the U.S. is a huge opportunity. I felt like that was what was best for me. That's why I made the switch.”

During this current season in 2023/24, Campbell’s situation for both club and country progressed even further. He finally committed to the U.S. program with his one-time switch. Meanwhile in Germany, he is playing with Borussia Dortmund’s U-19 team but is also occasionally training with the first team. During the Bundesliga winter break, he was invited to the first team’s training camp in Spain.

“I'm happy with where I am at the club,” Campbell said of Borussia Dortmund. “I'm with U-19s now. My future goal is to be with the first team soon. I've been training with them a couple times and I'm looking forward to the future in the next few months. It's going well.”

That has now brought Campbell to this past March window when he was called up by U.S. U-19 head coach Michael Niesen for an important camp which will kick off the U.S. U-20 cycle. That team will participate in U-20 World Cup qualifiers this summer, and if successful, the 2025 U-20 World Cup next summer in Chile.

Ahead of camp, Campbell knew Aiden Harangi, a right back at Eintracht Frankfurt who he had played against in the U-19 Bundesliga. Aside from that, Campbell had never met any of the coaches or players.

In the team’s opening game, Campbell was the standout player when he scored twice in a 3-2 win over England in what was his Stars and Stripes debut.

“The level has been great,” Campbell said. “The coaching staff have been incredibly encouraging and supportive. It's always good to have the feeling that you have the backing from the coaches and also from the players. It's a very positive environment, which is always good. [Coach Niesen] has been very supportive. He told me to just be confident, take players on, do your thing. That's a great thing to hear… Even though I haven't known him long, I'm very lucky and happy to get to play under him and I'm looking forward to future games to get to play under him.”

Camp concluded on Tuesday with a 1-0 loss to Morocco (where Campbell did not start), and he will now return Germany and aim to progress at Borussia Dortmund. But it was an ideal start to his international journey with the United States and he hopes to take his next big steps this summer for U-20 World Cup qualifying.

“I'm actually excited for it,” Campbell said. “If I get the honor of being called up to that squad, I'm feeling confident. I think we did very well against England. The players are great. The coaching staff also. I think we have a good group. I’m looking forward to that.”

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