Desevio Payne, 19, Is on Fast Track to U-20 World Cup
May 13, 2015
AS THE UNITED STATES under-20 men's national gathers this week in Carson, Calif. in preparation for the U-20 World Cup, the trip will be just another step in what has been a remarkable 2015 for Desevio Payne.
At the start of the year, U.S. Soccer had never heard of Payne and the young defender had yet to play a professional soccer match. Since then the 19-year-old made his professional debut in the Eredivisie, the Dutch top flight, with FC Groningen and got his first taste of international play with the U. S. U-20 team.
Last week was even better. Tab Ramos named Payne to the U.S. team that will compete at the U-20 World Cup later this month in New Zealand and the teenager agreed to terms on his first professional contract with FC Groningen. On Monday he flew to California to U.S.
When he landed at Los Angeles International Airport, it was the first time Payne has set foot in the United States since 1998 when he was just three and was visiting family in South Carolina.
“I heard that the squad would be announced (last) week so I was a bit anxious,” Payne told American Soccer Now. “But now I am just incredibly happy and hope we will perform to the best of our ability.”
“I am very excited to return to the U.S. again,” he added. “I was already planning a trip to the U.S. in the future. I don't really know what to expect because I can not remember anything from when I was there and so I want to take in the sights and enjoy the atmosphere.”
Payne's father, Ashton, is American and his mother is Dutch—they met while attending college at Lander University in Greenwood, S. C. Ashton played for Lander’s soccer team and his mother was on the softball team. The couple married in South Carolina and then moved to the Netherlands soon after Desevio was born.
Given his limited time in the U.S., it's understandable that Payne was never really on U.S. Soccer's radar but both parties are glad they met. He got his first youth national team call-up for a U-20 camp in late March and early April in England and Ramos was pleased with both Payne’s enthusiasm and his performance, where he shined both in central defense and at right back.
“We follow players that are constantly moving to Europe and start to play, and then we follow some tips and leads about American players that are playing oversees and we track them as well,” Ramos recalled. “I called him to see what his interest would be in playing for the national team and he was really excited about it, and that let us know that it would definitely be a player that we would follow through with.
"He came into the camp very excited to show what he could do, did very well to be honest, and I think he’s someone that we just happened to find at the end who’s doing very well and a good player who’s going to make our team better.”
FC Utrecht forward Rubio Rubin is one of the leaders on the U-20 roster and also plays in the Dutch top flight. Prior to the March camp, Rubin reached out to Payne in an attempt to make him feel welcome.
“I actually called him randomly for the first time a day before the England camp,” Rubin recalled. “I told him a little about my story and he told me a little about his story. He was a little nervous because it was his first time playing for the United States and he hasn’t been to the United States since he was three.
"I just wanted to make him as comfortable as possible making that adjustment. I just told him to go in, have fun, enjoy it, and do the same thing there as he was doing with Groningen. He was a little nervous but that is normal – going into your first camp with a team you don’t know.”
While in England the U.S. lost to both Tottenham’s U-21 team and to England's U-21s but Payne showed well with his technique and versatility. He roomed with Shaq Moore and recalls the trip fondly.
“My first impression and experience were perfect,” Payne said. “My teammates and the staff were very nice to me so that helped me settle in a lot. I did not really know what to expect from my teammates but it turned out very well. I tried to talk with everyone so they could get to know me. Now I am good friends with a lot of the guys. I’m really thankful for that.”
In the game against Tottenham Payne lined up as a right back; against England he was asked to play in central defense after Erik Palmer-Brown picked up a knock. Ramos has indicated that while Payne can play all across the backline, he is primarily seen as a right back.
Hoffenheim’s Russell Canouse, who wore the captain’s armband throughout most of World Cup qualifying in January, has already become one of Payne’s closest friends on the team. Like Rubin, Canouse was quick to reach out to Payne at the start of the camp. Canouse quickly recognized that Payne was the sort of player who could help the U.S. in New Zealand.
“He's a really nice guy on and off the field and he fit into the team very well," Canouse said. "On the field he is able to contribute at multiple positions. He's a very technical player and is calm building out of the back—whether that is at right back or center back. I think he also reads the game well which helps him on both sides of the ball.
"Overall, he's has been a great addition to the team and I know he will help us this summer.”
Payne's next big chance to shine will come on May 30 when the U.S. team takes on Myanmar in its opening group stage match at the World Cup. It will be Payne’s first major international tournament but from what he has seen from his teammates and what he has read about his opponents, he is optimistic.
“I think it is going to be a tough World Cup but every team will say that,” Payne said. “All the teams are going to be hard to beat, but there are always a couple favorites. I think we got a good chance to do well.”
Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.