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Emerson Hyndman, 18, Shows Signs He Is Ready

Already a starter in Fulham's midfield, Emerson Hyndman is showing tremendous maturity for the London club—which is a big reason why Jurgen Klinsmann called him in to the U.S. national team.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
September 02, 2014
10:34 PM
PRAGUE—Emerson Hyndham has been a stalwart with U.S. youth national teams in the past but last week the 18-year-old midfielder received the ultimate reward—a call-up to the full national team for Wednesday's friendly against the Czech Republic friendly.

“I was excited,” Hyndman told American Soccer Now. “I was surprised. It’s not every day as an 18-year old-you get a call-up—especially early in the season as well. I’ve only played three professional games. But it was very exciting. I just couldn’t wait to get here.”

Hyndman has been with the Fulham organization since 2011 when he joined the academy. The club thought highly of the Texas native and signed him to a professional contract in 2013 followed by another extension just a few months later.

It is very difficult for American teenagers to move to Europe these days since FIFA places restrictions on players under the age of 18 who move abroad. Hyndman’s move, however, was facilitated by the fact that he holds dual citizenship with Portugal through his family’s ancestry. Even in similar cases where moves are permitted, few America teens are able to find success in Europe at these young ages after battling culture shock and homesickness.

One of Hyndman’s strengths has been his personal maturity, and many people recognize it. He has said that while difficult at first to move away, his drive to succeed superseded all other emotions and that homesickness was never much of a problem for him.

"Leaving all my friends and family was difficult at first but I've gotten used to it real quick," Hyndman said last fall. "The club and everyone in it were very inviting so I seemed to fit right into it. I had to change my entire school system. I was able to enjoy my time instead of worrying about getting home all the time. It kind of took care of itself."

"Straight when I came in, I could tell that I really enjoyed it," Hyndman said of his move to Fulham. "All the trainings, anyone I talked to would help me through anything I had trouble with. Mainly for football reasons, I came straight in, I understood everything they were trying to do. I never really even thought of moving back."

In Prague, U.S. U-18 head coach Javier Perez is assisting Klinsmann. He has seen Emerson develop within U.S. Soccer’s youth program and he says he has found it “shocking” to see all the players coming through the system who have both skill and personal maturity.

Perez has always thought highly of Hyndman as a player but the Spanish-born coach was surprised to see him perform so well at Fulham. He believes that Hyndman’s maturity springs from his family’s involvement in the sport—his grandfather Schellas Hyndham used to coach FC Dallas. The fact that Hyndman, who is listed at five-foot-seven but is still very slight, is not yet as physically developed as other national team players does not concern Perez.

“I would like to see more players like him,” Perez said. “He had to move away from his family at such an early age that helped him to be stronger.”

“I was always high on him but to see how he adjusts to that level and the speed, and the way he makes decisions, I’m very impressed. I saw him playing [for the U.S. U-18s] with other very talented players like Mukwele Akale in the midfield, but at this level it is a whole different story. I’m impressed in a positive way. The whole physical development is going to come through but right now, everything is there for him to play at this level and make the next steps.”

Hyndman completed his first practice with the national team on Monday and he and fellow rookie Rubio Rubin got to carry the equipment bags—a task familiar to U.S. national team newcomers. On Tuesday, Hyndman competed in a brief 10 v. 10 inter-squad scrimmage and looked up to the speed of the game while playing in central midfield alongside Alejandro Bedoya.

In the scrimmage, Hyndman played a similar style to how he plays for Fulham. He drifted deep into his own end to collect the ball and helped quickly transition the ball into the attack with crisp passing. When he arrived at Fulham’s academy, he was a typical No. 10 in an advanced position. The staff at Fulham, however, moved him deeper to ensure a high number of touches and heavy involvement in the game. This took advantage of his strengths as a player in terms of his field vision and extremely quick decision making.

“I like to get foreward when I can,” Hyndman said. “But my main strength is to control games. If that means coming back and getting the ball, I have to do that. I’m the center between the defense and the attack. If I can, I’ll get forward.”

Hyndman’s success this calendar year began with Fulham’s youth teams, which were among the best in England despite the first team being relegated out of the Premier League in May. Hyndman was a part of the club’s youth team which advanced to the final of the FA Youth Cup and finished in fifth place in the U-21 Premier League.

When Fulham’s preseason resumed following the World Cup, head coach Felix Magath quickly began playing Hyndman in first-team friendlies, and he stood out. Ahead of the preseason game against D.C. United, the German-born Magath boldly stated that he was “convinced that he will play for America in four years at the World Cup.”

“I already had confidence before, but it was unbelievable to hear that from such a highly regarded coach,” Hyndman said of Magath’s comments. “I think that just shows how much he trusts me on the pitch. As long as I can keep his trust, I’ll get more games."

As the preseason progressed, Hyndman became more entrenched in the starting lineup and eventually was named to the starting lineup for opening day.

“In preseason I tried my hardest,” Hyndham said. “Then it all just seemed to click. I had a great preseason. The more I trained with them, the more I got confident. My debut came and I wasn’t nervous at all because I went through that whole period before.”

Despite Fulham’s weak start, with just one point through five games, Hyndman has looked very strong each of the three times he was named to the Starting XI. Over the three games, he has completed 184 passes out of 204 attempts for a 90% rate. He also 239 touches in 270 minutes, which points to his heavy involvement.

The West London team has a proud history of involving American players, including Brian McBride, Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, Eddie Lewis, Eddie Johnson, Marcus Hahnemann, and Kasey Keller. The club's latest U.S. import believes that the future is bright at Craven Cottage.

“We’re still very optimistic,” Hyndham explained. “We’ve got a young team. A lot of the young guys I played with at the Dallas Cup have come up with me. It’s still early for us. Our goal is to get promoted still. We all feel like that is possible. We’ve controlled games but once we find that finishing touch, it will all click.”

As both a head coach and technical director of the national team, Klinsmann was keenly aware of Hyndman’s strengths when inviting him into camp.

“Is it too much for Emerson? No, “Klinsmann said. “Because I talk to their coaches too. We don't want to overwhelm anybody but we would love to see him grow. That's how these decisions are then made.”

"When we feel that a young player is ready to experience the next [and] higher level, if he plays or not [against the Czech Republic], then we bring the kid in,” Klinsmann continued. “To have him be part of that environment. To give him an introduction and get him connected to that different type of teammate of another level, and take it from there.

"We evaluate the kid. The soccer side is obviously very important but is the kid actually ready for that? Maybe not in coming too early but emotionally too much? When we feel it is all good and maybe they can deal with that—and that goes back to a lot of conversations between Tab Ramos, myself, Javier [Perez]], and whoever that kid is with right now, then we'll do it."

Perez agrees with his boss that this is the right opportunity for players such as Hyndmann to get their first taste of international soccer.

“To have a coach like Jurgen Klinsmann is a huge plus,” Perez said. “Probably other coaches wouldn’t take that shot to bring younger players. But he has this vision of young players coming through. That’s sometimes what they need—these talented players. They need an opportunity.”

For Hyndman, this opportunity could come Wednesday night in Prague.

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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