Emerson Hyndman Returns To Action, Eyes World Cup
April 06, 2015
WITH WORLD CUP QUALIFICATION on the line, the United States U-20 men's national team defeated El Salvador on January 24th by a 2-0 score, securing passage to the big tournament in New Zealand.
It wasn’t all good news for the Yanks, however, as the team’s primary playmaker, Emerson Hyndman, suffered a broken collarbone in the contest and had to come out in the 70th minute.
While his teammates celebrated the victory, Hyndman was wincing in pain.
The injury shelved the Dallas native for nearly two months, but he has since returned to action for Fulham's U-21 squad and he also joined the U.S. U-20 team during its recent London training camp. Hyndman, who turns 19 on Thursday, did not play in the March 29 friendly against England but he is returning to full fitness.
He had plenty to say about his emerging role at Fulham, the struggles the U.S. faced in qualifying, and his excitement about playing in the 2015 World Cup.
“Any time you’re in a qualifying tournament, there is more pressure on you—especially when you are one of the favorites,” Hyndman told American Soccer Now in London. “You expect to go to the World Cup when you are a country like the United States.
"In the beginning of qualifying, we fought through a bit of pressure early. Once we put that past us we played together as a group. As the weeks went on, you can tell we just got closer and closer. You could see that on the pitch, even in bad conditions, we were able to pull out victories.”
The U-20 age group usually consists of players who are transitioning between youth soccer and the full professional ranks, and Hyndman has made remarkable progress. In 2013-14 he was a key player on Fulham’s U-18 team; by the start of the 2014-15 campaign he graduated to the first team. Fulham’s head coach at the time, Felix Magath, told media during preseason that he saw Hyndman being on the 2018 U.S. World Cup team.
So far this season Hyndman has made 11 appearances for Fulham’s senior team across all competitions. He then left the club for most of January so he could participate in U-20 World Cup qualifying. His injury has kept him off the Fulham first team ever since.
The Cottagers have struggled the last few months, tumbling all the way to 20th place in the 24-team league—just seven points clear of a second straight relegation.
With six games remaining in Fulham’s season, Hyndman knows he may not see playing time down the stretch in a relegation battle.
“Obviously I would like to be in with the team but it is a difficult period for the club,” Hyndman said. “In this league, a lot of experience is needed—especially [considering] where we are in the table. But I think everyone is optimistic that we’ll stay up. But it is definitely different than what we wanted to do at the beginning of the season.”
Despite a likely lack of playing time the remainder of the season, Hyndman remains a big part of Fulham’s plans for the future. In his first professional season he showed promise—completing 89% of his passes in Championship games. He rarely held the ball too long and instead showed impressive ability to make quick decisions.
The English Championship is has earned a reputation of being a physical league but the fact that Hyndman has been able to succeed despite his small frame is particularly intriguing. Fulham’s website lists Hyndman at five-foot-seven and 135 pounds.
Russell Canouse has served as the U.S. U-20 national team captain and has known Hyndman for years. Their chemistry in central midfield was crucial to the team’s qualification effort as Canouse played a more defensive role to give Hyndman the freedom to attack. Canouse, who plays in Germany for Hoffenheim, is not surprised Hyndman is able to compete so well in the Championship.
“I don't think his size affects him too much because he is very smart,” Canouse said. “He understands the game well. I have known him ever since the U-14s and I really enjoy playing beside him. It's easy to see that he has a lot of skill on the ball and that makes it easier for me to play with him. I shut down the space in front of the back four and he understands the game to help me with that as well.
"I also just try to close down space and passing lines behind me so we can win the ball as soon as possible. I think that is what helps free him up and create less work for him to do defensively.”
U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos agrees that Hyndman’s intelligence is what sets him apart and allows him to compete with much bigger athletes.
“Emerson has a good sense for the game,” Ramos said. “He’s very skillful. He’s powerful in terms of his running. He can cover a lot of ground. At the same time, he’s a great team guy.”
Hyndman has always found ways to overcome his diminutive stature. When his grandfather Schellas Hyndman was the head coach of FC Dallas, he occasionally allowed Emerson to train with the first team—a collection of bigger, significant older men. It helped him be prepared for a quick move into the Championship.
“In the Championship, it’s a lot of experienced players and a lot of players who all play different styles—but a lot of those styles are related to physicality and things like that,” Hyndman explained. “When I made my debut, I didn’t really think about it. I just went out there and played.
"But the more games I had, you really start to notice it. I definitely had to become a man real quick. I stepped up from playing U-18 to all of a sudden playing first team. I had to become fitter, stronger, and quicker mentally. I think just the whole package I had to develop and try to play ‘man’ football.
“I’ve always been on the smaller side growing up so I’ve always had to adjust to it.”
Hyndman will lead the U.S. U-20 team at this summer's World Cup and then is likely to move to the U-23 team for Olympic qualifying in October. U.S. Soccer has placed a heavy emphasis on youth national teams this year as the U-17s, U-20s, and U-23s are all involved in major competitions.
Ramos, who also serves as the federation's youth technical director, has high hopes for Hyndman.
“I think he’s capable of [being the team’s engine,]” Ramos said. “I think he has all the ingredients of being a player down the road who will have a lot of success for us. I am hoping for that. He really enjoys playing for the United States.”
The American U-20s have not advanced from group play at a World Cup since 2007, when Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley helped the team defeat Brazil and Uruguay en route to a quarterfinal finish.
Will Hyndman follow in their footsteps? He is eager to make his case.
“It will be my first World Cup and it will be the first for many of us,” Hyndman said. “It’s a big challenge and it’s a great opportunity for us to step up and show what we are capable of as individuals and as a team.”
Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.