41014_isi_rubinrubio_isida120212239 John Dorton/isiphotos.com
Player Spotlight

For Rubio Rubin, It's All About the Red, White & Blue

The 18-year-old attacker from Beaverton, Ore., will join the United States U-20 team in Texas for the upcoming Dallas Cup, and there is a growing buzz about this promising—and patriotic—young talent.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
April 10, 2014
11:45 PM
THE DALLAS CUP will get underway this weekend for the United States U-20 national team—the team’s first competition of the cycle. Head coach Tab Ramos will not have all of his players available due to club commitments, but Rubio Rubin, one of the the team’s most talented prospects, will take part.

Rubin, 18, is a veteran of U.S. youth national teams and is expected to play a key role with the U-20 team this cycle. Last summer he agreed to join Eredivisie club Utrecht, where he has been training regularly since August.

Due to FIFA restrictions, Rubin was not able to officially sign with the club until his 18th birthday, which arrived on March 1st. Now that the contract is signed, Utrecht can register his contract on July 1 and then Rubin will be able to play in competitive games for the club—either for the first team or its youth teams.

For most of the past season, his training regimen has been intense to compensate for the lack of competitive games. He’s been training with the club’s U-19 team, its reserve team, and occasionally the first team. Despite the restrictions, he is pleased with his progress.

“It’s been going well,” Rubin told American Soccer Now from Utrecht. “I love the style of play and I’m developing every day and learning new things. Sometimes it can get hard just because the language, not knowing the players, and how they play. But it’s been a great ride and I’m excited for July to come around and finally be able to play matches.”

“All the opportunities that came, I took them all in and thought, from America to Europe,” he continued. “I thought that the best option was to come to FC Utrecht. It was always a dream as well to go to Europe. It came to reality but it’s just the beginning to something that I hope continues to grow. The work just starts now and it’s only going to continue to get harder."

"I can’t get complacent. I have to keep developing.”

Many young American players have moved abroad to top European teams in recent years, including Junior Flores (Borussia Dortmund), Dembakwi Yomba (Atletico Madrid), and Marc Pelosi (Liverpool).

Utrecht may not have the prestige as some of those clubs but signs indicate that management rates their new American prospect very highly. Rubin has a long-term contract but some within the club believe that his price tag may grow within the next few years to a point where he could be sold for a handsome profit.

Next season will provide the first solid indicators of Rubin's progress. And while making the first team will be difficult, the confident youngster thinks it's an achievable goal.

“The mindset for any professional and young player is to reach the highest level you can,” Rubin said. “I am aiming for the first team and I am definitely going to work hard over this summer on my game and perfect the things I’m not very good at. I am really excited just for next year. Hopefully when July comes around, I can join the first team and play matches."

"I came here to reach that level," he added. "The club is excited and I’m excited, for sure.”

When Rubin decided to turn professional last year, he had plenty of options both in Europe and the United States. After visiting clubs, Utrecht won over Rubin and his family because of the team’s expectations for him and because the path to the first team seemed direct and attainable.

Equally important, Rubin appreciates and admires Dutch coaching. American players including Michael Bradley, DaMarcus Beasley, John O’Brien, Jozy Altidore, and Aron Johannsson found success in the Eredivisie early in their careers. Many of the top players in the world have had a similar experience in the league.

“The Dutch league is known for having a lot of young players,” Rubio explained. “I’ve noticed that great players have come through here—like Luis Suarez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Ronaldo. That's one of the reasons why I wanted to come here to Holland. It’s a good place to start. I’m happy here and during training I feel that the technical ability is a little bit better than in America.”

The Eredivisie is one of the most offensive-minded leagues in Europe and that certainly fits in well with Rubin’s style of play. In the traditional Dutch 4-3-3 formation, Rubin typically plays the central forward role, but he also feels comfortable in the No. 10 position, sitting just behind the forward line. Occasionally he plays out wide but it is not his preferred spot.

Most Dutch coaches stress passing, decision making, and possession. In the eight months since his arrival in the Netherlands, Rubin has adapted to this style of play and believes he has improved significantly since the last time many U.S. fans saw him with the U-17 national team.

“They emphasize the passing, especially,” Rubin said of the Dutch coaching philosophy. “A lot of players pass and pass—they never hold onto the ball much and they’re very calm on the ball. I’ve noticed a lot as well is that whenever you feel in trouble with the ball, you always go back to your keeper and just recycle the ball and look for your next opening. Their 1v1 skills out wide are great and they’re very, very good with the ball.”

“The confidence here is unbelievable,” he added. “The players here just have confidence on the ball. They’re calm and they don’t rush anything. They take their time when they have the ball. There are a lot of things I need to learn and going straight from the U-17s to Holland was something different. It’s good to learn Dutch football.”

WHILE RUBIN'S TALENT has never been in question, history suggests that success for young American players in Europe is determined not only by abilities on the field but also by mental strength. Adjusting to life off the field in a new culture while being thousands of miles away from family and friends can be a tremendous challenge.

The situation for Rubin is no different. He is far away from his hometown of Beaverton, Ore. He grew up in a religious household and he credits is faith in helping him get through the transition abroad. He is regularly in touch with his family and admits that missing home is one of the most difficult aspects of professional life.

“Family is important,” Rubin said. “My sister just had a baby and my little nephew has started to grow up. It’s hard to not see him walking or crawling. It happens. It’s part of the professional life. Sometimes you get lonely but you have to find ways to stay strong and believe that everything will be all right. Family will always be there. I’m religious and I always have faith in God that everything will work out. I’m happy to be here.”

On Thursday Rubin travels from the Netherlands to Texas for the Dallas Cup, where the U.S. U-20 team will face youth teams from Eintracht Frankfurt, River Plate, and Tigres. It will be the team's first major test of this cycle.

Head coach Tab Ramos acknowledged that Rubin is already considered a major part of the team, and Rubin's improvement since training with Utrecht is plain to see.

"Rubio Rubin continues to do well," Ramos said in January. "Every camp he just looks better than the one before. He’s really turned out to be a very solid, professional-type player. You don’t want to give people a free pass but [guys like him] who work very hard every practice, every game—I’m pretty comfortable saying these are guys we can probably count on for a while."

Fellow U.S. U-20 forward Ben Spencer—currently with Indy Eleven of the NASL on loan from Molde—is also on the Dallas Cup roster, and he is bullish on his teammate. Spencer has played with Rubin at both the U-18 and now the U-20 level and believes Rubin is an important part of the U-20 squad.

“Rubio is a very good player,” Spencer said. “He is good on the dribble and can make things happen. He is clever in his movements. He is also a very good guy to have in the locker room. He gets on well with the team and has a good personality.”

U-20 World Cup qualifying is likely to take place early in 2015 and it is far from clear if Rubio will take part. Historically U-20 qualifying is not played on FIFA international dates, so European-based players who see first-team minutes typically are not released by their clubs.

Last year, Rubio was on the U.S. U-17 team that was unsuccessful in qualifying for the U-17 World Cup. As a result, he is even more motivated to take part in a youth World Cup with the U-20 and is hopeful to participate in qualifying. He does not take it for granted that the U-20s will qualify for the tournament in New Zealand, but he does believe the potential of the current group is vast.

“It’s always a dream to one day say you’ve been to a World Cup, especially a U-20 World Cup,” Rubio said. “And the goal is to win it. You don’t just go to a World Cup to play matches. We’re going to win it and we have to believe that. First we have to focus on qualifying especially after the U-17s.”

With his prospects for both club and country on an upward swing, Rubin is reflective about his family roots and how far he has come. Born in the United States to a Guatemalan mother and a Mexican father, a passion for soccer was instilled in Rubin at an early age—primarily through his father.

Growing up Rubin watched Mexican league soccer every weekend with his father. His favorite player as a child was Omar Bravo, who he has strived to emulate. More recently his idol is Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez. Despite the bond he shares with his father over Mexican soccer at the club level, their opinions diverge when it comes to international soccer.

“My Dad is a die-hard Mexican fan,” Rubin said, laughing. “He always gave me the nudge that, ‘You can have the option to one day play for Mexico.' But I always told my Dad that would never happen because I was born in America and it’s in my heart 100% that I want to play for my country—which is the United States."

"I just love my country so much and it’s red, white, and blue for me. It’s the best feeling. I’ve been with the youth national teams and it’s amazing to wear the crest.”

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

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