41514_isi_goochlynden_bpi_mw_newc_sund_youthcup_36.2623867 Matt West/isiphotos.com
Sciaretta's Scouting Report

Lynden Gooch, 18, Is a Highlight-Reel Sensation

Bursting with confidence and determined to take on defenders, California native Lynden Gooch is a rising star at Sunderland and a key member of the United States U-20 team.

BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
April 15, 2014
8:57 PM
[Editor's note: Due to popular demand, we added three more Gooch Goal GIFs to this article.]

THE UNITED STATES under-20 men's national team is off to a 2-0 start at the prestigious Dallas Cup, and coach Tab Ramos has to be encouraged by how his players are performing. After using the two previous camps to identify and assess talent, Ramos' is getting his first real look at what he considers his core team.

And Lynden Gooch, 18, is hoping to show Ramos that he should be a key member of that squad.

Currently at the English club Sunderland, Gooch has progressed from the club’s U-18 team to the U-21 team this season, and is playing alongside athletes several years his senior. But that only tells part of the story: Gooch has become a highlight-reel sensation at Sunderland, where he has scored some jaw-dropping goals.

The California native is capable of finishing with either foot, and he arrived in Texas bursting with confidence. A starter in the first two Dallas Cup matches, Gooch nearly scored in Monday's 3-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt. Teammate Zach Pfeffer pounced on a rebound off a Gooch shot to give the United States a commanding two-goal lead.

“I’ve been doing really well, scoring good goals,” Gooch told American Soccer Now. “I’ve just been super confident, really. It’s just been getting better and better as the season has gone on."

"It’s a big step," he added, referring to the jump to the U-21 squad. "It’s a lot quicker and you’re playing against professional players. I’m doing really well and the coaching staff at Sunderland is happy with my progress right now. Hopefully next season I will be pushing on and training with the first team more."

At first glance, Gooch does not appear to have the build of a typical soccer player. He stands at about five-foot-eight but is stocky and remarkably strong. He is also technically gifted and very versatile. With the U.S. U-20 team, he is playing more of a central midfield role, but with Sunderland he features as a forward, at the No. 10 position, or on the wing.

For Gooch, soccer is a family affair. His father, Paul Gooch, hails from England and is a respected coach in California. His older brother Anthony is also an accomplished athlete and is set to graduate this year from San Diego State University, where he played on the soccer team.

As a young player, Gooch would often play on his brother’s club teams, taking on players who were four or sometimes five years older. As a result, he grew up quickly on the field and always pushed himself to outcompete his opponents.

“When we were younger, he would come out and play with the teams I would be playing with,” the elder Anthony Gooch said. “I think playing against older guys at such a young age really helped him out a lot. He and I are both really competitive and it was definitely frustrating at times when we were out there and he would show up some of the older boys, including myself.”

It wasn’t simply the playing against older kids that helped Gooch, but it was also the encouragement he received from his father. While also serving as their coach, Paul Gooch wanted his sons to stand out on the field and make plays that helped their teams win.

For Lynden, this meant learning how to take defenders on “1 vs. 1” and beat them with skill on the ball. This trait defined his playing style an early age, and his competitive zeal continues to this day.

“My Dad always wanted us to be something different,” Gooch recalled. “He didn’t want to see us just be simple players. He always wanted us to have flair and take people on, score goals, and make a difference. I’ve always enjoyed that kind of stuff.”

Thanks to his flair for the dramatic, Gooch gained attention at a very young age. When he was just 10 years old, he had a chance to go to Europe on a Center of Excellence tour while playing with mostly older kids. While he was there, he attracted the attention of Sunderland, which wanted Gooch to join its youth system. As a result, the club continued to bring him back from California twice a year to train.

Gooch joined Sunderland on a full-time basis in June 2012, at the age of 16, and signed a professional contract after he turned 17. In what is now his eighth year affiliated with the club, he has significant professional experience at a time when most Americans his age are just graduating from high school.

While many American teenage prospects who move to Europe battle homesickness and culture shock, Gooch side-stepped these obstacles in part because he had family in Colchester, England and also because he grew up in a soccer-loving household that instilled in him the desire to succeed in England above all else.

“It was pretty much just England ever since I grew up watching the Premier League with my Dad,” Gooch said. “That was my goal. Since going over to Sunderland I knew I was going to be joining them. It was just a dream.”

Anthony Gooch agreed that soccer was simply part of the family’s culture.

“It was great,” the elder Gooch recalled. “We loved every minute of it. Every weekend we’d wake up early to watch the Premier League games with our Dad. Our Mom would usually be working but then, when the international dates would roll around and Ireland would be playing, she’d be right there with us. It was definitely a part of our family life.”

Lynden's success has not gone unnoticed in international circles. Holding American, British, and Irish passports, Gooch has options. Last year Ireland’s federation took notice of his talent and called him up to play in friendlies for its youth national team. Gooch accepted, and while he was honored to take part, the United States remains his preference.

“I just wanted to see what [Ireland] was like,” Gooch explained. “I tried it out but then the U.S. called me up again. But No. 1 is the U.S. I’m from California. The U.S. is my country. I definitely want to play for the U.S.”

Many within the U.S. U-20 program are happy that he has chosen the United States as well, and they see him as a big part of the team.

Paul Arriola, one of the stars of the U.S. U-20 team, has featured regularly in Club Tijuana's first team and has played in the CONCACAF Champions League. Arriola has played with Gooch on various U.S. youth national teams, and after watching his friend play in the first two games of the Dallas Cup, Arriola came away impressed.

“Very good player," Arriola said, adding that Gooch has displayed "tremendous growth as a player and as a professional. Physically [he is] just a monster."

“With us, he’s playing as a center-mid or defensive-mid at times," Arriola continued. "I know back at his club he is playing as a forward, but it just shows his versatility. The technique doesn’t go away. Hopefully he’s able to be with us the whole time and we can take him to qualifying and he can be a big part of the team.”

Both Gooch and Arriola are focused on having strong years in the buildup to the 2015 U-20 World Cup in New Zealand. And with Sunderland likely to be relegated to the second tier of English football, Gooch could be a key component in the club’s rebuilding plans.

For now, however, Gooch has his eyes on the Dallas Cup and making a statement through his play on the field.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Gooch said of the U-20 cycle. “I haven’t really experienced World Cup qualifying and stuff like that. It’ll be another big part of my career. Obviously it will help me as I get older to have experiences like that. It’d be great to represent the U.S. at a World Cup.”

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

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