Vines sees huge opportunities moving into 2021 with Colorado, U-23s, and the USMNT
February 15, 2021
WHILE IT WAS a year of ups and downs for every player in 2020 due to pandemic shutdowns, it was positive year for many American players – both domestically and abroad. Domestically, young players saw minutes in MLS at record numbers with many making huge contributions on the field. A few even secured impressive transfers abroad.
On the heels of a strong 2019, 2020 in MLS seemed to suggest it is a new era where young domestic players are at the front of how many teams are trying to approach. 2021 will offer more signs as to the direction teams will take and several young players are entering the season with huge opportunities on many levels.
Sam Vines, 21, is one such player and the Colorado left back has passed a lot of important tests so far. While no longer on the very young side, Vines is not new to the professional game. Over the past two seasons with Colorado in 2020 and 2019 he has shown a lot of potential where he amassed 4000 minutes (after playing 2300 minutes on loan at Charlotte in USL in 2018 after he signed his homegrown deal with the Rapids).
Now in 2021, behind a young core, Vines has ambitions to have Colorado contend in a Western Conference that features many teams that spend a lot more than Colorado.
“Our goal, and we got into the playoffs last year, but that wasn't our ultimate goal,” Vines told ASN. “We wanted to go in playoffs and possibly win the cup, but we didn't do that last year. I think that's our goal for this year is to go far in the playoffs, go as far as we can go and hopefully win the MLS Cup.”
But for Vines, his ambitions and goals in 2021 go way beyond Colorado. For one, he is expected to be a huge part of the U.S. U-23 team as it attempts to qualify and participate in the Olympics. Then he also is part of a young group of domestic-based players that have a legitimate chance to move into national team’s picture ahead of World Cup qualifying.
Finally, there is also the aim to earn transfer offers form teams withing Europe’s top leagues – a goal that becomes more attainable with international opportunities in addition to performances at Colorado.
“I think everyone's ultimate goal is to go play in Europe and play in the Champions League or, the Europa League and be on a stage with the biggest players,” Vines said. “I think that should be everyone's ultimate goal - to play at the highest level they can. And I think in Europe, the Champions League is playing in those bigger competitions and I think everyone should be aspiring to do that.”
A native of Colorado Springs, Vines began playing soccer at age five where he immediately fell in love with the sport and his favorite player was Gareth Bale. At the age of 13, he began earning call-ups with the U.S. youth national team at the U-14 level and began to realize he could make it as a professional.
His most recent call-ups have been with the full national team where he started in wins over Costa Rica in February 2020, El Salvador in December 2020, and most recently against Trinidad & Tobago to conclude the 2021 January Camp.
While the competition in those games has been lower given it didn’t take place in FIFA windows, Vines played very well in each of the games. In the 6-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago, he was one of the best American players one the day and his line-splitting pass minutes into the game found Jesus Ferreira who promptly set up Jonathan Lewis for the opening goal. Minutes later, he assisted directly to Ferreira for the second goal.
GOAL #USMNT! Jonathan Lewis scores in the second minute to kick things off early vs. Trinidad and Tobago. Jesus Ferreira unselfishly puts it on a platter after Sam Vines's lovely ball in— Planet Fútbol (@si_soccer) February 1, 2021
(via @FoxSoccer) pic.twitter.com/5NNbEYsGgk
For Vines, it wasn’t just about the performance in the friendly against an overmatched opponent, he was also happy with how the entire three-week camp went.
“I think I had a good camp as well,” Vines said. “It's hard for younger guys to come in and try and learn the system really quickly. But I've been in a few camps and I'm still learning the system. The more you learn about the system, the better you can play in it. It was a good camp. All guys are coming in from the off season and then coming in and trying to gain your fitness back. It was a lot of hard work for everyone."
Sam Vines is dropping dimes tonight. The left back is passing phenomenally well. pic.twitter.com/fGUEcM2m2R— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) February 1, 2021
“[Berhalter] wants the outside backs to be aggressive and on the front foot as often as we can. So, we try and press higher up the field and he wants the outside backs to be on the front foot and help with the press and make sure they don't get out. You always have to have good positioning on the field. Offensively, he likes us to get forward and join the attack as much as possible. Switch up plays, and he always wants us running behind the lines as often as we can. It's a very aggressive mindset for us but I think most outside backs like that.”
Following the game, Berhalter was quick to praise Vines for delivering what was asked of him from the left back position.
“We talked to our fullbacks about being relentless, getting up and down the field, continually attacking and continually defending - just really stamping their authority on the game,” Berhalter said. “Not being passive and not having passive performances. Sam did just that. He was very aggressive.”
Moving forward, Vines will face stronger competition for national team call-ups that happen in the international window. During those games, Berhalter will have the full player pool to choose from.
But left back has historically been a very difficult position for the U.S. team (along with many club and national teams) to fill. Currently, Antonee Robinson has been a regular starter at Fulham but does not have a lock on the position. After him, it becomes more unclear as the next best options have recently involve playing players out of position at left back – such as Sergino Dest.
Vines now finds himself part of a group of other young players trying to make a case for the left back position. Among these players which include George Bello, and Chris Gloster, Vines probably has the strongest case right now.
Earning call-ups on FIFA dates in 2021 is currently a big goal for him.
“That's the ultimate goal - to get called into all the camps that I can be,” Vines said. “And it's always an honor to get called into camp. Hopefully I can get called into those camps. Whether Olympic qualifiers, Gold Cup, World Cup qualifiers, or any of these competitions. I'd like to hopefully try and make a claim for myself and try win that spot.”
But that probably won’t start until later in the year. Starting next month, Vines is highly likely to have a big role with the U.S. U-23 team for Olympic qualifying and help that team qualify for its first Olympics since 2008.
That will be a close call as only two teams from the region qualify and club releases are non-mandatory. The movement of players like Mark McKenzie, Brenden Aaronson, and Daryl Dike to Europe combined with injuries to players like Richie Ledezma and Paxton Pomykal along with the preseason form of domestic players will make it hard.
But Vines is optimistic for that team’s potential and he believes that qualifying for the Olympics on a regular basis will continue to provide young players with key opportunities as the U.S. expands its player pool.
“It would mean a lot - not just now, but for the future,” Vines said of qualifying for the Olympics. “We haven't been in Olympics in a long time. If we can do it this time, hopefully, and when it comes down to the next time we can, we can do it again and set up a future for all of us. We get into the Olympics that the world will see that we're starting to get our groove and it starts to become a team that can be reckoned with.”