DOHA, Qatar — Just a few days ago, Cameron Carter-Vicker didn’t have a reason to believe he would have a major part to play in the U.S. men’s national team’s Group C clash with Iran. The American defense had gone two straight matches without giving up a goal in the run of play, and was coming off a shutout of a high-powered England attack.
Carter-Vickers, like most observers, wasn’t expecting a change to the USMNT back-line, but when Gregg Berhalter turned to the Celtic defender to make his World Cup debut, as a starter in a must-win game no less, Carter-Vickers was ready for the challenge.
Iranian attackers struggled to deal with Carter-Vickers strength and impeccable positioning, with the imposing centerback flattening Iranians on multiple occasions and helping the USMNT record its second shutout of the World Cup on the way to a 1-0 victory on Tuesday that secured a place in the Round of 16.
“I thought Cam was great,” Berhalter said when asked by SBI about Carter-Vickers. “It’s difficult after getting shutout against England to take Walker (Zimmerman) out, and it was a difficult conversation with Walker. The rationale was we expected Iran to be in a low block and Cam does this every single week with Celtic. We thought that was just a very logical decision.
“He’s used to defending space behind him. He’s is also used to use the building up against a compact defense. So to me, that was a good fit and he played really well.”
“(He was) fantastic,” Tim Ream said of Carter-Vickers. “Stepping in, doing exactly what the coaches and the staff needed them to do. Great communication and just another calm head out there.”
Ream and Carter-Vickers had never played together before, but you couldn’t tell against Iran, as the air worked together effortlessly to stifle the Iranian attack.
“When you play with new (centerback) partners, the key to it is really just talking,” Carter-Vickers said. “Talking as much as you can throughout the game and just getting used to each other’s movements and kind of defensive movements.”
As Berhalter noted, Carter-Vickers was well-suited to deal with the challenges posed by facing an Iran team that set out in a defensive posture and focused on trying to catch the Americans on the counterattack. There were some moments where Iranian attackers were able to get into the final third, but Carter-Vickers helped lead the U.S. defense in shutting down those threats.
“I think it’s just making sure the whole team is organized when we’re attacking to stop their threat on the counterattack. It’s just staying concentrated for the full game,” Carter-Vickers said. “One counterattack can make an opportunity so you’ve always got to be concentrated.
“At Celtic, you’re expected to win every game so the way I tried to look at it was tonight was no different,” Carter-Vickers said. “We had to win, we were all aware of that, but you just try and focus on the process of how to win rather than anything else.”
Carter-Vickers was at the center of a controversial moment late in the match, when he appeared to put a hand on an Iranian attacker in the penalty area during one attacking sequence. Iran’s players protested the referee’s decision not to call a penalty on the play, protests that continued well after the final whistle.
Carter-Vickers didn’t consider the play a penalty-worthy foul, but admitted to feeling a sense of relief once the final decision went in his favor.
“I think (the referee) was very good tonight,” Carter-Vicker said. “He let the game flow, which I personally enjoy.”
Carter-Vickers finished the day with a game-high four clearances, along with four recoveries and 51 completed passes, third-most on the USMNT on Tuesday night. It was the kind of complete individual performance that will make Berhalter’s lineup decisions even tougher heading into Saturday’s Round of 16 matchup with the Netherlands.
Whether he is called on to start again, or returns to the bench in favor of Zimmerman, Carter-Vickers believes the USMNT defense will be ready for the difficult challenge the Dutch will present.
“Throughout the tournament, the back four and Tyler in front of them have done an outstanding job,” Carter-Vickers said. “I think a bit unlucky to concede against Wales and then obviously the clean sheet against England, I think everyone’s performed well. For me, all I can do is just be ready and when I’m called upon try and perform.”