EXCLUSIVE: Fresh off his club debut, young Emerson Hyndman takes his USMNT chance in stride
When it rains for Emerson Hyndman, it pours. First-team appearances, that is.
With the US set to play the Czech Republic tomorrow in Prague, the squad is bursting with not only new players but young ones.
One of those is Hyndman, a prominent name in the ranks of Texas soccer. A Dallas native, his grandfather is Schellas Hyndman, former FC Dallas coach, and Emerson is always a big draw when he comes back to play in the Dr. Pepper Dallas Youth Cup.
However, those days playing with the Fulham youth team in the Dallas Cup are over, because he’s no longer part of the youth fold at Fulham.
With the club relegated to the Championship last year and in a massive state of flux, Hyndman is now a member of the first team, one of the youth core that manager Felix Magath has publicly called upon to lead the charge back to the Premier League.
Now, at just 18 years old and less than a month away from his first-team debut with Fulham, he’s about to experience his first taste of the national team as well.
“It’s an honor. I’ve worked with the younger groups from under-14’s and under-17’s,” Emerson told me. “It’s been a dream of mine to go into an actual United States camp. So it’s an honor to me, and it’s an eye-opener for how far I’ve come from the actual academy and onwards.”
It’s all come at once for Emerson. Once known on the Fulham FC website as “one of the most technically gifted players in the academy,” he’s transformed himself into what the club now calls “a chief midfield orchestrator.”
His play this season quickly caught the eye of USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann, though he’s been on the radar for some time. With just three appearances for Fulham under his belt, he was called into the squad for the Wednesday friendly and given the #8 shirt.
"[Klinsmann] called me beforehand and said he was interested in bringing me in to get used to everything with himself and the way they work, so I’m going in there with an open mind and to learn from all the great players that are going. I can’t wait to work under him, he’s an unbelievable coach I’ve heard so I’m excited.”
But he’s not the only young, budding prospect in this post-World Cup squad. Not even close. 15 players are 24 or younger. Six have never been capped. But of all the youth, Hyndman is the youngest on the roster.
“I think it’s always easier going into such a different situation with younger players that you can relate yourself to,” Hyndman said. “It’s happened here at Fulham as well, so I think going with people like Julian Green - who’s actually been to a World Cup already - to learn from people that are also your age is a special opportunity.”
It certainly is happening at Fulham. With Magath trusting the club in the hands of the young blood, the two situations are quite similar in the 18-year-old’s case.
"[The situation at Fulham] is similar to the US in a way,” Hyndman said. “I played with most of the guys I’ve come up with in the academy for about two years, so I know them real well. I think going onto the pitch at a first-team level for guys you’ve known for two years is an amazing feeling because you feel a lot more comfortable than you would with a bunch of 30-year-olds, but I think it’s special and doesn’t happen often.”
Hyndman isn’t terribly familiar with a large portion of the young US squad named for this international break, but there is one player he knows quite well.
“I left quite early for England, but I know [FC Utrecht’s] Rubio Rubin quite well. I went with him to Under-14 camps and all the way up to Under-17 and 18. I don’t know most of the others personally, but that won’t take long.”
For Hyndman, one of his best assets is his calm demeanor and ability to focus. As a central midfield passer, he keeps his head on a swivel and doesn’t get overwhelmed, even when the stakes are high.
“As soon as the whistle blows, you kind of just start focusing,” Hyndman said. “When you’re in focus-mode you don’t get sidetracked from it, so [my debut] felt to me like I’m playing another under-18 match. Once you step on the pitch, you don’t really think about the opposition, you just think about where you can help your teammates. So in the end it felt like any normal game to me.”
Felix Magath has seemingly thrown darts at a board to try and figure out his best Fulham lineup, so Hyndman was used in a number of different scenarios. What’s seemed to finally stick is a diamond formation in the midfield, with a defensive midfielder behind the narrow pairing of Hyndman and captain Scott Parker in the middle.
And that’s where he thinks he is at his best.
“I like to be in the center of the pitch, whether it’s attacking or defensive, I try to do the best I can. But being in the center of the pitch is where I feel I can bring my best to the game.”
Not many players, at just 18 years old, are finding themselves suddenly in the first-team fold for both club and country. As Hyndman is finding out on the fly, the atmosphere surrounding the first-team selection is quite different from the youth side.
“It’s a much different world in first-team football, I figured that out the first day,” Hyndman said. “Everyone’s fighting for a certain position, and as I’m learning under these guys I’m still trying to assert myself in the team. So in that sense it’s much different from the academy, which is much more about development.”
Thankfully for Fulham, and promising for the US team, is that in this new environment with so much added pressure, he’s performing admirably. The youngster through his first three Championship matches has completed an outstanding 184 of 204 attempted passes for just over a 90% completion rate. He’s also solid defensively, coming back to make some key tackles and completed eight successful tackles over the three matches he’s registered.
It all bodes well for both parties going forward.
“We’re all real excited for our futures, individually and as a team [at Fulham]. When we come together and realize we’re fighting for spots and we’re helping Fulham fight for results, it’s a big change and one we’re all excited about.”
And thanks to his time at Fulham, he’s quite familiar with a major name in the US National side already.
“I was here when Clint Dempsey was here and he was considered the only one, so I guess I’ve kind of taken up that role,” Hyndman said. “I talked to [Clint] a little bit. He’s a very nice guy. He helped me adjust to life in London, because he loved it here, so it was easier to talk to him considering he’s even from Texas let alone America.”
Whether he plays against the Czech Republic or not, fans should be giddy about eventually seeing the Dallas native on the field wearing red, white, and blue. With smarts, technical ability, and composure, Hyndman is a wonderful talent that should feature heavily into the picture for Russia 2018 and beyond.