Alex Barton is Nervous

Blessed by the football gods with blazing pace and a keen eye for a pass, Alex Barton has never had to worry about making the team.   As a 10-year-old, the Weehawken Rec League fudged his age to smuggle him on to the travel team.  The first time our youth scouts saw him at 15, they handed him a contract at halftime.  At 17, he celebrated his birthday with cake, ice cream, and a spot in our first XI.

Part of being the anointed one is a nigh-unshakable confidence in one’s own abilities.  In Barton’s case, this can lead to him terrorizing older and stronger fullbacks on the pitch and a steady string of gorgeous girlfriends off of it.  On the other hand, the confidence comes at a price, and not just when he mixes up the names of said girlfriends.  For example, his propensity to try to beat his marker by reeling off 37 stepovers has probably taken five years of our manager’s life.

Now, however, Barton actually faces a battle for his spot.  The USA U-20 team will be announcing its squad for qualifiers later this week, and Barton is among three players battling for one, maybe two, wing spots.  The battle is razor-close at the moment too- all three players have pace to burn and, while Barton’s playmaking skills are better suited to helping a team control midfield, the other two can pump in crosses with a slightly more delicate touch.

Realistically, it’ll come down to whomever’s in the best form at the time, and this is where you can see the nerves start to set in.  As recently as two weeks ago, Barton was in the form of his life, able to pick a pass from 30 yards, cutting back on defenders like a young Arjen Robben, and even generally supportive of the concept of “tracking back on defense,” albeit still opposed to it his specific case.  Now, however, you can see him start to press.  Nothing too dramatic, but the moves are less sharp, less instinctive, perhaps a half-second slower than they were, indicative of a player thinking a bit more than they were.

Hopefully, Barton will be able to find his groove once more, not least because we have a tough but winnable cup match tomorrow.  But will he manage it, and will it be enough to make Team USA?  He (and everyone else at the club) will be on tenterhooks until the squad is announced on Friday.


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