New York City FC Academy midfielder Tayvon Gray capped off 2018 with three solid performances for the Under-17 U.S. Men’s National Team at this year’s Nike International Friendlies. A stalwart in Shaun Tsakiris’ midfield three, Gray did not miss a single minute of action as the Baby Yanks went undefeated against competitive opposition in Portugal, Turkey, and Brazil.
Gray’s aggressive defending in midfield was a key factor to the United States’ high pressing style of play. The consistent pressure provided by Tsakiris’ midfield engine disrupted the opposition’s fluidity in midfield. The ensuing turnovers sparked quick fire counter attacks from the U.S. through the high-octane offensive approach of Gio Reyna or Griffin Yow. Both forwards were praised for their influence in the final third, but Gray’s dirty work was instrumental in ensuring they found time and space on the ball.
The tournament opener against Portugal showcased Gray’s ability to shadow and negate the influence of creative midfielders. Though the U.S. dominated the early proceedings, Bruno Tavares caused his fair share of problems on the counter for Portugal. Recognizing the problem, Gray tracked every touch, feint, and run Tavares made. By the 55th minute, Hélio Sousa had to take Tavares off the field because of his lack of productivity.
While most of his highlights came from reactive defending, his proactive movement out of possession was just as impressive. Gray consistently processed how Portugal moved the ball and who they looked for when trying to break the United States’ defensive lines. Gray progressively grew in confidence to step in front of his marks to make interceptions. Even if he was not directly forcing turnovers, his coverage of gaps in midfield forced wide players into dead ends that produced the same results.
The second match day against Turkey nearly started with a bang for Gray as he connected with a cross 30 seconds into the match. Unfortunately, his header from six yards out just whizzed by the far post. His offensive contributions would not suffer from some refinement, but he put on a defensive masterclass once again in his side’s 1-0 victory.
With Peter Stroud as his midfield partner, Gray was relied on to be a focal point rather than a play destroyer in midfield. He was not the most progressive passer against Portugal, but he did put in a competent performance against a defensively stubborn Turkish side.
Gray saved his best performance for last, though, as he put on a complete offensive and defensive performance in a 1-1 draw with Brazil. A tackle in the middle third caught Brazil completely out of position, and his ensuing through ball to Reyna nearly ended with the midfielder finding the back of the net.
In the second half, Gray fended off three defenders as he carried the ball from coast to coast to alleviate the U.S. of pressure. Aside from this one play, though, his ability to play under pressure does leave one asking for more composure from the youngster. Nonetheless, his growth throughout the matches saw him finish the tournament on high note.
As Gray returns to the Bronx for a deserved rest, he can rest easy knowing he left a good impression in the eyes of Tsakiris. With qualification for the Under-17 World Cup just around the corner, the under-17 staff will be interested in reuniting the dynamic tangent of Gray and Stroud for the Under-17 Concacaf Championship.
The NYCFC franchise will also have to make a decision on whether Gray is ready to sign a homegrown contract with the club. With the loss of academy starlet Gio Reyna to European suitors earlier this year, Domènec Torrent will not want to make the same mistake with Gray. At the very least, a discussion to potentially loan him to USL affiliates San Antonio FC may be a worthy enough proposition to ward off potential offers from overseas.