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SSFC Spotlight: Nico Carrera breaks into lineup at Holstein Kiel

The dual national defender officially entered the professional ranks.

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Holstein Kiel v FC St. Pauli - Second Bundesliga Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

The United States Men’s National Team may need to hit the recruiting trail soon, battling Mexico for another prospect. Nicolás “Nico” Carrera recently made his debut at Holstein Kiel in the second division of Germany, playing in consecutive matches. The dual-national has been a member of both programs at the youth level but has yet to make a commitment.

Carrera was born in the Mexican city of Pachuca, but his family relocated to Chicago, Minnesota, and finally Dallas. He played for an FC Dallas affiliate squad and “received offers from 14 Liga MX and MLS clubs” for a standout performance at an Alianza showcase. A brief spell in the Pachuca system yielded a league championship before returning to Dallas in 2017. After the club promoted him to the reserve team, the defender appeared in a single USL League One match for 23 minutes in a 3-3 draw against Toronto FC II. In addition to being awarded Best Defender at the Montverde Academy Soccer Tournament, United Soccer Coaches named him an All-American in 2019.

“Carrera has a [solid] body already,” wrote Buzz Carrick for The Dallas Morning News. “He plays center back and is super aggressive, not physically, but tactically. [He has] lots of range and tight marketing, frequent checks up and back, recovers fast, and puts a body on everyone who comes through the middle. Progression for him will come on the mental side, game reading and advanced tactics, perhaps some discipline in shape. Lots of upside though.”

In July of 2020, Carrera turned down offers from various Liga MX sides and Ajax, as well as a commitment to the University of Louisville, to move to Germany. He signed with second-tier side Holstein Kiel seeking a “pathway to the first team and possession-based style,” describing the interest as “unexpected.” The club started him at the U-19 level and quickly handed him the captain’s armband after adjusting to the higher “intensity” and “speed of play” of the European game.

“I remember the exact day where I knew Holstein Kiel was for me,” Carrera shared with OneGoal. “My agent sent me a video of the way they played and it truly made me fall in love with the project this club has. Not only for me but for what they’re building in this club outside of me… I saw this as a place where I can go and develop. I’m still young. I still have to develop. I’m not ready for Champions Leagues just yet. I still need to develop more so I can make that final step to becoming a great player.”

Carrera began this season with the reserves and led the squad to the top of the table, with his goal clinching the division prior to the promotion table merger. He started 16 matches in the fourth-tier Regionalliga Nord, contributing two goals and one assist. Shortly after his appointment in October, new manager Marcel Rapp began including him on the first-team bench.

Earlier this month, Carrera made his debut and played 35 minutes in a 4-3 loss to SC Paderborn. Entering the match in the 55th minute for an injured Patrick Erras, the defender drew a penalty that was converted for his team’s second goal. He was “just shaking” and “exploded with happiness” after playing for the first time.

The next round, Rapp started him at center back, with the teenager appearing for 45 minutes in a 3-2 defeat against Hansa Rostock. His attempt to clear an early corner landed directly at the foot of an opponent, who volleyed his shot home for the initial goal. The error should serve as a lesson for the developing prospect or an easily forgotten moment of bad luck.

Holsten Kiel is currently at 13th in the 18-team 2. Bundesliga table, four points above the relegation playoff spot. Carrera is viewed as a player who can add stability and athleticism on the three-player back line. His current contract with Die Störche (The Storks) lasts through June of 2023, but the club will likely help facilitate any potential moves up the ladder.

As an international, Carrera is eligible to represent Mexico and the United States. He appeared with El Tri at the U-17 level. After gaining American citizenship, the defender was added to Raphaël Wicky’s side at the 2019 U-17 World Cup and played in two matches. Despite a disappointing group stage exit, his 90-minute performance in the second fixture helped secure a scoreless draw against Japan. The decision to switch programs was described as “better for [his] career” in order to “transcend to a higher level.”

“To sing the national anthem in a stadium representing my teammates and my country was a blessing,” he told OneGoal. “I still have my door open with Mexico, but right now I am with the United States. Nothing has changed… Of course, my goal is to eventually represent the US or the Mexican national team at the senior level, but right now, I am just focused on club play.”

Carrera is a physically imposing defender at 6’3” and can also play holding midfielder, describing himself as “a lot like Edson Álvarez.” A “very aggressive defender who likes to pass and get forward,” he has displayed a scoring touch throughout his career. His leadership and personality are standout aspects of his game, earning praise from local media for “speaking almost perfect German” and quickly adapting to his new country, considering the process “a sign of respect” to fans.

“A modern center back, Nico is equally comfortable in possession and out of possession,” wrote Michelle Schmidt for Chasing a Cup in 2020. “He plays with confidence and flair regardless of his opposition and is a leader on the back line. Additionally, he is strong in the air and that combined with his height make him a threat on set pieces. The young center back is not afraid to get stuck in or dribble and go on an adventure… One of [his] biggest areas of improvement is his habit of ball watching. He can also get too comfortable in possession, running the risk of a sloppy pass. Sometimes he can also drift out of position.”

Since moving to Germany, Carrera has “felt a remarkable change” in his game, improving “in intensity, speed, technique, [physicality], and speed to read the game without the ball.” Playing on the back line at his age, there are going to be some peaks and valleys in his performances, as any mistakes are likely to occur in dangerous areas. He appears to have made a smart choice in joining Holstein Kiel and was fast tracked to the first team. With continue development, both the USMNT and Mexico may come calling with senior call-ups.