[MLS SPOTLIGHT] The temperate spring doesn't last long in Houston, so Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear is enjoying the balmy weather while it lasts, and so is Massachusetts native Geoff Cameron.
A spell of comfortable weather has dovetailed with improved performances that has the Eastern Conference newcomer squarely amongst the leaders at 3-1-3 heading into a Wednesday meeting with defending champion Colorado.
“I’m happy to say it’s very nice out here,” he said last week, a day before Houston pummeled D.C. United, 4-1, at Robertson Stadium. “We know it’s not going to last long, so we’re enjoying it while we can.”
The organization is also enjoying a run of good form that is slowly erasing the disappointment of last year when Houston missed the playoffs for the first time since moving from San Jose after the 2005 season. Against United, rookie forward Will Bruin erupted for a hat trick and in the middle of the field, Cameron and Brad Davis each had two assists as the Dynamo midfielders overran their United counterparts.
The Rapids central core anchored by Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz will be tougher to crack, yet Kinnear is pleased at how a midfield he began to assemble last year has finally coalesced. His plans for the 2010 season took a severe hit when Cameron suffered a torn posterior cruciate ligament injury that knocked him off the field from April until August. In his absence center mids Lovel Palmer and Anthony Obadai never solidified their partnership or established a reliable connection with Brad Davis, who still led the team with 12 assists.
“I couldn’t bend the knee for six weeks, and couldn’t put any pressure on it because I also had a bone bruise, remembers Cameron of the injury suffered in a game at Chicago. “After the six-week mark, I was slowly allowed to bend it. It took me a little longer than was expected, because it was pretty painful to bend it again.”
Obadai departed during the offseason in a shakeup that also swept out longtime veteran Richard Mulrooney. To accelerate his recovery from the PCL tear, Cameron trained for two weeks in England with Nottingham Forest, and during preseason Kinnear and his staff worked on building cohesion amongst their midfielders.
So far, he seems to have returned to a career path that started out with a promising rookie season in midfield followed by a spectacular Best XI showing at center back in 2009. In 16 games last year he scored three goals and two assists; so far in 2011 he’s played every minute of seven games, and scored one goal in addition to the assists he recorded last week.
He and Davis share attacking catalyst and supporting roles, with Palmer anchoring the middle and several candidates fighting it out to start at right mid. For the first goal against United, Cameron slipped a through ball that Bruin controlled before steering into the net. Davis set up Bruin for the second goal with a cross after getting the ball from Cameron. Davis is already halfway to last season’s assist total with six, which leads the league.
“Geoff can feed off Brad’s service with his late runs and Geoff can open up space for Brad,” says Kinnear of his dual playmakers. “I do think they are different in that Brad Davis probably can’t play centerback as well. Geoff is different is that he’s a runner from deep and is good running with the ball, where Brad looks to pass and cross the ball.” Davis is also among the league’s deadliest servers of dead balls.
Soon enough the stifling summer heat will arrive, so Kinnear – a native of Glasgow who grew up in Northern California – is doing as much work on the field as he can. “The summers here are brutal, and guys just don’t have a lot of energy during the week,” says Kinnear. “You just try to survive.”
Cameron, 25, harkens from even colder climes, and his family sometimes prefers to watch him play on the road rather than head to Houston.
“The first year was the toughest, August and September were the worst,” he says, laughing. “My family would come out and they’re saying, ‘We’re not coming back this time of year, maybe September and October.’ It’s awful, you can’t go outside and grill food, you can’t do anything. At nine o’clock at night, it’s 85.
“I miss the New England summers a lot,” says Cameron, who finished his college career at Rhode Island. “It’s 70, 80 degrees in the day and at night it’s in the 50s, you can put on a sweatshirt, go out to your backyard and have a fire. Can’t do that in Houston, you’ll die of heat exhaustion.”
The injury is fast receding in his mind as he works with Kinnear and one of the top midfielders in MLS history, assistant coach Steve Ralston, to shape the Dynamo midfield into one of the league’s top units and accelerate his own development as a player. He also signed a new contract over the winter. “I was happy to get it done,” he says. “It was a long process and it’s over now and I can just focus on playing soccer.”
In addition to his own rehabilitation, he’s gained a greater appreciation of his good fortune by working with children battling cancer and other serious diseases. “It reminds you to never get cocky or too big for your own britches because at the end of the day this could be taken away from you at any time,” he says.
“A serious injury or a career-ending injury and it could be gone. You should appreciate going to practice every day and enjoying it. That’s the kind of thing I look at.”