[U.S. SPOTLIGHT]It’s taken Geoff Cameron nearly two years after earning his first cap to get a real shot at a second.
That is his primary reaction to nearly three weeks of training with the U.S. team leading up to a friendly against Venezuela Saturday at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. (TV: 9 p.m. ET, Galavision). The hiring of Jurgen Klinsmann last summer, he believes, has given players like him more realistic opportunities than did predecessor Bob Bradley.
“I’ve been to two other camps before, and this is only time I’ve really had a fair opportunity to get involved with the team,” says Cameron, who played four minutes as a late sub against El Salvador in February 2010. “It’s really an honor to have the pleasure of training under Jurgen, a guy of that caliber, a guy who has played the game. He knows the ins and outs of soccer. That’s a guy you want to play for.”
Since breaking into MLS with Houston in 2008, Cameron has bounced between midfield and the back line. He’s done well enough in both places – including a Best XI mention as a defender in 2009 – to merit some mention of national-team potential. His size (6-foot-3, 190 pounds), aggressiveness, and comfort on the ball set him apart in MLS, as not many American players can meld those attributes. Yet not until Dynamo head coach declared in mid-September that he would play centerback, period, did Cameron seize the role and its responsibility.
“I take pride in going against guys across the league,” says Cameron, a native of Attleboro, Mass., who played collegiately at Rhode Island and West Virginia. “I think, ‘I’m not going to let this guy beat me today. He’s not going to get the best of me.’ Having that attitude is making sure you’re playing well day-in and day-out. If a guy’s down on the field, you’ve got to be positive and not bitching at him. Guys react better when they’re talked to. ‘Let’s go, bud, I know you got it in you.’ I make plenty of mistakes but you can’t dwell on them.”
By moving Cameron to centerback and stationing Adam Moffat and Luiz Camargo in the middle of midfield, Kinnear toughened the spine of his team and gave playmaker Brad Davis -- who led the league with 16 assists -- a firmer foundation. Houston conceded five goals while finishing the season with a six-match unbeaten streak, then edged past Philadelphia and Sporting Kansas City in the playoffs while allowing just one goal. A 1-0 loss to the Galaxy on its home field in MLS Cup ended the season on a sour note yet even in defeat, Cameron and his teammates had found an identity, especially in defense.
“We kind of had a cool thing in the back about keeping a clean sheet,” says Cameron of Houston’s defensive unit. “We called it our ‘Alcatraz,’ we don’t want people coming in and trying to beat our back four, kind of hold it down like a prison. We joked about that but in games we took it seriously. Guys were given opportunities in the back to step up and that led up top to the forwards. As a collective group, it jelled us and helped us start that run.”
For his first cap in 2010, Cameron replaced winger Robbie Rogers. As a defender, he enters the national team pool with its defensive makeup in flux. Age is catching up to Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo; of the possible replacements, Omar Gonzalez is out for at least six months with a torn ACL, and George John left the U.S. camp to join West Ham on loan.
The addition of Seattle’s Jeff Parke gives the U.S. just six defenders on the roster, so with a game against Panama Wednesday to follow the Venezuela match, the odds of significant playing time for Cameron and his defensive mates are favorable. He didn’t know for certain he’d be called for this camp until mid-December, yet two days before MLS Cup he started injections of PBP (Platelet Blood Plasma) to speed up his healing and recovery after a long season.
For him, this extended U.S. camp has been arduous, yet fulfilling. At age 25, with four solid pro seasons to draw from, he’s much better equipped to take advantage of a new coach and and a new era.
“This is the first camp where I feel confident and comfortable,” he said prior to the team leaving Home Depot Center Friday for a flight to Arizona. “I think that’s the biggest difference; I was always nervous, and it felt more like a tryout situation, where here it seems like we’re playing for one another. We want to play to our best ability, but at the same time we want to play for one another on the field. We want to play well as a team, and it’s not about being the individual trying to shine. You want to shine as a team.”