Cameron faces stiff challenge after USMNT call-up

HOUSTON – The stakes keep rising in the international career of Houston Dynamo center back Geoff Cameron.

After struggling to break into the national team prior to this year, the 26-year-old has seen his international career take off. And after showing well in his first chance under new USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann in January, the defender on Thursday was one of just four MLS-based players to be called into the 21-man squad that will face Italy in Genoa on Feb. 29.

After simply trying to break in, the latest call gives Cameron the chance to show that he belongs with the elite in US soccer. He’ll leave the Dynamo camp in Orlando to join the national team on Saturday.

“I’m grateful and excited to be called and this just shows that all the hard work this offseason paid off,” Cameron told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s not going to be a walk in the park, but these are the challenges you want.”

And for Cameron to meet this challenge he will have to adapt quickly.

With players arriving in Italy on Friday and Saturday, there is not much time for the team to mesh. Giving Cameron limited time to integrate into Klinsmann’s top group, which has played together plenty in the past.

But according to his teammate and US international Brian Ching, the budding defender has the tools to get the job done.

“I think he has the physical gifts and I think he’s a confident kid,” Ching told MLSsoccer.com. “January camp gave him and [Klinsmann] a lot of confidence, and the challenge now is to fit into the group, and I don’t foresee a problem for him with that.

“The biggest challenge for him is to step up to that level of play because he hasn’t seen it,” Ching added. “Italy’s one of the top teams in the world and they play at a speed higher than MLS players are used to. He has to be prepared to be a step higher than what he is here.”

Cameron only has a year-and-a-half of MLS play at center back, and he knows he will have to fight against Danish pros Clarence Goodson and Michael Parkhurst for a place in the lineup if he wants to continue taking steps forward. If he does get into the mix against the talented Italian squad, it will provide, if nothing else, a barometer for where the defender is in his international career.

“You want to play against the best competition and challenge yourself,” Cameron said. “If you don’t then great, you can just go out and play on a regular weekend. But if you want to play at the highest level, you have to challenge yourself as a player. It’s going to be a great experience.”

Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.