Trial by fire for Cameron, Edu in center of US defense

Geoff Cameron and Maurice Edu

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

MEXICO CITY — Glance at the US roster called in for Wednesday’s friendly here against Mexico (8 pm ET, ESPN2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), and you’d be hard-pressed not to notice the lack of experience and depth at center back.

In fact, the most experienced center back on the squad is new Stoke City man and former Houston Dynamo stalwart Geoff Cameron, who has only five caps to his name. But if this moment, this match, is to represent a changing of the guard — if even only temporarily — Cameron must be the defensive linchpin many believe him to be.

“Obviously, there’s more responsibility,” he said after US training here on Monday. “Usually, I’m leaning on the shoulders of [Carlos] Bocanegra, [Oguchi Onyewu], and Clarence [Goodson]. They’ve been to a couple of World Cups, so I’ve always had that shoulder to lean on a little bit and take some of the pressure off. But now that I have a few caps and the last qualifier, it’s definitely different.”

That difference won’t necessarily be eased by his probable center-back partner, Maurice Edu. The unsettled Rangers holding midfielder looks set to drop back into the defense to make up for the roster’s obvious thinness at that position. The pair worked alongside each other in training on Monday night.

PREVIEW: USA vs. Mexico

Edu has done some spot duty for the US at center back over the years, but he’s not a regular there. And even Cameron has not spent his entire career at center back; in fact, he went 70 minutes at holding midfielder in Stoke City’s friendly with Greuther Fürth of the German Bundesliga last Friday.

“It’s about mentally switching on and knowing we can’t take any risks,” Cameron said. “We say, ‘We have to drop back. Let’s be center backs.’ And that’s one thing that we both have to deal with. But being comfortable on the ball and being able to distribute out of the back and initiate the attack is both of our strengths.”

Actually, the pair already seem to have a bit of chemistry working. While Cameron was talking to the media, Edu approached quietly to do a few interviews himself. Cameron turned and chuckled.

“I felt ‘the Mo’ behind me,” he said.

And Edu, even in jest, points out that the differences are complementary as much as the similarities are.

“He’s bigger, I’m smaller,” Edu said, chuckling. “He’s faster, I’m slower.”

“I didn’t say slower,” Cameron interjected. “Quick. I cover more ground.”

“Nah, that’s crazy talk,” Edu said.

Crazy or not, the pair will be in for a difficult night on Wednesday, and Edu — the World Cup veteran — will look to do what Cameron normally does: lean on the shoulder of his center back partner.

“He has a little more experience playing back there, so I’ll look to him to be a little more vocal, talk me through things,” Edu said. “It should work out pretty well.”