Columbus Crew rookie striker Knox Cameron is not complaining about the large amount of playing time he has received this preseason. It's just that he didn't expect it.
Injuries to Ante Razov and Edson Buddle have pushed the former University of Michigan and U.S. under-20 national team star into the deep end, and to his credit he has responded well.
On Wednesday night at the Carolina Challenge Cup, Cameron netted the equalizer against the San Jose Earthquakes in second-half stoppage time. With all of the confidence and poise of a grizzled veteran, Cameron ran onto a flick-on and coolly placed the ball between the legs of San Jose 'keeper Pat Onstad. Not bad for a rookie.
"He has improved a lot," said Crew coach Greg Andrulis. "That has a lot to do with the fact he is playing a lot of minutes due to the injuries to Ante and Edson. He is going to be a very good player at this level. It is, however, going to take some time. We've got to rework some things with him. But he battled all game and finished against one of the best goalkeepers in the league, so kudos to him."
Cameron follows in the tradition of Crew forwards. He's big and strong, someone who can win the ball and hold off defenders as well as finish.
Admittedly, he's struggled with the speed of the game at the top level. But his play against San Jose demonstrated not only his ability to play at the MLS level, but that he is slowly growing more comfortable with the high speed in which the game is played.
"Every time I play I'm getting more and more comfortable," Cameron said.
Cameron suffered from the same malady of a lot of first year players coming out of college: not enough good competition on a daily basis.
"You are no longer playing against guys your own age," said Cameron, a 22-year-old native of the Bronx. "Now you are playing against guys that are older, more experienced. Every time you go out and perform it has to be at a really high level."
Though Cameron is eager to compete, he knows that there is still much for a young forward to learn. As luck will have it, he will be the understudy to two of the best in the league in Razov and Buddle.
"Ante talked to me in the locker room before the game," Cameron said. "For guys like that to give me advice, it means a lot. They have been there. There is a reason they have been in the league for as long as they have. The best thing I can do is listen and learn from them."
Cameron is expected to be in the starting lineup on Friday evening when the Crew face D.C. United in the final game of the Carolina Challenge Cup.
Andrew Mosier is a contributor to MSLnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.