The US national team has seen some peaks and valleys over the past year as head coach Jurgen Klinsmann instituted a new approach in a number of important spheres.
Concerns about evolution in one vital area, central defense, have been greatly eased by the development of Geoff Cameron, though. The 27-year-old from Attleboro, Mass., has performed the rare trick of becoming a dependable starter for the US before he’s even reached double figures in international appearances, proving himself a quick study with rapid adjustments to new environments at both international and club level following his recent transfer to English Premier League side Stoke City FC.
“I would hope so,” said Cameron last week, when asked if he’s become a trusted member of Klinsmann’s core USMNT roster. “I mean, I think there’s still a lot I have to prove to him and to my teammates and whatnot. This is kind of a new experience for me as well.
“I want to become a regular on the team and that comes down to hard work and performing day in and day out for Jurgen and the guys, taking care of business with the club and also setting yourself up for the national team. ... Obviously, when you’re given those opportunities, you’ve got to run with it.”
After what he admits was a “stressful” two-month courtship at the tail end of his stellar four-and-a-half-year tenure with the Houston Dynamo, Cameron stepped straight from the transfer market into the Stoke first team, making three starts this season for the upwardly mobile club best known for its muscular playing style and passionate, blue-collar fan base. While he has yet to settle on permanent living quarters in his new home, he’s negotiating the acclimation process with gusto, both in match play and everyday life.
“Our routine is kind of down now and I’m enjoying my situation right now,” Cameron told MLSsoccer.com. “There is definitely a learning curve, for sure. It is quicker, a little bit faster. You’re still adjusting and the more time I’m able to practice, get on the training field with the guys and prepare myself for the game, I think it’ll go faster and faster.
“Just the history itself over there, the culture of walking into these old towns like Knutsford and Hale, and how unique and how different it is, compared to the US where if you go to the shop around 8:30, 9, the shops are still open here in the States. Well, over there, it’s closed at 5, 6 so you’ve got to get your shopping done before then. So little things like that. But it’s fun, I enjoy walking through the town, trying to get that whole grasp of the culture.”
Perhaps most impressively, Cameron is contributing for both club and country in two distinct positions, as a holding midfielder with Stoke and at center back for the Yanks. To hear him tell it, juggling the dual roles have helped his development more than harmed it.
“It actually gives me more of an ability to see what I have to do as a center back, if I’m playing at center mid and I listen to [Stoke’s] Robert Shawcross or [Robert Huth] behind me,” he explained. “When they’re telling me, ‘Slide left, slide right,’ and they’re being more vocal and loud and very dominant, saying, ‘Hey, do this, do this,’ I know in the back of my head that’s what I need to do.
“So when the roles are reversed, when I’m a center back and I’m playing with the national team, I need to be that dominant force. And that’s what Jurgen wants me to do anyways, he wants me to get better at being more vocal and directing traffic, making sure our center mids are cutting down those passing lanes, things like that where I can become more dominant, more of a leader in the back.”
Cameron played nearly every position on the field during his time with the Dynamo and he’s one of several players, including his USMNT and Stoke teammate Maurice Edu, who wins praise from Klinsmann for versatility – which makes him keenly aware that his starting role at center back is far from assured.
The German-American coach announced on Monday that Carlos Bocanegra will start in central defense against Jamaica in Tuesday’s pivotal World Cup qualifier at Columbus Crew Stadium (8 pm ET, ESPN2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), though a yellow-card suspension for Clarence Goodson means Cameron will probably earn his eighth cap alongside the incumbent captain. It represents another step forward for a player who hopes to keep going places, and quickly.
“This was the best move for my career with the national team, for the game itself, for my ability,” he said of his overseas move, noting that he feels “100 percent” certain that he’s in the right place. “I wanted to take it to the next level and obviously I was given this opportunity and I want to take full advantage of it. Not everybody gets a chance to play in a pretty big league and I just want to take it full-grasp.”