Let me preface this story - which I'll tell the bulk of in two gifs - with the fact that I still want Geoff Cameron to be one of the starting central defenders next summer for the USMNT in Brazil. So yes, I have an agenda.
For the US, if there's an Achilles' heel at the moment, it's that our attack (and subsequently our ability to unlock a defense from the run of play) can often become bogged down and predictable. Our builds through midfield have definitely improved over the past year, and 2013's results really do speak for themselves, but Costa Rica made us look ordinary last month, and Panama did the same for long stretches in the Gold Cup final. Even Jamaica - officially a bad team - were able to do the whole "damp sponge" thing for the first 70 minutes on Friday.
There's never any one complete solution to that sort of thing, unless you're France in the '90s and '00s and you're lucky enough to have Zinedine Zidane (spoiler alert: the US doesn't). Every other team of recent vintage have had to use a rotation of less perfect solutions, and the best of these teams - including Spain - have a selection of players spaced all over the field who can make the pass that unlocks the defense.
That brings us to Friday morning, when I made this gif of a Cameron pass from his heyday with the Houston Dynamo:
I intended to use it to illustrate a "banks of creativity" point I wanted to make for a tactical preview that never got written.
Cameron was playing central defender when he made that pass, which is my favorite pass by anybody in MLS over the last three seasons. Maybe longer.
Then tonight, on the build-up to the game's opening goal, he did this:
Again, he did that from a spot in central defense. While he didn't quite send Mix Diskerud through, the guy did use the outside of his boot to cut three defenders out of the play, giving Diskerud and Jozy Altidore a combination chance in Zone 14.
That's not normal. Defenses can't prepare for that, and - here's the upshot - if they do, they leave Diskerud (or Landon Donovan, or Clint Dempsey or any one of the other US attackers) more room to make plays in and around the area.
The US needs every advantage they can get next summer. Having the ability to do that from central defense is a huge one. Let's hope Stoke City realize it's an advantage they could use to their benefit as well.