Cameron Is the Man in the Middle for Club and Country
November 16, 2015
PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO—These days, when Geoff Cameron lines up for the United States men's national team, he finds himself in the middle of the action. And that's just fine with the 30-year-old Stoke City player.
"Anywhere in the center of the park is where I want to be," the United States defender said at the team hotel following training on Sunday afternoon.
After recent months that saw players including John Brooks, Ventura Alvarado, Omar Gonzalez, and Michael Orozco try (and, in most cases, struggle) to slide into the center back role, Cameron – who missed the Gold Cup at his club's request—and Matt Besler are reprising the roles they mostly succeeded in during the 2014 World Cup. The pair started against Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup, on Friday night versus St. Vincent and the Grenadines to begin 2018 World Cup qualification, and should do so again Tuesday night in Hasely Crawford Stadium. While they haven't been perfect—Cameron's poor clearance led to the Vincy Heat's shocking early goal in St. Louis – the duo looks to be the first-choice center back pairing going forward.
In the festive yet hostile environment that Trinidad and Tobago promises to be, having two experienced center backs who are comfortable with each other is vital. Cameron talked about knowing his partner's favored moves, for example how Besler likes to step up and make an incisive pass. When Cameron sees that happening, he instinctively knows he needs to slide over and pull in the appropriate full back to provide cover for the area his partner vacated. It's a little moment, something few people notice, but in an away match in CONCACAF, it could be the difference between a point or none.
"Knowing a player like that and playing alongside Matt a lot, you know his tendencies," Cameron said. "It becomes like clockwork."
The defender has never faced the Soca Warriors, but he's very familiar with forward Kenwyne Jones, one of the men who will be his primary antagonist Tuesday night, as they both play for Stoke City. Jones scored in Trinidad and Tobago's impressive win at Guatemala and keeping him off the scoresheet will go a long way toward helping the U.S. get out of Port of Spain with a result. It will be up to the six-foot-three Cameron to win balls in the air.
Another key for the Americans will be starting the match stronger than they did against St. Vincent. Go down early and coming back won't be nearly as easy as it was in Busch Stadium against a hard-working but overmatched opponent. Cameron acknowledged the need to be better at the beginning, but won't change the pre-game routine he's had for the last couple years. He listens to Bob Marley or other relaxing music that's less than 100 beats per minute while watching a tape of his strongest plays. Right before kickoff, he cranks up two or three high-tempo jams to spike his energy. He arrived at this plan after a doctor told him that listening to "crazy pump up music" for hours before a game like he had been doing was draining him mentally and physically.
After Tuesday, win, lose, or draw, it's back to England and the Premier League where Cameron is arguably the most successful field player. He took a leap from Major League Soccer, went to test himself against the best, and it worked out well. His path is one that Jurgen Klinsmann would like to see other Americans follow. The defender is also proud to represent the red, white, and blue in arenas around the EPL.
"You go to the stadium and you hear U-S-A, U-S-A from English fans," he said. "It's special."
He enjoys living in England and peppers his speech with phrases like mate and center half. His accent, however, needs a bit of work.
"It's not as good as Tim [Howard]'s but it's alright," he said, motioning toward the U.S. goalkeeper who sat a few chairs away. "He's been there a lot longer than I have."
True, but Cameron is there now. And he's not going anywhere.