By FRANCO PANIZO
Geoff Cameron has kept very busy over the course of the past six months.
From playing playing in friendlies with the U.S. men's national team to continuing his transition to centerback with the Houston Dynamo, Cameron has not had too many dull moments since falling at the hands of the Los Angeles Galaxy in last season's MLS Cup final.
While the 26-year-old has had a lot on his plate this year, one of the main things he has focused on is his continued development as a centerback for the Houston Dynamo. Ever since Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear said at the end of last season that Cameron's switch to central defense would be permanent, the converted defender has made a concentrated effort to understand all the nuances of the position.
"There's still a lot to learn, with reading the game and I need communicate more, be louder on the field and just direct my players around more than I am right now," said Cameron. "It's one thing I'm trying to get better at day in and day out in practice and in games."
Cameron has adjusted well enough at the position that he earned himself a call-up from U.S. men's national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann this past January for a near month-long camp that concluded with a pair of friendlies at home versus Venezuela and on the road against Panama.
In both those games, Cameron started at centerback on a team comprised of fringe players. He fared well in the United States' 1-0 victory over Venezuela, but his performance in the win against Panama drew mixed reviews due to him earning a controversial red card early in the second half.
"I thought I did pretty well," said Cameron. "Obviously disappointed with the red card, which was not the greatest call, but I had a great time, I learned a lot. I learned the way Jurgen wants to play, felt pretty comfortable with the coaching staff and the group of guys that I was playing with. The tempo and all that kind of stuff, it was a good learning experience and a good opportunity for me to get my feet wet."
Klinsmann and the U.S. coaching staff stressed to Cameron the need for him to be more vocal and demanding at the back, but he impressed them enough to receive another call-up to the Americans' full team's friendly against Italy a month later. Cameron did not play in that historic 1-0 win for the United States, but he experienced firsthand how well the oft-spoken camaraderie within the team actually is.
"All the guys were really, really nice," said Cameron, who pointed out he was particularly impressed by Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Carlos Bocanegra. "There weren't really any pricks or anything like that. You hear stories here and there, but your first time you go in there with these group of players that are playing all over the world, they're good payers. Everybody was really, really, super nice.
"They welcomed me and it didn't feel awkward, where it felt before in the past. My first camp [in 2010 under then-head coach Bob Bradley] there were more cliques here and there, and those cliques would stay together."
Sticking together is what Cameron and the Dynamo have done this offseason after suffering a deflating 1-0 loss to Los Angeles in the MLS Cup final last season. So close to MLS history, Cameron and the Dynamo stood and watched as the Galaxy raised the MLS Cup trophy under a rain of confetti.
Cameron has moved on from the disappointment of finishing second, but not before rewatching the stinging defeat a few times.
"It was tough looking back, I watched the game a couple times, just wishing I didn't get into that tackle in the 35th minute," said Cameron, who fought through a knee injury sustained in the first half of that fateful game. "It's like could I have helped the team a bit more if I didn't get injured, or could I have saved that goal? If my knee was better maybe I could have read it better, maybe gotten a quicker jump on it. I don't think we played our best. I think if we did it would have been a different result. That's just one thing you have to live with. It's part of it, it's part of soccer."
The next phase of Cameron's career will see him and the 2-3-2 Dynamo end their seven-game road trip to start the season, as they unveil their brand-new, soccer-specific stadium, BBVA Compass Stadium, in downtown Houston this coming Saturday against D.C. United.
Like many within the organization and around the league, Cameron is excited about the the state-of-the-art facility. He is happy to be able to call such a stadium his home, and he fully expects to be in awe when walks down the tunnel and onto the field for the first time in front of the Dynamo faithful.
"I'm pretty sure I'm going to get the chills walking down the tunnel and walking out to a sold-out stadium," said Cameron. "When's the last time we've had a sold-out stadium in regular season? Just to call this place home is pretty cool, and obviously with the seven-game road trip you want to sleep in your own bed the night before and cook your own meals and just go through your home routine that you usually go through."
Playing in front of their home crowd should give the Dynamo a boost. While they have not been terrible on the road in 2012, Houston knows it could have earned more points in the first seven games of the year.
The Dynamo have struggled on both sides of the ball in different matches, but Cameron is keen to correct the mistakes that have cost Houston games like Wednesday's night 1-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls.
"This year we've given up goals that are not good goals," said Cameron. "Unfortunate, bad bounces, or we have a good line and then the ball flicks off of someone and it goes in the net. We're giving up crappy goals and we're not making teams earn it against us, and I think that's one thing we're trying to focus on."
That mentality and willingness to improve no matter how difficult the circumstances, combined with his skill and versatility, is part of the reason why some circles around the league consider Cameron to be one of MLS's best talents.
"I rate him as one of the best players in the league," said New York Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe. "He can play central midfield, started as a striker, now playing centerback. He has all of it I would say: skill, physically strong, good on set plays. He's a very, very good player."
Cameron may be improving and growing more familiar with centerback, but he is not the only one learning. Cameron has acknowledged that unlike last year, when he was still a relatively unknown commodity in central defense, opposing teams are pressuring him almost as soon as he gets the ball in an effort to prevent him from making his patented marauding runs forward.
"It's tough because I have to pick and choose," said Cameron. "When there's something to pick up on and they're denying you that space, then you've got to use your other game and that's picking out passes and keeping possession."
As Cameron continues to learn the position, he will likely improve his chances of getting called back into the U.S. men's national team. Cameron admits that although his main focus is with the Dynamo, part of him wants to participate in World Cup qualifying this summer.
If Klinsmann feels progress has been made and deems the Dynamo veteran ready, that could happen. Then Cameron would be in store for even more hectic months than the ones he just completed.