photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
NEW YORK — Jurgen Klinsmann has advocated for players to constantly push themselves at the highest levels since taking over as head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team, and one player who has done that in recent years is Geoff Cameron.
Ever since leaving the Houston Dynamo to join Premiership side Stoke City in July 2012, Cameron has made a name for himself by constantly making his way into the Potters’ starting lineup. In fact, the 28-year-old veteran has proven to be one of the club’s more valuable players, as evidenced by his combined 72 starts in league play during the past two seasons.
Klinsmann is surely proud to see Cameron facing and overcoming all the rigors that England’s ultra-competitive first division presents, and why Cameron believes his game has developed to the point that he is in contention for a starting sport on the U.S.’s World Cup squad.
“You have guys challenging you every single day in practice. You can’t take a day off,” said Cameron in a recent interview. “Even when you’re struggling with injuries or knocks here and there, you’ve got to push through it because there’s a guy fresh, and if you’re not training for 2-3 days, you’re not playing on the weekend. You’ve got to learn to fight through mentally and physically and it’s a grind.”
Cameron added that the winter months are a big part of that grind. The weather worsens, the media attention ramps up and matches come at a dizzying pace, making it difficult for players to stay on the field on an every-game basis.
As tough as it is, Cameron accomplished the impressive feat this past season while being deployed mostly as a right back. He started in all of the club’s winter matches and also got the nod in all but one of the club’s 38 league games, a goal-less draw vs. West Bromwich Albion on on Oct. 19.
That is a notable achievement for Cameron and likely a source of pride, but it is also just part of his personal desire to constantly test himself and leave no questions unanswered.
“When I first went to college, I just wanted to get on the bench, I wanted to make the team,” said Cameron. “I got recruited, I wanted to be a part of the guys, a freshman coming off the bench and starting. Then, you develop that and you get drafted from college. You go to Houston Dynamo and Dom Kinnear gives you an opportunity and says, ‘Hey, I want to throw you in up top.’ You have to prove yourself. You have to get an opportunity, you’ve just got to work hard, keep your head down and grind it out.
“Then, you become successful there and you challenge yourself another way and then that was me always wanting to go to Europe and challenging myself. I didn’t want to go at the end of my career and say, ‘Was I good enough? Would I ever be able to make it? Would I have been able to play over in Europe? I don’t know.'”
From the outside perspective, it seemed like Cameron enjoyed as easy a transition into life in England as could have been imagined. But he insists that there were difficulties and things he had to adjust to in order to be successful.
“I think it just mentally makes me sharper, it makes me think quicker,” said Cameron. “Playing against good opponents every single week and every single day is fantastic for me. It challenges me personally and I think it’s helped me get into the squad with the national team and it’s helped me prepare for (the World Cup).”
Cameron is currently projected to be a starting centerback on the U.S. team that will head to Brazil in a matter of days. He has had to use the current camp to familiarize himself with the position after spending much of the past year at right back for Stoke City, but has done a good enough job to earn starts in central defense in each of the Americans’ two send-off series matches thus far.
That has been the latest in a string of challenges for Cameron in his career, but he has not deviated from his MO and is fully embracing the opportunity in front of him.
“Just coming out, trying to get in your same good habits, talking your teammates, directing people in front of you, just communicating rather than doing certain things on your right hand side,” said Cameron of playing centerback. “Different angles, different step-ups, all that kind of stuff, that all comes into play. For me, I’ve been training over the last two weeks now getting in those good habits and it was finally good to get on the pitch and actually play in the game and feel comfortable and confident.”