The old saying: Jack of all trades is usually followed by: Master of none. It is at once a compliment, recognition of a broad set of skills, and an insult hinting at a lack of true identity. “I think versatility works in my favour,” USA utility man Geoff Cameron told FIFA.com. “I get to be on the field.”
When asked what positions he has played, it becomes clear the better question would have been: What positions hasn’t he played? The long list begins with centre-back, meanders through both wide back positions, up to the No6 and both outside midfield berths, and even the hole behind a No9. “I’ve been thrown in at striker too when things got weird.”
The only position Cameron can say he has not played as a professional is goalkeeper. “When you’re a kid playing for fun, you get thrown in goal, so I guess I’ve played keeper too,” he said with a chuckle. A man of high football intelligence, Cameron also knows the pitfalls of this versatility. “It’s tough to get a rhythm in a new spot,” he said of moving around the pitch. “You have to focus hard on making that adjustment as quickly as possible. Otherwise you might find yourself off the field entirely.”
It's clear that Cameron loves the game, loves being out on the field. “All I thought about was kicking the ball when I was a kid, no matter what I was doing,” he said. “Other sports, school. Whatever.” He tells a story of being thrown into a game as a forward. It wasn’t just any game, either, but his first as a full professional in Major League Soccer – a friendly in Hawaii. “I was a defender all my life, but I knew I had to jump out there and win the ball and try move it on,” he said of the memory, the beginning of a life wandering and uprooting and sacrificing. “I knew it right then,” he said. “I just wanted to play. I didn’t care where. I just wanted on.”
A leader's sacrifice
A selfless player, admittedly most comfortable in the middle as part of a centre-back pairing, Cameron has all the grafting qualities prized by team-mates and coaches alike. He fits into the blue-collar ethos of the USA national team like a hand in glove and even pops up with the odd goal or two off set-pieces.
“I’ll do whatever the team needs me to,” he said, a note in his voice that makes you believe he’s not just saying the words that sportsmen know sports writers want to hear. “It’s about sacrificing myself, putting my ego aside, to help them team.”
That attitude has taken Cameron a good long way from his roots in the working-class suburbs south of Boston. At 31, he is a leader in the American team aiming for a place at Russia 2018 but experiencing some bumps along the way. Cameron’s also one of very few remaining USA players plying his trade in any of Europe’s biggest leagues. His versatility and commitment have seen him earn the faith of two separate managers at Stoke City in England’s Premier League.
There is another old saying that goes: Sure, but can he do it on a cold rainy night in Stoke? It’s a challenge to a flashy player or team. It makes Cameron laugh. He knows it’s meaning well. “The stadium is up on a hill where you can see out over the city,” he said, inadvertently poetic in his description of a ground maligned by most English fans and players. “For some reason, the wind just howls through. And when you get rain or wind or snow, it really comes down in there. It’s cold.”
Cool head for USA
When he says the word cold you know he means it. Cameron describes half-times spent thawing his frozen feet under a motorized hand dryer.
This Friday night in the Lesser Antilles of the steamy Caribbean was a whole different story for Cameron, who started at his favoured centre-half post beside Matt Besler. The Americans had an easy 6-0 ride to victory over St. Vincent and the Grenadines on a cricket pitch in soaring mid-day heat. But with only one game to go, they are are still not assured of a spot in the final Hexagonal round after a drawing Trinidad and Tobago and a shock loss to Guatemala.
“We never wanted to worry about things being out of our hands so we’re just focused on winning the games left in front of us,” he said with an eye on the upcoming rematch against already qualified Trinidad in sunny Florida. A win or a draw will put the States through, even the right kind of loss could. But Guatemala are fast on their heels and still alive. “We want to finish first and we’ve been strong at home, so we’re trying to take care of business with a win."
His versatility and experience guarantee Cameron will be on the field on Tuesday – and most other days. It’s a lucky thing for Jurgen Klinsmann, overseeing a team in transition. “I like to consider myself a leader now,” Cameron said, doing all he can to keep himself on that field he fell in love all those years ago. “You gotta’ tell the young guys, hey, this will pass. We gotta’ stick together. Nerves can rattle when you’ve not been there before, so I want to be one of the guys you can count on.”