The United States Men’s Soccer team has just completed their winningest year with a 16-4-3 record, despite closing out 2013 with a 1-0 loss to Austria and a 0-0 tie versus Scotland.
Without Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, the U.S. attack lacked an edge and although they conceded just once over 180 minutes, the defense was similarly unconvincing. Several players on the bubble were given the chance to make a case for themselves, but none really did, except perhaps Geoff Cameron.
But, is Cameron really on the bubble? On the bubble meaning that the player may, or may not make the U.S. MNT team for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil. Barring injury, the versatile Stoke City man would seem to be in Jurgen Klinsmann’s travel party, but, and this where the bubble comes in, what position will Cameron play, and will he be used as a starter or off of the bench.
Coaches like versatile players, but Cameron’s versatility has proved something of a double edged sword since his move to English Premier League club Stoke City.
In his four seasons with the Houston Dynamo, Cameron played significant minutes at both center back and defensive midfield. Soon after Jurgen Klinsmann took over as U.S. national team manager, he all but anointed Cameron as one of his starting center backs. Then in August 2012 Cameron made his big move to Stoke and since that move he has been used primarily at right fullback.
In 2012 Potters manager Tony Pulis also played Cameron as a defensive midfielder, and more than once Pulis had Cameron operating as an attacking midfielder, right behind the striker.
When Mark Hughes replaced Pulis at Stoke before the 2013/14 EPL season, Cameron hoped for an opportunity to compete for a center back position. But Hughes liked the 6’3” American at right fullback and that is where Cameron has stayed, winning and keeping the job.
Klinsmann has consistently maintained that he views Cameron as a central defender first, and that is where the U.S. coach deployed Cameron when the Yanks faced Scotland, November 15th in Glasgow. Cameron was paired with Omar Gonzalez versus the Scots and while the U.S. defense pitched a shutout, it was far from a polished display.
Klinsmann has run many different players out there while searching for the perfect center back combination, and in Vienna Klinsmann tinkered yet again. Against Austria Gonzalez was partnered by 20 year old German-American John Brooks, who is not cap tied to the U.S. and is still eligible to commit to his native Germany.
So, with the central positions occupied, four nights after lining out at center back against Scotland, the versatile Cameron was selected at right fullback versus Austria. Klinsmann has made it clear that Seattle Sounders midfielder Brad Evans is at the top of his depth chart at the position, but Cameron may have narrowed the gap with an aggressive effort versus Austria.
Despite heavy pressure from the hosts in Tuesday’s first half Cameron, stood his ground defensively, showing the confidence one would expect of a player with over a years worth of experience at the position in the English Premier League.
Cameron displayed another facet of his game in Vienna when his header from a Michael Bradley corner kick was slapped clear by the Austrian keeper, despite having clearly crossed the goalline. Clearly that is, to everyone but the match officials, who allowed play to continue, denying Cameron his second international goal.
Not discouraged, Cameron raised his attacking game in the second half, spending most of the final 45 camped deep in Austrian territory. While he has learned his new position at Stoke, Cameron has understandably concentrated on his defensive duties, limiting his offensive forays.
Evans, also new to the position, has similarly focused on keeping to his defensive tasks, so Cameron may have lain down a marker with his improvement in the offensive end.
Klinsmann also has used Cameron in a defensive midfield role, and while Jermaine Jones remains the manager’s first choice to pair with Michael Bradley, at times the duo has seemed ill suited to playing together. That does not appear to be Klinsmann’s view however, and as long as Cameron continues to man the flank at Stoke, fullback increasingly seems to be his best chance for a starting spot in Brazil.
Cameron still has to climb over Evans on Klinsmann’s list and Hannover captain Steve Cherundolo and his recovering (?) knee continue to hover in the background. Eric Lichaj finally received a call up from Klinsmann for the year end friendlies, but significantly, the Nottingham Forest defender relieved Evans and Cameron in his first action of the Klinsmann era.
Evans looked vulnerable against Scotland, four nights later Cameron looked assured against Austria. It is a small sample size, but while Cameron goes head to head with some of the world’s best attackers from his fullback position at Stoke, Evans will likely be playing central midfield for the Sounders.
Just one or two friendlies remain before Brazil, but as of now, Cameron is climbing fast.