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Cameron ready for the big show

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Geoff Cameron impressed in his Premier League debut for Stoke City.
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Ives Galarcep

Ives Galarcep is a 14-year veteran of the American soccer beat. He created and operates the popular American soccer blog, Soccer By Ives, which was voted Best American Soccer Blog by US Soccer in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Ives was also voted Best Football Writer by SoccerLens in 2010. 
 

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The roar of the crowd and the wave of applause at the Britannia Stadium that welcomed Geoff Cameron to the Barclay’s Premier League last Saturday could have overwhelmed him if he stopped to think about it.

He could have reflected on how, in five years, he went from unknown college player to starting in his first Premier League match. He could have been reminded of how in the past calendar year he went from good MLS player to million-dollar transfer target and US national team regular.

Cameron didn’t think about those things. He was too busy getting ready to jump into the Premier League at the deep end, facing powerhouse Arsenal in his first match.

If his performance in his official Stoke City debut was any indication, Cameron is ready for the leap. He turned in a Man of the Match performance in Stoke’s 0-0 draw against the Gunners. Cameron’s length and quickness helped slow down Arsenal’s pass-happy attack, and he showed Stoke fans that he is a player ready to be a key part of the team right away.

“It was a dream come true,” Cameron said of his Premier League debut. “Not a lot of people have this opportunity and for me it’s an opportunity that I want to take full advantage of.

“Guys like Brian McBride, Joe Max-Moore, Tim Howard, Brad Friedel and Clint Dempsey. Those guys have paved the way for American guys to get the opportunity to play over here,” Cameron said. “They made the US players more respected in a way, and for me I’m just coming here, keeping my head down and working hard.”

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Stoke City manager Tony Pulis has made it clear that Cameron’s versatility was a key attraction in buying him from the Houston Dynamo. Cameron played almost everywhere but in goal during his five seasons with the Dynamo. Against Arsenal, Cameron featured in central midfield, where his ability to cover ground, pester opposing playmakers and ability to deliver quick probing passes helped him enjoy a strong debut.

The transition from MLS to the Premier League can be a difficult one, but Cameron credits playing for Dynamo head coach Dom Kinnear, as well as his experiences with the national team this year, with preparing him for the big move. The result is a player with the athleticism, engine, size and skill to thrive in the Premier League.

“Playing for Dom has been instrumental to my game because he taught me the value of working both ways,” Cameron said. “If you make your runs forward, you also have to work back and do the defensive work. It has prepared me very well to get stuck in on challenges on one hand, and get the ball out quickly.”

Kinnear used Cameron in central midfield, and central defense, and even on the right wing (and in the past at forward). That experienced has helped make Cameron adaptable, as Pulis learned when he moved Cameron to right back in an emergency situation during extra time of Stoke’s 3-2 League Cup loss to Swindon Town on Tuesday.

For the US national team, Cameron’s position is much clearer. He has featured exclusively as a central defender, where he has emerged as a favorite of Jurgen Klinsmann. Cameron’s outstanding performance against Mexico in the US team’s 1-0 victory at Azteca on August 15th was his best in a national team uniform to date and it served notice that he just might be ready to be a regular starter.

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“Playing for the national team has helped me so much because that experience of playing with the best players in tough games gives you confidence,” Cameron said. “I’m not thinking about whether or not I’m a regular yet because there’s Bocanegra, there’s Clarence Goodson, there’s Mo (Edu), there’s Gooch. There are guys that are all around that are fighting for positions.

“All you can do is focus on your ability, and learning from your mistakes and learning from the things you’ve done well, and taking that experience from games like Mexico and take that into the next games.”

If Cameron’s recent efforts against Mexico and Arsenal are any indication, he is capable of handling the big stage. Klinsmann will be banking on that when the US takes on Jamaica in World Cup qualifying matches on September 7th and 11th. He has already experienced what road qualifying can be like after coming on as a substitute in the US team’s 1-1 draw in Guatemala City in June.

"Jamaica is a talented team so you know those are going to be tough games, and playing in Jamaica isn't going to be easy," said Cameron. "Having that experience of playing in Guatemala, and in Mexico City, is great preparation because it's not like we will be facing an atmosphere we haven't been through before."

Cameron will have some help adjusting to life in England as US teammate Maurice Edu has also joined Stoke City this summer. The two were partnered together in central defense in the national team’s win against Mexico, and they have become closer since both arrived in Stoke.

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“It’s been nice because we’re pretty comfortable with each other and we’re getting to know each other,” said Cameron of the duo referred to by Stoke teammates as ‘The Yanks.’ “The one thing we have in common is we’re both Americans and we understand how we are, and our culture. It definitely helps having someone else here who understands those things.”

Cameron and Edu will also be competing against each other, and the rest of Stoke’s City’s crowded list of defenders and midfielders, for playing time. Featuring defenders like Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross, as well as central midfielders such as Glenn Whelan and Honduran international Wilson Palacios, Stoke has solid depth at the very positions Cameron and Edu play.

That means every opportunity to play, and every chance to take the field at the Britannia to play for those adoring fans, will be fought for on a daily basis. It will be a competition Cameron didn’t have to worry too much about as one of the Houston Dynamo’s best players. At Stoke, he will have to fight for every minute he gets, and Cameron sounds up for the challenge.

“You have to perform every day, and the fact that you have guys pushing for your spot means you have to constantly perform,” Cameron. “The depth here is much greater than it is in MLS, and I think it’s going to help me in the long run because it’s going to push me harder and challenge me every day to get better.”

Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FOXSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the US National Team.

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