CAMERON PREPARING FOR CB ROLE
In 25 games at the helm for the United States, manager Jurgen Klinsmann has - somewhat infamously by now - fielded 25 different starting XIs.
But according to Geoff Cameron, there is at least one spot on the field that you can pencil in long before the whistle blows Wednesday night in Cleveland, Ohio.
And it's probably not the one you're expecting.
"I think I'm called in for playing center back. I played right back for a few games last time because of injuries and whatnot, but Michael Parkhurst is here, who plays right back, so you never know with him - he could be getting [in] there," Cameron told Yanks Abroad before training on Monday.
"It doesn't matter where I play as long as I'm playing and I'll be happy with that, but at the same time, I'm focused on playing center back right now."
To be sure, the U.S. hasn't been able to avoid the same types of absences this time around, as top right back options Steve Cherundolo and Timmy Chandler are both out due to a requested break and a knee injury, respectively. With first-choice left backs Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo scheduled to arrive late to camp, there is also no chance for switching the usual pieces across the field as cover.
Versatility was Cameron's definitive niche in his first season at Stoke City, with the former Houston Dynamo man featuring at right back, left back, defensive central midfield and even right midfield in recent matches against QPR and Southampton. The gaping hole in that lengthy list, of course, is center back, but that is exactly where Cameron said he has been training leading up to this week's friendly against Belgium at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Kansas City's Matt Besler and the L.A. Galaxy's Omar Gonzalez came to form a fairly comfortable left-right center back tandem for the Stars and Stripes this spring, but that budding partnership now looks as if it will be nipped for at least the upcoming five U.S. matches. With Besler nursing a bit of a knock of his own, perhaps Cameron's high-level experience has been enough to convince Klinsmann to return him to his preferred, if by now somewhat unfamiliar, spot.
"I think I'm just more aware," Cameron said. "The games are a little bit faster over in England. The competition - you're playing against the best players in the world. I think it makes you a little bit sharper, you could say."
Where, exactly, a Cameron-at-center-back scenario would leave the rest of the U.S.'s backline is unclear, though. DaMarcus Beasley appears destined to get his 100th cap out on the left, but Parkhurst, whom Cameron suggested could get the nod on the right, has made just two first-team appearances at Augsburg since his transfer to the Bundesliga side in December.
And while Gonzalez's aerial abilities should allow him to keep his starting role in the middle, he and Cameron - both right-footed players - have been paired together just once, a disappointing 2-1 WCQ loss to Honduras on Feb. 6. If the two are together again in the team's next road tie, a qualifying match against the speedy Reggae Boyz of Jamaica on June 7, there can't afford to be a repeat performance.
The U.S. will get plenty of good ‘practice' against Belgium and Germany, however, with Eden Hazard, Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku set to lead a young and full-strength Belgian attack. Die Mannschaft, meanwhile, will be considerably less stacked than usual, but no team led by Miroslav Klose up top has failed to strike fear in its opponent's defense.
"Hopefully we'll have some confidence coming in - that's what I think these friendlies are [for], to get everybody on the same page, kind of built it up before the qualifiers," Cameron said. "Obviously our main goal is to be ready and take these three qualifiers and get three points each match."
That's an ambitious target for what is currently the Hex's third-place team, but it's also clearly the correct one. The challenge promises to be a great one, but Cameron noted that the mentality Klinsmann has instilled in his players has pushed them to shoot high.
As a result, after what's been by far the most action-packed year of his burgeoning career, Cameron will likely be lacing up for the U.S. in five additional matches over the next month. The Potters' utility man got a little bit of a break, he explained, after Stoke's final match May 13, but he got right back four or five days later in preparation for the tough CONCACAF road ahead.
And he can't imagine it any other way.
"I think I haven't been stopped since last January," Cameron said. "But I guess it's good, you know, because I'm with the national team, and I wouldn't want to be on the couch or on the beach right now."