Last week, New England Soccer Today caught up with Stoke City defender/midfielder and Attleboro (Mass.) native Geoff Cameron to get his perspective on playing in the EPL, starring with the U.S. Men’s National Team, and more.
In the second part of our two-part interview (the first part can be seen here), the former Rhode Island Ram talks about MLS, his memories of playing locally, and what he hopes the future holds.
New England Soccer Today: You mentioned previously that as each Qualifying cycle passes, the competition in CONCACAF gets stronger. Would you say that something like that is a byproduct of MLS, and in effect, the league is making other CONCACAF nations stronger because so many Central American and Caribbean-based players are getting top-flight experience here?
Geoff Cameron: Yeah, definitely. I mean, how many players from Honduras are playing in MLS? How many players from Jamaica are playing in MLS? Same thing with players from Guatemala. MLS is growing stronger and stronger. I know the league is doing everything in their power to keep American players from leaving and going to Europe. But I think, eventually, MLS is going to need to start taking better care of American players.
NEST: Taking what you’ve said above into consideration – if you were MLS commissioner, what would you do to help the American player thrive here?
Geoff: The biggest thing is you have guys like Carlos Bocanegra (who just signed with Chivas USA), or Clarence Goodson, who just re-signed with San Jose – you look at guys like those who’ve played overseas, whether it’s Denmark or England, and those guys have experience. Then you look at guys from, say, Scandinavia, they come here and they get a big contract right off the bat, whereas in MLS, you’re guaranteed a small contract at the beginning and you have to work your way up. And it’s not for like a short period, it’s a long time, like three or four years, because the club re-signs you at the end of every year. So it’s almost like you have to sign two contracts before you can get your biggest one. Overseas, you’re playing in first or second division in another league and, yeah, it’s not as big as or as good as the MLS. But, they’re getting paid a lot more money than MLS players are.
I think that sooner or later, the good American players need to get paid better salaries to keep them there and so they want to stay there, too. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to stay in MLS? The only reason why I left is because I’ve always wanted to play in Europe. It was my dream since I was a little kid. At the end of my career, I didn’t want to think “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda,” and ask myself whether I was ever good enough to play in the EPL. I didn’t want to have any regrets.
At the end of my career, yeah, I’d like to come back to MLS and play. Maybe come back to Boston and play or go back to wherever Dom (Kinnear) is coaching and play for him. But I always wanted to go over there and play. But now you get these kids, and they’re all growing up and watching MLS, and they’re thinking to themselves, “Yeah, I want to play in MLS someday,” instead of looking abroad and saying, “I want to play for those teams.” So from that perspective, MLS has to start taking care of American players a little bit more.
NEST: We started off talking about your experience in the EPL, then moved on to the U.S. National Team and briefly touched upon MLS. But one thing I wanted to ask you that you probably don’t get too many questions on is your time playing right here in New England, and specifically for East Providence Sports, a local amateur team in Rhode Island, before you were drafted by Houston in 2008. What was it like playing right in your backyard, and playing with a lot of the friends you grew up with?
Geoff: I started playing Attleboro Youth Soccer, and then went from there to club soccer, with Bayside FC and Boston Bolts, playing with the Bolts for a few years and playing at Bayside under Stacy DeCastro. But once you start college, there aren’t too many club teams to play for, so it’s usually a PDL team or men’s league. For me, I was just trying to stay fit throughout the summer, and my childhood friend Larry Alves and his family, they all played over at E.P. Sports, so for me, it was just easy decision. It was another opportunity to play on the weekend, stay fit for college soccer. Doing that every weekend and playing for the Rhode Island Stingrays on a Saturday, and then you get the E.P. games on a Sunday morning, I was just trying to do whatever I could to stay fit and, obviously, getting the opportunity to hang out with the guys on the weekend throughout the summer was great.
I always try to come back and give back to what helped me get to where I am today, just playing those games was great. The funny thing is, when I played with E.P. Sports in LUSA, I played against guys who used to play professionally, guys who used to play in Portugal, or for Boca Juniors. There are a lot of old professionals that made their way back to the States because they have family here or they work here now. There’s a lot of talent here, talent that goes unnoticed, and I think that this area is a hotbed for good soccer players.
NEST: As someone who’s covered LUSA games , I can certainly attest to that statement, that there’s a lot of talent in that league. What’s your favorite memory playing for E.P. Sports?
Geoff: I remember jumping into a game and Larry coming over to me and saying, “We need you to score a couple of goals,” and I’d be like, “Alright,” so I’d just go out there, and score a couple of goals and call it a day (laughs). But it’s more about the memories of just like being around the guys and going to the Portuguese club to meet up with everybody and just go from there. You drive to the field and after the game, there’s always food at the club and you’d hang out and talk with your buddies all day. You figure out what you’re going to do that day, or where you’re going out that night. It was more about the friendships that you build, the memories of just hanging out and laughing and that kind of stuff. Those are the best memories, and then the soccer’s just a part of it. You leave it all on the field, and you might get mad at each other on the pitch, but at the end of the day, those are your boys you grew up playing with.
When I became a professional, they expected even more out of me. Like, when I used to come back to Rhode Island and play in the Christmas tournament, they’d be like, “Yo, we’re not expecting anything less than the championship today, alright? We need 3-4 goals minimum from you,” and we’re just laughing. For me, I’m just trying to make sure I’m staying healthy and I’m not doing anything crazy, and just trying to keep it simple. But when I didn’t score, they’d be like, “C’mon man! I thought you were a professional (laughs).” So it was all a good laugh that your buddies have with you. But just hanging out with the guys and playing with them and stepping away from it without it being a business, it reminds you of the love you have for the sport. It’s just going out there and having a good time with your buddies.
NEST: That’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? Just going out and playing with your friends. Thinking about that, I know that one of your good friends – Tim DaPonte –passed away in November after battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and you wore an undershirt that read, “RIP TD,” in tribute to him. What did his friendship mean to you?
Geoff: We grew up together while playing for Bayside. Tim was my age and when we got older, he went his way and took over his father’s business and was doing so well at it and was on the verge of getting married to his long-time girlfriend. It was really, really tough because you look at a guy like that and he had such a great heart, never did anything wrong and was a loyal and true friend. The memories that we had growing up together, traveling for Bayside and going down to the Christmas tournament down in Disney – we had so many great memories, and seeing him struggle with such a terrible disease was really tough. You don’t want to see someone that you’re close to go through something like that. We disappeared from each other’s lives for a little bit when I went off to go to college, and he was taking care of the business, but we always found time to try and talk to one another.
Once I found out that he was going through a tough time, I reached out to him immediately, and we were talking every day. I would text him in the morning before training and ask him, “Hey man, how are you feeling today?” and find out whether it was a good day or a bad day. If it was a bad day, I’d just try tell him, “Let’s try to make it a positive day,” little things like that to try and give him something to look forward to. With him being able to come down to the Revolution game when Houston played the Revs (on May 19, 2012) and just to see him…it really, really made me proud of the person he was and how strong he was as a person. Not everyone can go through something like that, especially so young. It was so sad, but what he left me with was someone who was a true friend, a loving and caring kid who would do anything for anybody. He’d take the shirt off his back for anybody, and having the honor to play with him was truly something special to me.
NEST: I think something like remembering Tim while you were abroad truly speaks to how much you’ll always be Geoff Cameron, the kid from Attleboro. And now that you’re here, after nearly 18 months away, how does it feel to be back in the area for a few weeks?
Geoff: It’s been like six or seven years since I’ve actually had the chance to enjoy a New England summer. So that’s always a positive. It’s great to be home and see friends and family and just to put my feet up for a bit, kick back and relax. New England summers are the best. You get the seasons here, you get the hot weather and you can go down to the beach and it’s not like scorching hot. There’s so much to do here and I think that’s what I’m most looking forward to – going to the beach, and just relaxing and just seeing all of your old buddies that you grew up with and see what they’re doing and trying to catch up for lunch, and just hearing little stories here and there is the best part.
NEST: We started off the interview looking back at what the past year’s been like for you, and how hectic it’s been for you professionally. So tell me: where do you see yourself a year from now?
Geoff: Hopefully, in Brazil at the World Cup, and representing the U.S. National Team, for sure. You never know, though. There are more goals that I want to accomplish in playing, and get to an even higher level. I want to become a better player, whether it’s at center mid or center back or wherever, I want to be able to master a position. There’s so much more I want to be able to do. The sky’s the limit, and you just have to take it one day at a time and just try to improve every single day, and I think that’s the attitude that I’ve always had. The hard work that I’ve put in is one of my biggest strengths. I try not to look too far in advance, especially with this upcoming year being a big year. So hopefully, I remain healthy and keep my head down and stay focused and playing well for my club and my country and we get the right amount of points to go to the World Cup and boom, I’m there.