Conversation: Geoff Cameron

Photo credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Photo credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Last month, Attleboro, Mass. native Geoff Cameron became only the second player from New England to play in a World Cup during the last half-century (Mike Burns is the other – 1998). During the tournament, Cameron started three of the United States’ four matches, and was named as a Best XI selection for the Round of 16 by soccer analytics site Whoscored.com.

After a whirlwind two months, the University of Rhode Island alum recently spoke exclusively to New England Soccer Today about his World Cup experience, and what the future holds for him.

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NEST: So the first question is probably the most obvious: What was it like to play in the World Cup?

Geoff Cameron: “It’s like every little kid’s dream, the fact that, as a little kid, growing up, I always said I wanted to play in the World Cup and represent your country, and playing at the highest level, and having the opportunity to do that has been unbelievable. Sometimes, you kind of have to pinch yourself to realize what happened. But the focus now is to get back to that phase again in 2018. You have a little down time now, but you’re preparing yourself for the next cycle of qualifying.”

What was your initial reaction when you made the final cut for the 23-man roster?

“I guess it was a sigh of relief, at the same time, it was like you didn’t really have much time to think about it. He gave us that day we found out about it to tell our family and loved ones. You enjoyed it for maybe 10-15 seconds, and then you snap back into reality knowing you have a job to do, and focus in on the training and what we were doing, which was the ultimate goal – making it out of the group of death.”

A lot was made about how difficult the pre-World Cup camp was, and how much it physically tested you and your teammates. Do you think this was an especially tough camp?

“It was a normal camp, but I guess the status and the hype of a World Cup camp makes the competition that much harder and much more intense. So like every second, every play  – they all matter. It’s on a different stage or platform, you could say, because it has the word ‘World Cup’ in front of it. So it’s more heightened, you know? So I just think the intensity is greater because everything is more serious, because you’re fighting for a spot, and fighting for playing time. You’re playing for everything, whereas sometimes you go in for a game, and you’re in with the team for two days and you’re out the next. So you don’t really have enough time to prove yourself with talent because it’s whole different kind of situation. But being in a camp for 2-3 months, obviously, gives you plenty of time to show your ability, but also gives other guys an opportunity to show their ability, as well. You’re competing against them every single day.”

That sounds like a tremendous amount of pressure for a player to deal with. How were you able to focus on that goal and avoid the fear of failure?

“You try to separate that from your mind, and just focus on yourself, and preparing how you’d normally play. You’re there for a reason and it’s because they believe in you and you have to stay confident. You can’t get down on yourself when things start to happen, but at the same, you still have the ultimate goal you’re still working together as one, your team, you want to be focused on your play, and be comfortable and confident. But the ultimate goal is gelling with the team, and that’s the most important thing.”

You made the roster, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. But what was it like to step onto that pitch for a World Cup game?

“It was so surreal, especially walking down the tunnel to the field – I did a pretty good job of distracting my mind and not getting too nervous about the games. But walking out of the tunnel for the first half – you look up as soon as you hit the stadium, you see the fans and hear the World Cup anthem and walk out, that’s when you like, you kind of step out (of yourself) and say, ‘You’re here, this is your moment. This is what you’ve been dreaming about you’re whole entire life,’ and then you kind of snap back into reality and all of sudden you have a game to play (laughs). That’s kind of what goes through your head and maybe like 5-10 seconds of, ‘OK, I’m here, I’m not dreaming, it’s just a moment you’ve been waiting for your whole life.’ It’s time to take advantage of this, and enjoy this moment.”

Which opponent was the toughest?

“They were all tough, to be fair, the games are different. Each team was different, every team was very, very good. Portugal and Ghana were very similar, they had the similar strength, quickness and the power. Germany wasn’t as quick as them, but they’re very efficient in their passing. It kind of works like that.”

A lot of blame was placed on your shoulders for the two goals conceded during the Portugal game. Do you think the criticism was fair?

“I hold my hand up. I made a mistake on that first goal, and 9 out of 10 times, that ball is getting knocked out, it just had a lot of spin and it was just one of those things. The second goal, if you break down the play, if people want to blame me and want to say this or that, they can say what they want. But, if you break the game down, tactically, there’s really nothing you could do between Matt Besler and I. I have to defend that because I’m marking the back shoulder, I look over to the left, and Fabian (Johnson) is marking their outside mid, then there’s no pressure on Ronaldo, who we said from the beginning of the game: there has to be pressure on Ronaldo the entire time. You can’t give him space, and you give a guy like that any space, people don’t realize that he hit a perfect ball, there’s nothing you can really do. I saw it and thought Fabian would be staying with the guy, but he was tired from running up and down all game, and I’m trying to cover Matt’s side, with Eder running through, so I have to be aware of that. By the time I look over, the ball’s going over my head and I’m making a last-ditch effort.

So, people can say what they want to say, but there was 4-5 mistakes along the way there. If people want to blame me, that’s OK. But, if you watch the game, I had played a very, very good game defensively. I mean Ronaldo, Eder, they all didn’t do much throughout the game so, I was fine with it.

Yeah, I made a mistake, but you know what? We recovered. We were up in the game 2-1 late, and we didn’t lose. Before the tournament, people were saying that we wouldn’t even get a point from Portugal, and we wouldn’t get three points from Ghana, so we were already ahead of the game. So for me, it was disappointing because I didn’t play in the Germany game, and Jurgen (Klinsmann) knew that I was upset, and that I was frustrated. He said he’s glad to see that because, you know, doesn’t want to see a player that he’s satisfied with not playing. He just said be ready for the next game, you’ll be playing, and I thought the Belgium game was one of my best games.”

Whatever the opinions were of your performance against Portugal, you seemed to rise to the occasion against Belgium. How were you able to put the Portugal game behind you, and put together a strong performance, especially in the midfield?

“It’s the position I thrive in (central midfield) and enjoy because I think  I can use my athletic abilities the best there. Anywhere he’s playing me, whether it’s center back or defensive mid, anywhere in the middle of the park, is a place I think I can thrive in. And I knew I was going to be comfortable there, I knew my job was to shut down (Marouane) Fellaine, and get comfortable taking the ball down and help the center backs close down the passing lanes. I think I did my job there that day. I was disappointed that we didn’t win, but at the end of the day, we all left it all on the field. Hopefully at the next World Cup, we’ll come back and we’ll make it even further than we did this year.”

What moment from Brazil do you think will last the longest in your mind?

“I can’t really nail down a specific moment, because they’re all so amazing. Every game was different, especially when you’re playing, and singing the national anthem, and you have your team next to you and you’re taking the field together as 23, as a whole, as an entire nation, and as an entire country. So for me, it’s that special moment of everybody coming together and having all the support of your country back home. And I think that’s a pretty special moment.”

Do you think that, for better or worse, a lot of people put the burden of growing the game on the shoulders of the U.S. National Team whenever the World Cup rolls around?

“I think we did an amazing job (promoting the game), and breaking records for people supporting and watching compared to the Super Bowl and this and that. It is the number 1 sport in the world. You go to other countries, and that’s it. It’s all soccer, whereas you go in the U.S., it’s other big sports here that we’re fighting against.

I think eventually, we’ll break into the top 2 or 3 sports because it’s so popular in other countries. We’re leading the way in youth sports, where it’s the number 1 youth sport in the country. So I think eventually it’s going to improve, but it comes down to the fans and the people here. They enjoyed watching the U.S. play, and enjoyed watching soccer, so I think it’s also their job to continue to keep supporting soccer here in the U.S., whether that’s going to MLS games, supporting your local teams, or getting your children involved because you enjoy it and your children enjoy it. To me, that’s the beginning stages of developing soccer here in the U.S.

It’s going to take time because it’s a generational thing where if I have kids, my kids grow up and it’s in a soccer family, then that starts a generation. Then when they grow up and have kids, they grow up in a culture of soccer, and that’s another generation of a family having soccer. So I think it’s going to be a generation to generation thing, and things will always get better with the younger generation and it becomes more acceptable to play soccer (as opposed to other sports). We’re competing against the NFL, we’re competing against MLB and other sports. I think it’s going to be a long process, but we’re going in the right direction.”

How do you think the game’s growth in this country would be impacted if FIFA decided to remove the 2022 World Cup from Qatar and named the U.S. as the host?

“I think that would be a huge step for us. The fact that we have all of the facilities here – maybe the travel might be tough, but I feel like with everything this country has to offer, and it’s pretty amazing that we had the most traveling fans at the World Cup. It just shows that we’ve arrived, and we’re becoming a soccer nation not to mess with.”

What post-World Cup event have you found the most exciting or interesting?

“Growing up a sports fan in Boston and watching the Bruins, Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics – throwing out the first pitch at the Red Sox game (on July 18) was pretty special. I think I’m pretty sure I’ll remember that for the rest of my life. Hopefully, I’ll get to do it again after the 2018 World Cup, who knows?

Obviously, that’s a goal: I want to be there at the next World Cup. But I think just the experiences that I’ve had, just being welcomed home in my hometown and trying to build soccer there, with Attleboro Youth Soccer and see how big it’s become from when I first started to now, it’s massive. It’s night and day. Kids are playing on club teams and that was very rare when I was there, and people are getting involved and doing a lot of great things. So I would say those two things have been pretty special.”

What does the future hold for you once it’s time to hang up the boots?

“I can definitely see myself coaching. Maybe one day, if (Houston coach) Dominic Kinnear’s still coaching,  I can learn from him. I’m still pretty close with him, and I’d love to coach with him one day. I’m open to do that, but I’d still like to stay in a professional atmosphere because I think the hardest thing to do is step away from the game.

You want to be around those guys, you want to be around that environment because that’s what you want to do. At the same time, I think that I would have a lot to offer younger players and mentor them a little bit about the pro ranks. I think in the U.S., kids are turning pro younger and younger and assistant coaches can kind of groom them a little bit and teach them to be responsible and not everything is going to be spoon-fed to them. That they need to continue to work hard and to improve and get to the next level. I’d like to think that coaching would be an aspiration of mine. Or I could even be a recruiter, I could become a scout. Either waty, I’d like to stay in the game of soccer no matter what. That’s all I’ve known my whole life. I went to college and got my degree – but the degree is just to fall back on. I’d rather play, and be a part of the game that has made me who I am.”

With the 2014 World Cup in the rearview, is the focus going into this season different than it was in the last two seasons?

“Obviously, the focus is I still want to start every single week and  be a regular player, maybe challenge for a position at center mid or center back, a position that I’m very comfortable and confident in. And who knows? Maybe someday play in Champions League. You don’t ever want to get complacent, but I’m enjoying my time at Stoke.”

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About Brian O'Connell

Brian O'Connell serves as editor and staff writer at New England Soccer Today. He's also the Revolution beat writer for ESPNBoston.com, and is Officer at Large for the North American Soccer Reporters. He regularly contributes to The Associated Press, and has been featured on MLSSoccer.com & RevsNet.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianOConnell21 or contact him via e-mail at BOConnell21@aol.com