Geoff Cameron played professional soccer for 90 minutes on Sunday, just as he has done for the better part of the last five years.
His performance earned him “man of the match” honors, joining the many such awards he has won in recent years.
The only difference is that he was playing for Stoke City in England’s Premier League. The work he put in for the Potters — against slick-passing Arsenal of all teams – would have fooled many into thinking he’s played at that level for years. Well, he has played at that level for years. What changed was the setting.
The 27-year-old made his Premier League debut on Sunday. He started in place of the suspended Dean Whitehead in the midfield, maintained possession when called upon to do so and made life difficult for the Arsenal players with his robust presence in front of the defense. He also delivered long throws into the Arsenal penalty area, which is a staple of the Stoke attack. The game ended in a scoreless draw, and the Attleboro, Mass., native fit right into the Stoke City team and style of play.
Any questions about Cameron’s ability to cut it on the big stage were answered on Sunday, but those that have followed his career from New England to Old England probably weren’t asking them in the first place. He has met challenges, overcome setbacks and managed to improve at every level of the game. His path to Stoke City was fraught with pitfalls — the same ones that have sunk other players. But Cameron has something about him that sets him apart from other players, and his debut was just rewards for a lifetime of effort.
Cameron played for two high schools (Attelboro High School and Providence Country Day School) and two universities (University of West Virginia and the University of Rhode Island) as an amateur. Rather than disrupt his progress, those moves put him in an environment in which he could thrive and showcase his talent. Playing for the Rhode Island Stingrays and URI Rams prepared him for the different world that is the professional game.
His transition from amateur to professional player showed a certain drive and focus that sets him apart from most other players. Cameron was drafted by the Houston Dynamo in the 3rd round of the 2008 MLS Superdraft. To put that in perspective, know that the present-day Superdraft only has two rounds, and only a handful of the 41 players drafted ahead of him are still in the league.
In preseason, Cameron won a spot in on the Dynamo roster as it was coming off back-to-back championships. He worked his way into the lineup, appearing in 23 regular season games in his rookie year. His second year in Houston saw him become an automatic starter and join the ranks of the MLS elite. He was a finalist for the 2009 Defender of the Year award and earned “Best 11″ recognition from the league.
Cameron would retain his status as one of the top MLS players throughout his time in the league. He suffered a serious knee injury that probably cost him a place on the United States’ 2010 FIFA World Cup team, but that setback didn’t stop his progress.
He was a regular for club and country when Stoke City offered MLS $1 million (£650,000) to buy him in July. The league reportedly valued the Dynamo star at $3 million (£1.9 million), and it looked like the deal would fall through. Stoke is entering a period of austerity and MLS was playing hardball. Eventually the two sides agreed on a fee of a round $2.7 million (£1.7 million), and Cameron was set to make his dream move.
The only problem was that he hadn’t played enough international soccer to qualify for a permit to work in the United Kingdom. He was only awarded one after an appeals board ruled in his favor in early August. A visa wasn’t finalized in time for him to play in Stoke’s first game of the season, but the time wasn’t a total loss. His standout performance in defense helped the U.S. to a historic victory over Mexico on August 15.
Cameron finally moved to England late last week. He didn’t arrive in time to practice with his new team ahead of the Arsenal game, but that didn’t matter. Stoke manager Tony Pulis spent more on Cameron than any other player this summer, and did so because he was sure that the player has what it takes to succeed in England. Cameron hasn’t done that just yet, but he’s sure off to a good start. It’s nothing new for the tall kid from Attleboro. He’s been doing it for years.