From a third-round draft pick to the English Premier League in four-and-a-half years, becoming a regular for the U.S. national team along the way: it's been a swift and stunning rise for Geoff Cameron.
Selected 42nd overall by the Dynamo in 2008 out of the University of Rhode Island, Cameron made his professional debut in March that year. He joined Stoke City last summer and returns to Houston with the Premier League club next week, just over twelve months since his last appearance in orange.
Cameron scored in the first BBVA Compass Dynamo Charities Cup game, a 2-1 win over Monterrey in 2009. Now he's set to play against the Dynamo in the annual fund-raiser next Wednesday at BBVA Compass Stadium having established himself as a first-choice for a solid club in arguably the top league on the planet.
The 28-year-old flourished in Houston whether in defense or midfield. He contended for MLS Rookie of the Year honors in 2008 and Defender of the Year in 2009 and made 100 regular season starts for the Dynamo, contributing plenty going forward: eleven goals and fifteen assists.
Stoke noticed and came in for him. And last January they added another American with local roots, signing College Station's Brek Shea from FC Dallas. Cameron's final Dynamo appearance came on July 15, 2012, a 4-0 home win over D.C. United. Six weeks later, he made his Premier League debut against Arsenal – and was man of the match.
That strong showing was a sign of things to come as Cameron swiftly made himself indispensable to former Stoke manager Tony Pulis, who left the club at the end of the season.
Shuttling between right back and central midfield, the Massachusetts native featured in all but three of Stoke's league games – making 29 starts and six substitute appearances and collecting six yellow cards. He also played in three Cup games.
Cameron told The Sentinel, the Stoke local newspaper, that he found the adjustment of moving from Houston's hot and humid climate to the colder and wetter environment of England mentally draining. And by the end of the English season in May, he had played competitive club soccer for 14 months without much of a break. But the culture shock did not show on the field.
"He never had a problem adapting to the physical demands of the Premier League. Especially as the season went on he seemed to adapt to the tactical and technical side of the game. He coped well with the pace," Peter Lansley, who reports on Stoke for The Times of London, told HoustonDynamo.com. Summing up Cameron's attributes, Lansley said: "Physicality, bravery, willingness."
At 6 feet 3 inches, Cameron is unusually tall for a full back, but Pulis liked to use big defenders to give the team an advantage at set pieces. And Cameron is more comfortable on the ball than most defenders, which made him a natural option in midfield both in MLS and the EPL.
He was unable to dislodge Stoke's preferred center back pairing of Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross, but it seems he's hopeful that new manager Mark Hughes will give him a chance in the middle of the back four.
"I was either playing right back or defensive center midfield last season and I was never given the opportunity to play center back because I guess Tony Pulis didn't see me there at center back, or he didn't want to play me there, even though he could see me in that position with the national team, which I thought I played really well... So it'll be interesting to see what happens when I go back to Stoke," Cameron told The Sentinel last week.
The Dynamo players are looking forward to facing him next Wednesday in the Charities Cup. "He and I are really good friends, it should be fun, we're all looking forward to seeing him and playing against him," defender Corey Ashe told HoustonDynamo.com. "It should be a tough game but a game we're looking forward to."
He spoke after a special training session on Thursday which featured a visit by firefighters from stations 51 and 68 and a check presentation, following the club's tribute at last month's Toronto FC match to the four who gave their lives battling a terrible blaze on May 31.
Cameron has played seven times for the national team this year and has 18 caps overall. Though he appears highly likely to be on the plane to Brazil next year, he is not a certain starter. But he enhanced his reputation with an impressive performance alongside Michael Bradley in the heart of midfield in the 2-0 win over Panama on June 11, providing an assist with a superb 40-yard pass for Eddie Johnson.
After playing alongside him for years, Ashe believes his friend fully deserves his success. "He's versatile, he doesn't really have a set position because he could play pretty much every position on the field except for goalkeeper. He's very good technically, he works hard, overall just a solid player," Ashe said. "He's always had aspirations of going over to Europe and he put in the work to get himself over there."
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian and SI.com.