Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
SEATTLE – The U.S. Men’s National Team already held a 1-0 lead, but Eddie Johnson knew there was more room for them to exploit against Panama.
Johnson went over to Geoff Cameron at halftime to let him know he had more time on the ball than he knew, and to try and pick Johnson out during one of his marauding runs forward on the right flank.
Cameron heeded the advice, as in the 53rd minute he delivered a pinpoint ball in behind that defense that allowed Johnson to break in on goal for the second tally in Tuesday night’s 2-0 World Cup qualifying win at CenturyLink Field.
That sublime assist may have been Cameron’s most impressive moment in what was a dominating performance from the Americans, but it was hardly his only one. Cameron, who was filling in as a central midfielder in place of regular starter Jermaine Jones because of a concussion, also provided strong defensive play in front of the back line and his ability to snuff out Panama’s attacks time and time again kept the U.S. back line largely untested.
“We asked him to, obviously, win a lot of balls back, cover the two centerbacks, and have a strong, strong presence in there,” said Klinsmann. “I don’t know how many balls he recovered, he was constantly there and then we asked him to play it simple and he did that. I said, ‘Once you get that ball, then just keep it simple. Find Michael Bradley, find Clint (Dempsey), find the players around him and cover our two centerbacks.’
“It was huge, it was a huge performance by Cameron. For us, it’s really important to see that players step in if somebody is injured, if somebody (is) yellow carded like it happens now and it gives us just even more confidence going into the next game knowing that whoever steps in now will get his job done.”
A natural central midfielder who only somewhat recently made a permanent switch to defense for club and country, Cameron’s reading of the game and discipline in the center of the park also provided Bradley, his partner in the middle, the ability to push forward a little more than he does when Jones is starting.
Bradley and Cameron played off one another well, which allowed for the U.S. to string together several long passing sequences and dominate a Panama side that was unsuccessful in trying to come out and put the Americans on their heels.
“As a midfielder, you’re constantly trying to read the game, you’re trying to find space, you’re trying to find the spots on the field where you can make an impact,” said Bradley. “At times, that’s going to be defensively, at times that’s going to be attacking-wise. Sure, if you’re playing with Geoff, the situations that you find yourself are going to be different.
“Obviously, there’s going to be the opportunity to be a little bit more mobile at times, to be a little more two-way, to find the opportunities to move forward into the attack. I think that understanding was good tonight, but every guy who stepped on the field tonight should be proud of what they did.”
Cameron is likely especially proud of his outing. It was his first start in midfield under Klinsmann and came in a moment when the U.S. needed someone to fill the big hole left behind by Jones’ absence, which further showed the Americans’ depth and the 27 year-old’s versatility and worth on the team.
It also was surely gratifying for the lanky Cameron considering he recently had been displaced of a starting spot in the U.S. defense, where he had been getting the nod game in and game out up until the 4-3 triumph against Germany in a friendly earlier this month.
“He was awesome, he was awesome,” said goalkeeper Tim Howard. “He’s easy on the eye, he jumps well, he runs well for a guy whose got a really long loping stride, he’s coordinated, he didn’t lose too many balls and kept it simple when he needed to.
“The amount of plays he broke up, where he stuck his long leg in there and got a toe on the ball and went the other way, there was probably five, six, seven of those, which is key. We did it without giving away fouls, I think that was a key tonight, and he was very, very calm in there, which helped kind of dictate the tempo.”
There was also that gorgeous assist to Johnson, too.
“I saw that (Cameron) had time on the ball and he was on his strong foot,” said Johnson. “I knew if he was on his strong foot and the ball was out off his foot, I could make a run in behind.”