Aug. 15, 2012, has entered the history books as the date that the United States national team finally defeated Mexico in Mexico. It also marked the night when Geoff Cameron confirmed his position as a top class international center back.
The recently acquired Stoke City player produced a commanding performance along with defensive partner Maurice Edu and goalkeeper Tim Howard to stonewall El Tri’s offense. At the other end, U.S. substitute Michael Orozco Fiscal’s strike with 10 minutes remaining sealed an improbable 1-0 win for the under-strength visitors at Mexico City’s Stadio Azteca.
Wave after wave of Mexican attacks allowed Cameron to showcase his qualities – the height and heading ability to deal with crosses, the strength to hold off attackers charging toward goal, superb reading of the play to intercept through balls, the quickness to recover his position when dragged out of the back line, and an assuring calmness under pressure. Edu and Howard stepped up to ensure that the U.S. kept Javier Hernandez and his teammates off the score sheet on the odd occasion when Cameron needed assistance.
The only facet of Cameron’s play that wasn’t shown, given Mexico’s dominance of the ball, was his ability to break from defense and use his wide range of passing to start the offense.
Most of Mexico’s early attacks came down the right as Cruz Azul winger Pablo Barrera tried to link up with Hernandez. Cameron, operating as the left-sided center-back, brushed aside the Manchester United striker’s first foray into the box on nine minutes at the expense of a corner. He used his size to block off Hernandez again when Jorge Torres Nilo crossed from the left three minutes later.
The former Houston Dynamo man left the back line on 17 minutes when Angel Reyna received the ball in midfield with space to run at the U.S. defense. Cameron stepped up to force Reyna into a sideways layoff before quickly recovering his position alongside Edu to prevent any runners from attacking the space left behind.
Cameron’s composure showed on 23 minutes when he stripped the ball from Hernandez at the edge of the U.S. penalty area. A short pass to Kyle Beckerman kept possession when a clearance would have resulted in another Mexican attack.
Jesus Eduardo Zavala surged down the inside-right channel a couple of times as the half-hour mark approached. Cameron spotted the Monterrey midfielder’s run on both occasions and moved wide to dispossess him. The Attleboro, Mass. native’s positioning at the front post allowed him to make a couple of clearing headers from Barrera’s crosses before the interval.
Cameron was left stranded on 50 minutes when half-time substitute Edgar Gerardo Lugo slipped Beckerman’s attentions to ghost toward the six-yard box unmarked. The Santos Laguna midfielder steered his free header wide – a fortunate escape for Jurgen Klinsmann’s side.
Cameron charged down Reyna’s shot on 54 minutes, and he used every inch of his 6’3” frame to flick Elias Hernandez’ teasing right-wing cross away from namesake Javier two minutes later as “Chicharito” attacked the near post.
Mexico’s diving team enjoyed success at the London Olympics with silver medals in the men’s and women’s synchronized 10-meter platform competition and a bronze in the women’s 3-meter springboard. Hernandez took to emulating his countrymen as he failed to win any of his jousts with Cameron.
One tumble with pike from Hernandez resulted in a dangerous free kick at the edge of the U.S. penalty area after an unsuccessful nutmeg attempt. Cameron stood his ground. The Mexican striker went to ground after realizing he wasn’t reaching the ball. Andres Guardado’s strike whistled past Howard’s right post.
Hernandez finally found some openings as the U.S. began to show traces of cracking. A neat one-two with Elias Hernandez sent the former Chivas de Guadalajara striker clear of Cameron and Edu’s attentions on 65 minutes. Right-back Fabian Johnson covered superbly to prevent a shot on goal. Mexico’s talisman found a yard of space inside the six-yard box on 76 minutes, yet he somehow headed wide after Elias Hernandez’ cross split the American center-backs.
Howard produced the save of the game with five minutes remaining, shortly after the U.S. had taken a surprise lead through a rare attack, to deny Hernandez his 26th international goal. The Premier League striker controlled the ball at the edge of the penalty area after Cameron could only flick a leg at a left-wing cross. His shot struck Cameron, wrong-footing Howard who adjusted in mid-dive to place a strong palm behind the ball and prevent it from crossing the line.
Hernandez produced a stunning leap in the final minute to out-jump Cameron at the back post and steer his header on goal. Howard was there again to block the initial attempt before Johnson cleared away the rebound.
Job done. Cameron’s excellent display had significantly contributed toward his country’s first win against their biggest rivals in Mexico after 24 failed attempts and 75 years of trying.
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