For Geoff Cameron, the smallest of things like a nickname, challenges him to become the best player he can.
“They call me the Yank, it’s okay, it doesn’t bother me. I’m happy because it challenges me every single day cause I'm proving to myself and everybody else that I belong in this league," Cameron told Bleacher Report.
Throughout his career, Cameron has embraced those challenges to become the player he is today.
It all started for Cameron during his freshman season in college, where he played at West Virginia before transferring to the University of Rhode Island.
“When I first went to college, I just wanted to make the team. I got recruited, I wanted to be one of the freshman to come off the bench or start ," Cameron said.
Cameron, who began his career as a midfielder, started nine matches in his freshman season for the Mountaineers, but it was at Rhode Island where he began to stand out as a player.
In 2007, his senior season with the Rams, Cameron was named Atlantic 10 midfielder of the year, and was selected to the All-Conference First Team, as well as the NSCAA All-Mid Atlantic Region First Team.
His terrific performance at Rhode Island led him to be invited to the 2008 MLS Player Combine, and after doing well there, he was picked 42nd overall in the MLS SuperDraft by the Houston Dynamo.
When he entered the fray in Houston, Cameron took on a new challenge of trying to thrive in Major League Soccer.
“All of a sudden you get drafted by Houston Dynamo, (manager) Dom Kinnear gives you an opportunity and says I want to throw you in up top," he said.
“You have to prove yourself. You have to get an opportunity. You have to work hard and keep your head down and grind it out,” he said.
Cameron succeeded in his first year with the Dynamo by playing 921 minutes and being named as a finalist for the MLS Rookie of the Year award.
Once he found his feet in Houston, Cameron began to catch the eye of the United States men's national team, and clubs in Europe, including Stoke City, where he moved to in the summer of 2012.
“You become successful (in MLS) and then you challenge yourself in another way and that was me always wanting to go to Europe," he said.
“I didn't want to go at the end of my career and say, Was I good enough?, Would I have been able to make it?," he said. “I didn’t want to leave that in question at the end of my career so I challenged myself that way."
He took his strong work ethic into Stoke, where he promised himself that he would give it his all to earn a spot in the first team.
“The first thing I said when I went over there was, I may not get many minutes, but I’m gonna work hard. I'm gonna learn and take everything in as much as possible."
“Every single day you’re challenging for a spot. You’re challenging for a position because there’s a guy to the left of you, and a guy to the right of you, that want your position and want your minutes,” Cameron said.
Cameron got his break during his first year at the Britannia Stadium, and he was able to play in the majority of the club's during the 2012-13 campaign thanks to his versatility.
“The first three or four games I played at defensive center mid, and then our right-back got injured, and they said you’re playing right-back. Then I was right-back for a good amount of the season and then I played center mid and then right-back again," he said.
Cameron gained the versatile aspect of his game from watching Rio Ferdinand, who was one of the top players in England for Manchester United as the young Cameron was growing up.
“If you look at a guy like Rio Ferdinand, who started his career as a center mid, you see how technically gifted he is on the ball, he’s calm, cool and collected," Cameron said. “I watched him growing up when he went from center mid to center-back, and became a world-class center-back."
The versatility that Cameron possesses made him an attractive player in the national-team setup at center back, right back and defensive center midfield.
“(Having versatility) benefits us as players because you can read certain situations better. You understand others positions, so you can communicate and let them know little things a little earlier,” Cameron said.
Although he is able to play three different positions, Cameron will most likely end up as a center-back for the Yanks.
“Everybody knows their roles and Jurgen (Klinsmann) has told them what their roles are. That’s what you’re focused on now, and that’s what we’ve been doing for the past two to three weeks,” Cameron said.
“Every single day you’re training at that position and everybody’s taking their role and running with it," he said. “I look at center-back as you’re almost playing center mid, but you’re the last line of defense."
With his position set in stone, Cameron knows he has to hear questions about the American back line, which has had its problems throughout the qualification process.
To the player appearing in his first World Cup, the players around him have plenty of experience, which is a trait that he clearly is not concerned about entering Brazil.
“We have Tim Howard back there, he’s been to a few World Cups. He knows what he’s talking about, he’s a leader, it goes from there.”
“You have DaMarcus Beasley, he’s got over 100 caps, he’s experienced. Then you have Omar (Gonzalez), myself and Matt (Besler), we play for our club team week in and week out. We have experience, I have European experience, these guys have been playing collectively on the national team for a long time."
With experience not being a problem heading into Brazil, Cameron will be able to embark on a new challenge that could see him garner even more attention at home and abroad if he continues to keep the same mentality that he has had since college.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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