12714_isi_camerongeoff_usmntjt101113146 John Todd/isiphotos.com
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What Is Geoff Cameron's Best Position? ASN Inquires

The 28-year-old is one of the best American soccer players right now—that much is clear. But should Cameron play right back, central defender, or defensive midfield? Blake Thomsen looked into it.
BY Blake Thomsen Posted
January 28, 2014
9:35 AM
GEOFF CAMERON'S VERSATILITY is well-established at this point. Over the past few years for club and country, the rangy New England native has spent considerable time at defensive midfielder, right back, and center back.

He’s proven he can do a capable job at each of his three positions. But which is his best? And perhaps more importantly, where should he play for the U.S. men's national team in the 2014 World Cup?

To answer these questions, there are a variety of factors to consider. We’ll first take a quick look at his recent national team performances at each position.

Detailed stats are unavailable, so we’ll have to use the admittedly flawed (no offense, guys) system of our ASN player ratings to see how he fared at each position. In 2013 Cameron made four national team appearances each at defensive mid, right back, and center back, so we’ll have a similar if limited data set for each position.

(We’re not treating these ratings as remotely scientific. Consider it an aggregated "eyeball test." We can use them to get a basic understanding of his play for the national team at the various positions.)

We’ll start with defensive mid, where Cameron averaged a 6.0 rating. The highlight was the commanding display he delivered in the comprehensive 2-0 qualifying win over Panama, earning him a 7.9, his highest rating of the year at any position. Cameron’s beautiful chipped assist to Eddie Johnson was celebrated, and rightfully so.

But his tackling and loose ball recovery in that match was perhaps even more impressive.

On the flip side of his blinder against Panama was the 4.2 rating he picked up when playing alongside Jermaine Jones in the qualifier at Costa Rica. Cameron was thrust into action after Michael Bradley rolled his ankle in warm-ups. Like the rest of the team that rainy night, Cameron looked overmatched and unable to retain the ball in a disappointing showing. Two dependable performances at defensive mid off the bench, in qualifiers against Jamaica and Honduras, saw him earn a 5.8 and 6.0, respectively.

In four starts at right back, Cameron averaged a 6.2, his best average rating of the three positions. His 7.3 made him the best American on the pitch in the 1-0 friendly loss to Austria. And he turned in a 6.3 and a 6.6 in March qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico, respectively. The low point for Cameron at right back came in Belgium’s dismantling of the U.S. in May. Along with the rest of the defense, Cameron struggled to cope with Belgium’s dynamic movement in the 4-2 defeat. He got a 4.7 for his troubles, a rating that was probably inflated by his 22nd-minute goal.

Cameron struggled at center back for the U.S., averaging just a 5.4 in four starts. He was excellent in the home win over Jamaica, earning a 6.7. But the rest of the year was not pretty, with the ugliest performance bringing him a 3.8 in the 2-1 loss in Honduras. Cameron and fellow center back Omar Gonzalez were off the pace throughout, especially on Jerry Bengston’s eventual winner.

He also picked up a 5.4 against Bosnia-Herzegovina and a 5.5 against Scotland.

Now, four games at each position is far too small of a sample size to be conclusive. And, no matter how knowledgeable ASN readers are, player ratings cannot be trusted as law. But we do start to see the emergence of some trends: Cameron was most consistent at right back, showed some promise at defensive mid, and struggled in the center of defense.

Given this background, we can now analyze his performances for Stoke City to learn more about Cameron’s best position. By looking at extensive stats from Cameron’s current Premier League campaign, we can see certain strengths and weaknesses that align with his U.S. performances from the past year. More importantly, we can analyze these same strengths and weaknesses to see where Cameron would be best suited for the U.S. moving forward, especially given the existing depth charts at each position.

Cameron’s most noteworthy strength this season has been his incredible proficiency in loose ball recoveries. He leads all Premier League defenders with 125, a stat that highlights just how much ground he is able to cover—as well as his excellent anticipation.

Another prominent strength for Cameron this year has been interceptions. He’s fourth among Premier League defenders with 53. This doesn’t help us too much as we seek to answer our question about his best position, though, as the ability to pick up interceptions is also useful at each of his three positions.

Cameron’s final two strong statistical areas are crosses played and successful dribble take-ons. He is second in the league among defenders in successful take-ons with 32, and he’s third in crosses played with 75. This shows that Cameron has absolutely thrived in the attacking third, where he’s shown an impressive ability to beat opposing defenders and deliver quality service into the box. These two stats are certainly the most useful at right back, as it’s rarely necessary for defensive mids and center backs to dribble past players.

By looking at Cameron’s strengths, we’ve largely simply established that he is good at soccer. His quality in recovering loose balls and intercepting passes plays well anywhere on the pitch. And his exceptional numbers for crosses and successful take-ons show that he is an excellent attacking right back, but they don’t necessarily discredit his case to play in the center of the pitch, whether as a midfielder or defender.

It is when we look at Cameron’s weaknesses, however, that we start to clearly see what his best position is. Cameron doesn’t have many weaknesses, but those that he does have are magnified at some positions and obscured at others.

The first major weakness for Cameron—a surprising one—is his aerial duel percentage. Cameron has only won 62.5% of his aerial duels, which is poor for a six-foot-three athlete. For comparison, his Stoke backline mates Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth (the players keeping him from playing center back) average 70.2% success, while Vincent Kompany leads the league at 78.9%.

Though Cameron’s tall frame would suggest aerial dominance, it seems it is more useful for making lengthy strides, which help him cover huge areas of ground quickly. His unimposing aerial play certainly undermines his case to play at center back, and it’s not great for his defensive midfield resume, either.

But Cameron’s deepest flaw, and the one that most thoroughly outlines what his best position is, is his poor passing percentage. Cameron has only completed 73.1% of his passes this year, an alarmingly low number. Some of this is due to his position and the tactical system that Stoke plays. But that cannot fully explain how low this number is, not when some Premier League fullbacks have percentages in the high 80s.

A limited ability to complete passes isn’t fatal for a fullback—giveaways aren’t typically too costly, and right backs are rarely asked to be key contributors in the buildup. It’s defensive mid and center back that are fatally damaged by poor passing accuracy, and Cameron has come under fire for shaky passing displays at both positions for the U.S. national team.

Given his excellence in many attributes needed at right back and his struggles in crucial areas for defensive mids and center backs, Cameron’s best position certainly appears to be right back. And considering the U.S.' depth chart, Jurgen Klinsmann would be wise to play Cameron there.

Center back is relatively stable thanks to Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez, with Clarence Goodson and perhaps John Brooks able to fill in if needed. Defensive mid is in decent hands as well, no matter how much ire Jermaine Jones gets from U.S. fans. It is right back that represents the biggest area of need. Brad Evans has never felt like a permanent solution, Timmy Chandler is in international exile, Steve Cherundolo looks like he may finally succumb to injuries, and Eric Lichaj is clearly not a favorite of Klinsmann’s.

All told, the pieces are in place to install Cameron as the U.S. national team's first-choice right back. It’s his best position, and also the biggest area of need for the national team. If Cameron continues to perform at such a high level at right back for Stoke, he’ll be hard to ignore.

What do you think Cameron’s best position is? Where would you play him on the national team? Let us know in the comments section below.

Blake Thomsen is a frequent ASN contributor. Follow him on Twitter.

All statistics courtesy of Opta.

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