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Geoff Cameron: American patriot in the Premier League

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MANCHESTER, ENGLAND — As you walk into Geoff Cameron‘s home in the suburbs of Manchester, there’s a photo frame on the wall of the hallway.

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The final sentence from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1943 State of the Union address, along with an American flag, is hung up in that frame as it has been for many years in Cameron’s household.

“The State of this Nation is good—the heart of this Nation is sound—the spirit of this Nation is strong — the faith of this Nation is eternal.”

Most of us would agree that right now in the United States of America that’s not quite the case.

Cameron is a patriot, someone who loves his country deeply and someone who stands up for it each day overseas. For anyone who has ever lived overseas, they’ll likely agree that pride in your home nation perhaps becomes a little stronger each day you’re identified by your nationality.

Flying the American flag in England as the top American outfield player in the Premier League comes with a heavy sense of judgement every time something happens involving the U.S. Be it in sports, politics or anything else in-between.

Cameron has been on the frontline for five years.

“Guys here will always joke around and I say ‘hey, you wish you had this passport’ and I’m proud to hold the one I have,” Cameron said. “I am proud to be an American. I have an American flag tattooed on my arm because I believe in America, what we are as a country, how amazing the U.S. is and the American dream, a dream I’ve always dreamed. People have their different opinions and thoughts and that’s fine. What makes our country so great is that we are able to have our own opinions and the freedom to voice them. No opinion is wrong and no opinion is right. If I come out and say I am more conservative, does that mean I’m bad or wrong? No. It’s what I believe in.”

Last month Cameron was asked for a statement by a U.S. media outlet on his beliefs about the recent travel ban imposed by President Trump.

“My comment was set up in a negative context, with an opening line that set a negative tone,” Cameron said. “It suggested that my statements were about religious beliefs, which is a total misrepresentation of me and all that I believe and stand for. It left room for people to believe that I was coming from a place of malice and that couldn’t be further from the truth. At the end of the day, I, along with my family and friends – the people that truly know me – know who I am and where I stand.”

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Ahead of the two big World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama in 12 days time — Cameron will won his 50th cap on either of those games — the USMNT star is totally focused on national interests on the pitch and securing two big wins.

“Like I said, the most important thing for me is going into these games [World Cup qualifiers] and focusing on that,” Cameron said. “I know I am going to get asked questions about this. My response will be that I’m not here to talk politics, I’m here to play a game. If you want to talk about the game, let’s talk about the game.”

Talking about the game, Cameron has had a tough time over the past four months.

He suffered an MCL injury against Hull City in October and has only just returned to the pitch after a long, hard road to recovery where nothing seemed to be working.

“Throughout my career I’ve been pretty healthy, knock on wood,” Cameron said, tapping his fingers on the counter top in his kitchen. “I had a pretty serious injury in 2010 when I did my PCL and MCL and I’ve had some little niggles throughout the years but those happen when you’re playing sports. I would say this one was the most frustrating because it wasn’t getting better. It was frustrating because there were days when I felt great mentally and physically but as soon as I started doing things, I couldn’t do it. Kicking a ball or cutting, I still had pain, the same pain I had when I first did the injury. The most frustrating part was that it happened with the last play of the game against Hull. The referee blew his whistle and the guy pushed me and landed on my knee and my knee went outwards and I didn’t think any of it. I tried to get back for eight or nine days until the next game and I didn’t train all week and I trained the day before the game and it wasn’t good. I still felt the same pain.”

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That led to Cameron traveling to the USMNT’s January camp, linking up with new head coach Bruce Arena for the first time, to try something different and meet the U.S. team doctor.

“One or two weeks led into two months, then two months led into three, and then three to four. It got to a point where I wanted to seek out another opinion, and it wasn’t about Stoke City or anything like that, it was just me trying to see it from a different perspective,” Cameron said. “I think the visit to the States helped me, I was able to see our national team doctors and they gave me a different perspective and a couple of injections in a different area and it seemed to help me out. I came back and had one or two more injections after that I was okay. I still get bits of achiness here and there but that’s normal being out for four months and then being able to train for a week and a half, then playing two games in four days.”

Has this been the most frustrating time in Cameron’s career so far?

“It was definitely the most frustrating time in my career but what hurts you only makes you stronger and I’ve been there before, but this was the most difficult because it was one thing after the other. I got sick, then I had a tooth problem and I was still dealing with the injury, it just wasn’t good. It was one thing after another and I just felt like… you get depressed a little bit because the only thing you want to do is play,” Cameron said. “That’s where you can take your frustration and anger out and your feelings out a little bit. You don’t really have that outlet because you are not able to play in training. You go into training every single day and it’s like Groundhog Day. You are not getting the reps you want, you are not getting the reps out on the pitch, seeing the guys train. You are missing Boxing Day. You are missing the busiest time of the season.”

Cameron revealed that the biggest challenge was to overcome the mental aspect of not being able to play every day.

“There were times when I lost my head. I just needed to get away,” Cameron explained. “I talked to the gaffer a couple of times and he knew how frustrated I was because he was asking me how I was feeling and I’d say I wasn’t getting any better. He knew how bad I wanted to get back but it just wasn’t getting better. We didn’t know what the answer was. It’s a very, very uncommon injury. It rarely happens. Talking to surgeons, they are very rare. It just takes extra time and time you don’t want to give up as a footballer. When you lose time you’re missing games and minutes and that allows someone else to come into the position. The only thing I wanted to do was play.”

Now, to his relief, Cameron is back playing.

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After a brief run-out at Tottenham he was thrown straight in to back-to-back 90 minutes in the space of four days as Stoke beat Middlesbrough and got an impressive draw at Manchester City last Wednesday. Stoke now host Chelsea at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as they look to stun the Premier League leaders and keep their push for a top eight finish going.

“I just wanted to play, man. I wasn’t even planning on traveling to the Tottenham game but I think Jono [Jonathan Waters] pulled up injured and I was fortunate and the gaffer said ‘Geoff, you looked well. We wanted to get you another week of training to get ready for Middlesbrough.’ I came on and the game was sort of already lost, and he just said get your fitness in and get out there and get a run in. We go home to my first game and I wasn’t expecting to start. I was expecting to hopefully get 20 or 30 minutes and I started and I felt like I was trying to pick up where I left off before I got injured. I was probably playing my best football, especially in the center of the park where I am most comfortable and most confident in that defensive role. I just tried to go in there and ease myself into it and sit in my role and my position, and that helped me adjust and get the 90 minutes under my belt.

“It was a quick turnaround with the City game. Usually I have no problem playing two games in that short span. I take care of my body and I’m very professional off the field. My fitness has always been great but it’s just a case that your muscles aren’t used to wear and tear so quickly. It takes a little longer to recover. I was just happy that I was fit enough to play against Man City and it was a huge result for us to get a point out of there. No one expected us to get a point out of this game, especially with these next two games. That’s why it was such a vital game against Middlesbrough to get three points to go into the two toughest games against Manchester City and Chelsea, who are arguably the two best teams in the league. Getting a point out of City is huge and we are looking to get three points this weekend against Chelsea.”

Are Chelsea the best team in the Premier League by quite a distance? Can anyone catch them?

“I wouldn’t say quite a distance. I haven’t played them yet this season. Just looking at them and watching them on television, for sure. They seem to be firing on all cylinders,” Cameron said. “They are playing some of their best football. They are not playing European games. Players are fresh and they aren’t traveling. Their main focus is on the Premier League and that’s helped them out this year. Tottenham, for me, is a team which is going to challenge them. Hopefully they will make the league a little bit more interesting at the end of the season. Their movement off the ball, they are quick, fast and they pressure. I’m sure that’s very similar to Chelsea but if we perform like we did against Man City and everybody works together as one I think we will be okay this weekend.”

For Stoke, they’re currently where they usually find themselves: ninth place.

Mark Hughes has guided the Potters to three-straight ninth place finishes in the Premier League and although they’ve had an up and down 2016-17 campaign, they’re still hopeful of catching Everton in seventh place.

“That’s the goal. To finish higher than we did the last couple of years. We would like to make the Europa League spot and just finish higher. We are set to beat our points record from last year and I think we are very close to where we were last year in points and we have a lot of games left,” Cameron said. “We break the season down into periods of where we can get points in certain areas. I think we are pretty close to that. Our main goal is that you always want to finish better and always want to improve on every year but finishing in the top 10 this year is even tougher than last year and the year before. This year, all the big boys are in it and teams around have improved their squad and they are in it. From 10th to 7th it is all pretty tight, then the teams behind us are just around the corner as well. It is all up for grabs and it should be set for an interesting end to the year.”

Cameron is now 31 years old and is contracted at Stoke through the end of next season. After Clint Dempsey and Brian McBride, he has the most appearances for an American outfield player in Premier League history and could overtake McBride’s total of 148 PL appearances by the end of this season.

When you look around at West Brom’s Gareth McAuley still playing regularly at 37 years old and John Terry hanging in there at Chelsea, how long can Cameron keep playing in the Premier League?

“As long as my body allows me. I’d like to stay here as long as I can. If the situation is right with my contract and everything. I love it here, playing in the Premier League. It is an amazing feeling,” Cameron said. “Not many people come over here and play right away. A lot of people can say, ‘oh, I can play over there’ but they’re not. I’m here and I’m playing in a number of positions, not just one. People will always have their opinions and people will doubt me no matter what but I think I have shown and proved to myself that I can play here at this level. I am going to stay here as long as I can and as long as they want me.”

Many have lauded Cameron’s versatility as his main attribute as he’s played at center back, right back and in central midfield for Stoke over the past five seasons in England but this season he’s made the holding midfield role his own at Stoke when he’s been available.

What’s been the biggest improvement in his game since he arrived in the Premier League in 2012? Turns out familiarity breeds success.

“Everything. All around. Technical ability. Thought process. Speed. Endurance. Strength. Mental toughness. Awareness. All of that comes into play with experience. Knowing how to deal with games in certain situations in certain moments,” Cameron said. “The way you deal with that and get experience is by playing and putting yourself in those situations and those moments. This is my fifth year and you learn and lot. In your first year, especially, then it just becomes a natural thing. Then you kind of just see things which are very similar and keep happening over and over again and you get certain situations which are new in a game which you learn from whether you lose or win.

“You learn from the gaffer, you learn from your teammates and certain things they’ve experienced. It could be that at a particular moment we say ‘hey we need to tighten things up and buckle things up. We are starting to get exposed a little bit.’ You change your positioning a little bit. All of that plays it part. I think over the last five years I’m growing as a player and I’m improving and I have more to improve. I’m only going to get better.”

Life has been getting better off the pitch too. Cameron has a new dog, Duke, who playfully interrupts our discussion on many occasions as he glances upwards with a tennis ball in his mouth. As well as adding Duke, Cameron’s family have been over to visit from Massachusetts plenty in recent months. Despite his love for his homeland he’s happy in England and he’s often at traditional British sporting events with teammates, soaking up the culture whenever he can, and he flicks the remote from FA Cup games to Premier League to La Liga to Scottish games on television.

“It’s been five years… I’ve got a new family member with Duke. An German Shepherd-Malinois mix. It is fun, man. I grew up with dogs and I’ve always wanted one and I just wanted to do it. Especially being injured for those four months, I think it helped me out a lot. Mentally it distracted me and gave me something to look forward to every day, going to the park and walking him and seeing him run because that was something I couldn’t do,” laughs Cameron. “He brought a smile to my face. He is a man’s best friend. It is an old saying but a true saying

“He is an amazing dog. Days like this on a Sunday, just relaxing, watching TV and then taking him for a walk in the morning and the evening, playing ball with him in the morning in the park and hanging out with him all day, it’s just great. It was a positive light during a tough, difficult time. My Dad was just over here for about a week and a half and he got to meet him and I’m excited to take Duke home for the summer for a month or two so he can meet my parents’ dogs and have some fun.”

Despite having fun with Duke on lazy Sunday’s, Cameron’s mind is never too far away from politics and the country he loves and represents.

Interesting times lie ahead.

“There are things I disagree with when it comes to President Trump and there are things I agree with. No matter what, he is the President of the United States of America,” Cameron said. “As an American, we need to come together and have some reconciled agreement to say ‘hey, he’s our President. It’s no one else, it’s him.’ We need to support this person and hope he does well and hope he proves that he is a positive guy and he wants to make America great again. Not wish that he fails and wish that he does bad. What does that do? That’s like saying, let’s burn this place up and you’re in it. Because you are an American and you’re living in the country, let’s hope he fails and be part of that failure… No. You want to make sure he does well and hope that he does well whether you agree with him or disagree with him and that was my statement.”

“As an American soccer player for the national team, the most important thing I’ve seen is that we always do well in tournaments. We always do well, as a team. We believe in each other and whether you are white, black, Hispanic, Asian whatever ethnicity or religion, that doesn’t matter. Because we are here representing America, we come together and we work for one another. That’s what we’ve done throughout the history of playing soccer. Why don’t we do that as a nation off the field? It doesn’t matter. We should care about working together as one. That’s it.”

Pro Soccer Talk will be speaking in-depth with Geoff Cameron early next week about the USMNT’s upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Chelsea’s Conte wins pair of top managerial honors

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Antonio Conte took league and national honors from the League Managers Association on Monday night.

The Chelsea boss was named Premier League Manager of the Year and Manager of the Year after leading the Blues to the PL title and an FA Cup Final in his first year on the job.

Brighton and Hove Albion boss Chris Hughton nabbed another Championship boss of the year award after leading the Gulls to the Premier League. He also won the honor with Newcastle United in 2010.

The League One winner is Chris Wilder of Sheffield United. Wilder won the honor with Northampton Town last season.

In League Two, Paul Cook of Portsmouth was named the winner.

Report: Southgate to leave Rooney out of England squad

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The Times is reporting that Gareth Southgate will not call Wayne Rooney up for England’s World Cup qualifier against Scotland and friendly versus France next month.

Rooney has played in about half of Manchester United’s matches this year, scoring eight goals and adding 10 assists in 38 appearances.

He’s England’s all-time leading goal scorer with 53 in 119 caps since his debut on Feb. 12, 2003.

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A knee injury kept him from England’s last two matches, and Rooney scored just twice in 2016 for England.

Rooney will likely need to leave Manchester United for any hope of rejuvenating his England career, but the absence doesn’t necessarily spell the end for him, as evidenced by Jermain Defoe‘s recent England revitalization.

“The Moment” of each Premier League team’s season

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Sometimes the moment that defines a Premier League team’s season is a turning point. Other times it’s a wonderful goal or a horrific mistake while others find that moment off the field.

Sometimes, that moment is easy to select  — See: City, Leicester — while others aren’t so simple.

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Arsenal – They fooled us again, you know? Arsenal ran through the Premier League following an Opening Day loss to Liverpool, not seeing another ‘L’ until a Dec. 13 loss at Everton. That one could count as a moment, but we’ll choose the following match. Raheem Sterling finished a classy Kevin De Bruyne pass to give the Gunners’ two losses in a row, and Arsenal wouldn’t beat a PL contender until toppling injury-hit Manchester United on May 7.

Bournemouth – Eddie Howe‘s bunch were winless in seven and trending downward when it arrived at Old Trafford on March 5. Marcos Rojo put United ahead in the 22nd and ex-Red Devil forward Josh King leveled via penalty in the 40th. The Cherries seemed doomed when Andrew Surman was sent off in the 45th, but somehow held on to grab a point (A missed Zlatan Ibrahimovic penalty didn’t help things). Bournemouth won its next two, then drew Liverpool and Southampton en route to a top half finish.

Burnley – The Clarets can thank Mike Dean for their signature moment, a 1-0 win via a handled Sam Vokes effort that moved Burnley into ninth place in the league. Ninth place for little old Burnley. Sean Dyche‘s club would stay up. Now where will it go?

Chelsea – The Blues led the Premier League after August, but had dropped to eighth by the end of September. By the start of November, Chelsea sat fourth in the table. Everton arrived at Stamford Bridge, and the Blues absolutely throttled the Merseyside club. Eden Hazard scored twice, the first moments before Marcos Alonso made it 3-0, and both Diego Costa and Pedro had also scored before the match was through. 5-0 spelled the fifth-straight win, and the Blues went on to win a historic 13-straight PL games.

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Crystal Palace – This one’s pretty easy. With respect to Sam Allardyce‘s record of not being relegated as a manager, Palace opened the vaults to buy Patrick Van Aanholt and Luka Milivojevic, also scooping Mamadou Sakho on loan from Liverpool. The club was already talented in attack, so the January window was the “moment of the season” for Palace.

Everton – It was a season, or at least half-season, of “so close” for Ronald Koeman‘s men. It didn’t get much clearer than the match that followed the Toffees’ second loss in the Merseyside Derby. Everton looked set for a rebound and a win at Old Trafford when Ashley Williams’ handled Luke Shaw’s stoppage time shot to allow Zlatan Ibrahimovic a penalty kick that stole a point for the Red Devils.

Hull City – Unsure if this counts as “the season”, but Steve Bruce quitting the club three weeks before the season because of a lack of transfer ambition (amongst other things) spelled doom for the club far before Marco Silva nearly saved their season.

Leicester City – Firing Claudio Ranieri was a massive risk. The Foxes had posted the most remarkable season in world soccer less than a year before cutting ties with the Italian. While some — like me — would argue that transfer pick-up Wilfred Ndidi was the real reason for the turnaround, it also coincided with the managerial change.

Liverpool – The Reds had a knack for playing like results were expected against lesser lights, and late conceded goals are easy to find when reviewing their season (See Swansea below). It happened against powerful Manchester United, but it also happened against Sunderland. Jermain Defoe scored the second goal of his brace in the 84th minute to cost the Black Cats two points… again.

Manchester City – Pep Guardiola led City to six-straight PL wins at the start of the season, but could only watch as Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs bettered him 2-0 at White Hart Lane to drop City to 6-1. It was one of just six losses on the season, five of which came away from the Etihad Stadium. That away form didn’t impress Guardiola, and it didn’t help City chase the title.

Manchester United – While their moment may still be coming in the form of Wednesday’s Europa League Final against Ajax, we’ll go with Jose Mourinho’s first tournament win with United: the EFL Cup Final. NBC analyst Robbie Earle often talks about good teams needing to find a way to win when they aren’t at their best, and United did it at Wembley. It could be a harbinger of what’s to come.

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Middlesbrough – Boro went to West Brom on Aug. 28, unbeaten in a pair of PL matches. It remained unbeaten following the 0-0 draw, but the zero on its side of the scoreboard was extra significant for one reason: It was the first of a whopping 19 times that the Smoggies were kept off the scoreboard, including seven scoreless draws.

Southampton – Most of these moments are related to Premier League play, but the perfect summation of Saints’ up-and-down season may be the EFL Cup Final. Many believe Saints were the better side that day, only to fall short. The same can be said for their Europa League campaign. But results matter, and Saints didn’t make it back to Europe via either route.

Stoke City – Mark Hughes‘ bunch suffered through a slow start to the season, going winless in seven matches. And every time the Potters started to build a head of steam, it would find a hiccup like this 1-0 home loss to Bournemouth. But let’s not dwell on the negative, instead focusing on Stoke’s vibrant fan base, and Peter Crouch giving his jersey to a man in a Speedo.

Sunderland – The Black Cats managed to take multiple steps back for every step forward, so it’s fitting that we mark the 4-0 loss at home to Southampton on Feb. 11. It followed a 4-0 win against old manager Sam Allardyce and Crystal Palace and a scoreless draw against Spurs. Sunderland was battered by a pair Manolo Gabbiadini goals, and the loss started a run that saw the Black Cats manage points in a whopping three of its 14 remaining matches.

Swansea City – Swans could’ve crumbled after tossing aside a 2-0 lead to Liverpool at Anfield on Jan. 21, but Gylfi Sigurdsson‘s 74th minute goal started one of two winning runs that saved its Premier League status. Swans had never won in league play at Anfield, and Paul Clement had a result on which to hang his hat.

Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs lost just four Premier League matches this season, and responded to each with a PL win. Three of those were blowouts, and the fourth was a 2-1 May win over Manchester United. One of those bounce backs happened to be two weeks after a road loss to Liverpool and three days after Spurs were bounced from the Champions League by Genk, as Harry Kane scored one of his four season hat trick and Dele Alli also scored in a 4-0 demolition of Stoke City.

(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Watford – Every time the Hornets looked on the cusp of dipping into the relegation battle, Walter Mazzarri‘s men engineered an exit. The most gritty? Probably holding onto a 2-0 lead for a long spell with only 10 men to their credit in dispatching West Brom late in the season.

West Bromwich Albion – There’s a moment in every season which sees Tony Pulis‘ Baggies tease us with what they could do if they just allowed a little bit of open play to hamper their “Just Survive” mentality. This year it was a 3-1 win over Arsenal which begged West Brom supporters to imagine life in the Top Seven, only to let them down with another post-safety collapse. Woof.

West Ham United – The club offered fans the opportunity to bring in their old Dimitri Payet jerseys for a free replacement, but finding the player to fill his void wasn’t nearly that easy.

Hertha Berlin signs Australia forward Mathew Leckie

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BERLIN (AP) Hertha Berlin has signed Australia forward Mathew Leckie from relegated Ingolstadt for next season.

Hertha says the 26-year-old Leckie signed a contract on Monday, though it doesn’t give details of its length nor the transfer fee.

Kicker magazine reports that Hertha took advantage of a release clause in his contract at Ingolstadt and the club is paying around 3 million euros ($3.4 million) for his transfer.

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Hertha coach Pal Dardai says, “Leckie is a versatile player and has shown that he has the pace to bomb up and down the flanks, and that’ll benefit us a lot when it comes to attacking.”

Leckie has already played for Borussia Moenchengladbach, FSV Frankfurt, and Ingolstadt since switching from Adelaide United in 2011.

He has 39 appearances for Australia.