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PSP talks to Dynamo M/D Geoff Cameron

(Photo: Courtesy of MLSsoccer.com)

Geoff Cameron scored the tying goal for Houston at PPL Park on August 6th. Since then, the Dynamo have only lost twice and have gone undefeated at home. Cameron has moved from the midfield to the back line and rejuvenated the Dynamo defense. The team has not lost with him in the back and they shut out both Dallas and Portland on the road (!). 

Cameron talked to PSP about the theory that Houston plays a simple crossing game, handling Sebastien Le Toux, defensive communication, and the atmosphere he expects at PPL Park on Sunday. But he started off by talking about how you handle a two-match playoff when you start on the road.

How do you set up when you have the first game (of two legs) away? Do you play for the tie?

I think with Dom [Kinnear] as a coach and how we like to go out, we’re going to go out and shoot for three points, obviously. If it’s a close game and going down to the wire, and it’s 0-0 and it’s towards the 75th minute, we might play tighter and everybody might play more reserved as you could say.

When you’re home you can push on guys, and you’ve got the crowd behind you, you’re playing on your field so you feel a bit more comfortable. Some guys feel a bit more comfortable when they’re in front of their home crowd. Saying that, we’re going to go there and try to get a good result and a good result is either a tie or a win on the road. We got a decent result against them last time we played and we’ve got a few different guys on the field now than we did then.

Decent result and a more than decent finish for you in that game.

Thanks, man.

In recent games, you’ve been moved further back but the offense hasn’t really changed. Have you noticed a difference in how the offense plays without you in there, since you were a big part of it before?

No, you know, Dom says keep doing the same thing. Get the ball wide, whip the ball in the box. We’ve got guys like Brian Ching, Carlo Costly, a guy like Calen Carr or Will Bruin, that can run in behind you and allow a guy like Luiz [Camargo] and Adam [Moffat] to slip those balls through. The kind of thing I used to do when I was in there.

Get the ball wide, whip the ball in the box.

But saying that, I’m paired up with Bobby [Boswell] in the back and we’ve had a pretty good partnership since then. I think we’re 6 or 7 games unbeaten in the back. So I think the back four is coming together pretty solid. Corey [Ashe] makes a run up and Bobby and I slide over. I don’t see a change in the offense, I think it’s still there, but I do see a change in the defense and I think we’re working for one another more collectively and we’re covering each other for mistakes compared to what we were earlier in the season where we were leaking goals a little bit or a mental mistake here and there. I think we’re trying to limit those mistakes and we’re doing a very good job now.

You talked about getting those balls into the box, and one consequence of that is the way you have to get guys in there and load up the box, which can leave you susceptible to the counterattack. How do you prepare for that as a defense and as a team?

That’s where us as defenders, center backs, we organize our team. If one side is all the way up, I’m going to drop back and slide to the left and be yelling at Adam Moffat to drop in the hole. You have to organize your defense on the attack. You look at a team like Barcelona. Their defense is always in good position and nine out of ten times the ball ends up going right back in there when it comes out.

You mentioned organizing the back while you’re on offense. Is that something you have had to learn to do? And how does [goalkeeper] Tally Hall help you with that?

Yeah, I think you always put trust in your goalkeeper to help you organize. Especially with me a guy who likes to make those runs forward. And Dom encourages me to make those long darting runs through the middle and to get in the attack. I do miss that and I think that’s what I’m pretty good at, getting the ball and trying to drive through. It makes it tough for the midfielders to either step up and try to defend me but once they step up I can play a ball through.

Saying that, that’s when the guys have to organize and get ready for a counterattack. And I think it’s something we’ve been working on, not that we practice on a regular basis, but we as a back four talk about it, about how we have to organize a bit better, even in those small sided games. When you talk the game is a lot easier, and that is one thing we do talk about.

Every time you hear about Houston, people talk about how you guys just get it wide and pound it in the box, get it wide, in the box. But you guys and Dom have been successful with it for a long time. There has to be something more creative at work there. Anything you can think of?

I agree, you can’t just send in crosses. You got a guy like Brad Davis who can whip a ball through on the outside. Then you got a guy like Colin Clark or Danny Cruz who can whip a ball through on the outside. But at the same time, any one of those guys can come through in the middle and combine with Adam or Luiz Camargo and use that to infiltrate the middle. But you can’t over-commit because if you over-commit you get beat.

Just little things you notice, where some defenders are quicker than others…

And I think that’s one thing where a guy like Carlo Costly can come in here and, he hasn’t been scoring a lot of goals, but he does a lot of things that are good on the ball and off the ball. He’s a big guy who can hold the ball up. It makes the defense have to drop back. Then a guy like Calen Carr can run in behind. So the defense has to be honest. You can’t overstep and push up because at the same time Brad can take a ball and whip it in the box and Carlo can run through.

So you have to be honest. You have to keep them on their toes. If things aren’t working on the outside, we might try to force it down the middle. The guys have a pretty good understanding of where we want to attack. Every game there is a gameplan that Dom goes over, that says this is where we want to use the crossing and if we can infiltrate here we can put the guys through like Calen and Will Bruin because they’re quick and fast. Just little things you notice where some defenders are quicker than others and maybe they want to go down the left rather than the right.

One thing on Carlo: His first game was against the Union when he came on as a sub. In Philly, we think Carlos Valdes is pretty fast but it looked like Carlo could keep up with him. 

He is deceivingly fast. You look at a guy like him and you think he’s just a big dude. But he’s a strong dude who can hold the ball up but once he gets going… it might take him a while. There’s a difference between fast, quick and just all around. He’s got smooth feet, he has really smooth ball handling skills for a guy like that.

Looking at Union strikers, you’re going to have to deal with Sebastien Le Toux. One thing he does that seems to give central defenders trouble is moving you guys around and keeping you out of place. Is that something you prepare for differently than you normally would?

No, that comes down to talking and communication. You have to be more aware of a guy like that. He’s been finding his form and he’s played well this year. You can’t give him space because if you do he’ll make you pay. And that’s just one thing you have to be aware of. You can’t give him time on the ball.

Sometimes you can get away with not talking, but this is a playoff game, man.

If he makes a run behind, you have to be screaming at your guy, ‘Hey! Hey! Drop! Drop! Make sure you’re staying with him! Stay with him!’ And sometimes you can get away with not talking, but this is a playoff game, man. You have everything to lose. So you got to go out there and make sure you’re on point with everything, and that’s communicating and talking.

Now when you go out there against a team playing with one striker or the second striker dropping deep like the Union do, as a center back how are you handling that? When are you stepping, when are you holding?

That’s where we have to talk to Adam and Luiz. More so Adam because he’s the holding center mid. So you’re going to tell him there’s that striker coming underneath you. If we’ve got Le Toux and whoever else is up there, you have to be aware of that guy dropping in the hold, receiving and then turning it. So that’s where the communication comes in, and if he goes into Adam’s area, you’ve got to say, ‘Hey Adam, drop left. Make sure you’re cutting off those angles that’ll make it harder for that guy to get involved.’ That just comes down to positioning your midfielders and making it hard for them to pass.

Some coaches like to set the team up at halftime or before the game and some like to talk a bit but let you go out and play and adjust on your own. How do you feel you guys handle it? Are you talking it out before the game and saying, ‘Hey Adam, that’s your area and if Le Toux is in there you have to pick him up” or is it done on the fly?

Adjusting on the fly and see what works, man. You can say anything on paper but everything will change in a game. You have to be ready for that. We’re a pretty good team and we adjust pretty quickly. If you see them move into a 4-5-1 or something like that you’ve got to tell the mids to drop a bit more because they’re coming at us. Little things like that where you have to adjust and you see things.

And Dom’s on the sidelines yelling at us and seeing things, because he sees things from a different perspective than we do. So you go in with a plan in mind with how you want to defend them but then the game starts and you have to adjust on the fly.

Leaving Le Toux aside, what do you concentrate on when you prepare for the Philadelphia Union?

They’re a team that goes til the 90th minutes. They play hard and they keep working and they’ve got a good coach and… I don’t want to give all our stuff away but you’ve got to contain them. They’ll be on their home field and it’ll be a playoff environment. We just played in Portland and we did fairly well with a crowd like that, and it’s are amazing. This is what you live for, this is what you do for a job. And it’s awesome. To go out there and play in an environment like that and play against a team that’s going to be thriving off their fans.

This is what you live for, this is what you do for a job. And it’s awesome.

And that’s what they’ll be doing because they want to get a result when we’re coming in there. So we have to be composed, we have to contain them. I’m sure we’ll have to weather the storm a bit when they come out flying and whatnot. But I think when we get the ball if we can control possession I think things will turn for us.

And finally, you guys lost to the Union on an early goal in a messy game at the beginning of the year. How have the Dynamo changed since then? 

We don’t have a main guy goalscorer, but we’ve got guys that can score all over the field. We’ve got centerbacks that can score, outside mids, outside backs, and you’ve got forwards that can score, where maybe one or two teams have maybe one or two guys that score. So we have a lot of guys that step up in big situations. We’re hoping one of the 11 guys that’s starting on Sunday will get a goal for us.

It’s that never-say-die attitude that, it sounds kind of cheesy and whatnot, but it’s the attitude we have, and we don’t stop.

It’s not like my first year here with the Dynamo where guys are like, ‘Oh, we’re down a goal? We got DeRo, he’ll pick it up.’ And guys just expect that out of him. Where, as individuals on the team, we look at one another and say, ‘We’re gonna step it up and we’re gonna do this.’ It’s that never-say-die attitude that, it sounds kind of cheesy and whatnot, but it’s the attitude we have, and we don’t stop. We’ve been cutting down on mistakes near the end and we realize that the stakes are getting tight and down to the wire, we compact everybody and make sure we’re going to come out of there with a result. I think that’s our frame of mind.

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