Cameron, U.S. men focused on silencing critics in crucial World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica

DENVER – Geoff Cameron has some memorable moments during his limited time with the U.S. men's national team. Some have been good, some have been bad, but one in particular has made him one of the Americans' biggest question marks.

In the 79th minute of the U.S.'s opener in CONCACAF's final round of World Cup qualifying last month, Cameron's indecision – coupled with miscommunication with goalkeeper Tim Howard – led to an easy tap-in, winning goal for Honduras' Jerry Bengtson and a loss of three points for the Americans.

It was poor communication between a relative newcomer in USA's central defense and a veteran keeper at best, sloppy defending at its worst, and the blunder put the Americans in a must-win situation against Costa Rica on Friday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City. It also made critics question whether Cameron was the appropriate choice to step into a position that had been held by Carlos Bocanegra during the past two World Cup cycles.

But coach Jurgen Klinsmann has faith in the 27-year-old Stoke City defender, so much so that he left Bocanegra off the roster and handed the keys to Cameron for Friday's qualifier and next Tuesday's showdown with rival Mexico in Mexico City.

"It's always going to be a story no matter what – positive, negative, feel free to hate on me, that's it," Cameron said following training on Wednesday. "There's always positives in the negative. And you can look at it and get down, but it's not going to do anything for you. People may say, 'Oh, he might not belong here.' Or 'he's a great player.' I don't care what they say because at the end of the day it's down to me and how I perform, and what I think.

"We know the situation and everybody wants to see us fail because it's a story for them. So, for us, we've got to go out there and take care of business. We know everybody's criticizing and saying certain things, but deep down we know that we're all sticking together as a team. It's us that come out here playing Friday night. No one else."

No one on the U.S. is blaming Cameron for the gaffe against Honduras. Nor are they blaming fellow defender Omar Gonzalez, who missed the slide to stop the easy goal, or anyone else on the defense. There's plenty of blame to go around for the Americans, who are the only team in the CONCACAF Hexagonal to have no points after the first round of games, but pointing fingers won't net the Americans a much-needed victory on Friday.

A series of team meetings have been held to discuss the harsh criticisms in the media, some coming from within the team according to a report this week. For the Americans, the plan is to finish in the top three of the group and earn a place in Brazil.

Friday's game against Costa Rica, which tied Panama 2-2 in its opener, is crucial for a young defense that's searching for just a shred of confidence. Cameron and his back four mates will be working with a new goalkeeper, Brad Guzan, who is stepping in for the injured Howard who is out with a back injury. Cameron knows that in order to get the defense back on track, he will have to be more like Bocanegra.

Cameron said during his few years with the national team that Bocanegra had been a great mentor. Now it's time to turn those teachings into a quality performance on the field.

"I've got to step my game up, be more vocal and be more of a leader on the pitch,” Cameron said. "Carlos has that presence, he has that experience from how many times he's gone through qualifying. He's been in the tough trenches and he's fought his way out and that's experience that you can't teach. You've got to learn it yourself. For us as a back four and as a team collectively, we've got to be moving on the same page, moving together as one. And that's something that we've been working on this week.

"We know it's a must-win, we know we have to take care of business. We just had a tough run lately. And you have those ups and downs and it's happened in the past and I'm sure it will happen again. For us, it's a matter of how we can turn the page and look toward this weekend and try to change everybody's mind."

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