Former New Zealand footballer, Cameron Knowles may not be a household name but is journey is one of challenge and adaptation. From the bumpy fields of Auckland’s North Shore to the stadiums of MLS and defending against the likes of David Beckham and Landon Donovan, Cameron was somewhat of a late bloomer – working hard to overcome his lack of technical development through persistence, effort and intelligence.
With four years of college football at the University of Akron (including two MAC Conference Championships) and a 7-year professional career that began at Real Salt Lake in 2005, Cameron experienced many ups and downs in his time as a player.
After two seasons in Salt Lake, he was cut from the roster. However, the Portland Timbers (then in USL Division 1) came calling and Cameron played with the team for four seasons between 2007 and 2010. A brief stint at Montreal Impact in 2011 was the last stop in Cameron’s professional playing journey after a serious leg injury brought the curtain down on a career defined by strong work ethic and sacrifice. Now an Assistant Coach at the Portland Timbers, Cameron gives The Player Development Project insight into his development and the journey that took him from grass roots in New Zealand to the big cities of the USA.
PDP: Why did you start playing?
CK: My brother played at our local school and I just tagged along with him. From there I got involved with junior soccer at Glenfield Rovers and once I was in it, never fell out of it, I played as much as I could.
PDP: Going back to your earliest memories, where were you playing most of your football?
CK: Most of my football was organised. There were always those primary school games at lunchtime where we would muck around and it would be all in, 20 versus 20. However, when it came to organised football, the main memory is bumpy, waterlogged fields, either at Glenfield Rovers or all around the North Shore. Glenfield did an excellent job of keeping the same people involved year after year. I actually had the same coach for a very long time, a guy called Kel Munro. We went through the same age groups with basically the same squad. We stayed together from the age of 8, right through to 17, which made things very stable and kind of comfortable.
PDP: Do you think staying with those players and that team for so long is quite unique?
CK: Yeah, I think so. Normally with youth soccer in those days it was a case of someone’s Dad having a turn at volunteering to coach the team, then swapping with someone else, but we had the same coach and the same assistant coach for a long, long time. It was a really stable group of parents too, including one parent who refereed every game. The plan was really consistent from year to year.
PDP: How would you compare playing in the club environment to playing in representative teams?
CK: It was really different, but when you were with the reps it was a full-time environment, so despite not being as connected to the whole team, you would still get one or two players who you were close with. They’re friendships I still have today. The current Loyola University coach is a friend of mine from those days and I saw him only recently in Portland and we laughed about how we both ended up in the USA after growing up on the North Shore of Auckland and playing together as 13 or 14-year-olds.
…after I arrived in the USA… I had to compete against better players. I had to be smart. I worked hard, tried to be a leader.
PDP: Did you have any real role models growing up?
CK: Most of my role models were within my club – guys who were a couple of years older than me, or first-team players when I made the reserve team. I also remember being a ball boy and thinking that being in that first team was the ‘highest level’. When I got older and learned more about the All Whites [New Zealand national team] of 1982 who made it to the World Cup in Spain, I understood more about Wynton Rufer [Werder Bremen], a Kiwi who had gone overseas and had been incredibly successful. I realised that he and other New Zealand footballers, were guys I could look up to. Shortly after that realisation, I played under him for New Zealand.
PDP: How would you describe your playing style?
CK: Aggressive! To be honest, I didn’t feel I had a lot of technical quality, especially after I arrived in the USA when I had to compete against better players. I had to be smart. I worked hard, was very fit and tried to be a leader.
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