Next in our “The Matchelor” series is 23 year old forward Cameron Saul! Known for his big smile and some spectacular preseason goals, I sat down to find out more about the Brit wearing number 11.
Pictures: Brittany Hildreth
Tell us a little about your soccer journey, and how you ended up here in Greenville.
“My name is Cameron Saul, and I’m from London, England: a place called Edmonton, in North England. I’ve lived there my whole life with both my parents and two siblings. I started playing football pretty late, in comparison with most kids; a lot of kids in England start at five or six. I joined my first team when I was 11, I think. I learned the game pretty quickly. When I was 12, I joined Luton Town’s academy. At the time, they were in the Championship; I was there from when I was 12 until I was 16. In England, from the age of 16 until 18, it’s a scholarship system kind of the thing; they call it “college” but it’s actually like high school. I didn’t get offered an opportunity to do that, so at 16, I kind of fell out of the game-I stopped playing and focused on school.
So from 16 until about 18, I played a little bit, mostly non-league; what you would call men’s football. The level was very different. It’s not so much about the passing game; it’s all about winning. It’s a lot of grown men, aged 20-35, playing long balls. I was only 16, so physically, I wasn’t ready for that. I was at school still, doing my A levels. And then a friend of mine actually told me, “Hey, you know, you can go to America and continue playing.” In England, when you’re 18, that’s it: if you’re not in a club, realistically, your chance of playing professionally are pretty much none. And I still wanted to be a pro; it was everything I wanted as a kid. So I contacted a company called First Point USA, and they sorted everything out and took me on my first journey to America; I remember it was the 16th of August, in 2014, because it was a big deal for me.
I went to a school called Young Harris College in the mountains of northern Georgia, which was very different than life in London; it was a big culture shock. I was only there for about a year; things didn’t work out, I wasn’t really playing. And to be fair, when I went there, I hadn’t been playing a lot of football, so I wasn’t in the physical shape to compete. I then transferred to a school in Iowa called Waldorf University, and played 2 years there. That’s where I graduated from with my undergrad degree, and that’s where I really started playing a lot. When I graduated from there, I still had 1 year left to play, so I moved down to North Carolina, and went to Lenoir-Rhyne University, where I started my master’s degree in Public Health. I’m still actually enrolled there; I’ve been taking online classes while I’m here.
When I finished playing there, I heard about the tryouts in Greenville, and went. I remember it was a lengthy process; I was in constant contact with John after that. I remember getting a specific phone call while down in Florida in December, where he called me and said, ‘Hey, we want to offer you a deal.’ That was the moment that changed everything; it was what I had been working towards for my whole life. Obviously, I’ve been playing here, came in February, and haven’t looked back since.”
I noticed you’re listed as a forward with the Triumph, but I know you’ve also played midfielder.
“At the first two schools, I played as a midfielder. That last year at Lenoir-Rhyne, I was their number 9; that’s when the change happened. When I came to the tryout here, I was playing more as a forward. Honestly, I prefer being a forward. As a kid, even though I played in the midfield, I loved scoring goals. So now, I feel like now I have the opportunity to score more goals, and scoring goals is everything to me now.”
You were in Asheville last year; did that time there make you want to stay in the Carolinas, or do you think it just ended up that way?
“Honestly, Asheville’s a very special place to me. I played two years there over the summers. I went to Asheville in their inaugural year. The club was brand new; I got in contact with their coach, and he was really interested. He wanted to bring me in and announce me as their first signing. I didn’t know what to expect. It was in a city that I had heard loved soccer, but at that moment, I was still in Iowa, so going from there to North Carolina was a big unknown. I had no idea what Asheville was like.
I came down to Asheville in 2017, and absolutely fell in love. Not just with Asheville, but the mountains in general; I feel more comfortable in the mountains now than the city. So even in Greenville, I love the surroundings-this is where I feel really at home. And that’s one of the reasons I ended up doing my grad school at Lenoir-Rhyne; it’s an hour away from Asheville. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to stay in this North/South Carolina area. Asheville was huge for me; that’s what put my name on the map. One of the names I get a lot of stick for from the boys and all of my friends is that they call me “Mr. Asheville” so that’s something that’s stuck, and I absolutely love it. It was a really special experience.”
You talked about getting into soccer later than most; what was a skill you had to work harder at? I know there are probably kids who come to watch you and think you make it look so easy, but I think everyone has something they really had to work for; what was that for you?
“I was very fortunate; a lot of the technical aspects of football came pretty easy to me. But some of the physical and fitness components were what I struggled with. I really had to work hard-as a kid, I was the smallest. I didn’t have a lot of muscle on me or anything like that, and I wasn’t the fittest, so I really had to try hard to get fitter and be able to compete. So that was a lot of hours in the gym, and then running-people might not realize that’s a huge part of the game! You have to be able to run and compete and stay mentally focused for 90 minutes, because as soon as you start to get tired, you switch off, and mistakes happen. That’s why so many goals happen late in games. For me, it was about being disciplined and being in the best shape.”
I’m sure, along with that, came some mental toughness.
“Yeah, for sure; I would say that I really had to focus on my mental toughness. As a kid, you don’t realize how important that is. Growing up, I would say I was pretty mentally weak, and that’s something I definitely wish I had someone to tell me at a younger age, that a lot of things that I was struggling with could have easily been changed by just changing my mental game. But yeah, the physical aspect is what I had to work on the most; none of that came naturally to me. I think some guys have that and take it for granted, and just have to work on the skills, but for me, it was the complete opposite. I had all the skills, but had zero of the physical capabilities that everyone else had. But I was willing to do the work, and got a lot faster and a lot fitter. I think that’s a large part of how I’m here today.”
Now that you’re in Greenville, do you have any hidden gems or places you like to go?
“Honestly, people who know me, know I love food. For me, there’s a place in downtown called ‘Jamaica Mi Irie’-that’s my favorite spot, hands down. They’re all nice staff, and I get on really well with them; they’re big football fans, and they come to every game as well. My mom was born in Jamaica, so that’s the kind of food I grew up on. Not a lot of people know about the restaurant, it’s really small, but that’s my hidden gem. For me, it’s food restaurants. If you like spice, get a side order of beef patty. Then, get either the curry goat, or the chicken curry and roti. It’s delicious, and a spot I would recommend everybody check out.”
What are some songs or music you’re into right now?
“I’m actually a mellow guy, in that sense, so lately before games, I’ll listen to a lot of R&B and soul. I like some Khalid; he has an album called ‘Free Spirit’ that I have on repeat constantly. That and Drake; I’m a huge Drake fan.”
Do you have any game day rituals?
“On game days, I don’t like doing things. I know some people like to go and do stuff before a game; I either have to nap the whole day, or just lay in bed. People might find that boring, and it might be, but for me, I have to just be rested until the game. I’m kind of hidden away on game days. Typically, I wake up in the morning, watch whatever games are on, Premier League or Bundeslinga-unfortunately, because of the time zone, I have to wake up quite early to watch-and then there’s that gap where there’s nothing. Then I just listen to music. Other than that, when we’re playing at home, I do like to drive myself. It sounds weird; we have a carpool, but on a game day, I like being in control of everything that’s happening.”
Since you like driving, did you enjoy the BMW Driving Experience with the team?
“I didn’t realize how much joy I got from going fast! I can’t remember what cars exactly we drove; I was with Jake Keegan, and he went first-we did 3 laps each, in 5 or 6 cars. After my turn in the first car, he decided he didn’t want to come with me on the rest! It was a lot of fun; I didn’t know what to expect-I didn’t even know I was such a speed junkie! I remember after the experience, I was trying to find out where I could lease one myself! It was a lot of fun.”
I heard your top level club is Manchester United. What do you like about them?
“My dad is a Liverpool supporter, and one of my brothers is as well. They would always wake up and watch Liverpool. As a kid, I didn’t know much about football, and it would have been easy to just say that I’m also a Liverpool fan. But the first game I remember watching was Liverpool vs. Manchester United, and I decided, you know what, I’m going to go against my family and root for the other team! I didn’t know anything about the team, didn’t know how good they were or their history; I just wanted to be contrary. Turns out, Man United has been one of the greatest teams! So that’s how I ended up supporting them. When I really started watching them, they had players like Ruud van Nistelrooy, Ronaldo, Roy Keane…it was a great era to get involved with. And Sir Alex Ferguson! He was someone everyone spoke about, and I really looked up to him and wanted to play for him. I know right now, it’s not the best, but that’s why I support them. Obviously, I get a lot of stick for it, because I live in Tottenham, so I should support them, but I think I made a good choice.”
In a similar vein, what team, if you could play for anyone, past or present, would you want to play for?
“There are a lot of good teams! First, I would say, obviously I’m English. This England World Cup team, even though they weren’t successful; that’s the team I would have loved to play for. I was here this summer when they played in the World Cup, but the fever that team created back home was amazing. England over the past couple of years haven’t been that great, and a lot of fans have kind of given up, but the success that the team had kind of ignited the country. My mom and dad talked about flying me home, just so I could be a part of it! It was such a great feeling amongst the countrymen. So if I could be a part of the 2018 England squad that got to the semifinals, especially with such a young core of players, I would. Club team, it’s cliché, but it obviously the 99 Man United treble; it doesn’t get better than that. I don’t know what else I can say; they won everything. European dominance.”
Who has the best logo in the league (besides the Triumph)?
“I would honestly say Forward Madison. It’s so different! And after the game there, one of their fans had been giving me stick all game, and he gave me a little plastic pink flamingo, so I respect them and the atmosphere there was so different.”
So when a player is hearing all that yapping from a fan, does that get in your head at all?
“Personally, it makes me laugh. It’s great when a fan is giving me stick, as long as it doesn’t cross a line, being respectful. But if they’re doing it for a good time, and after the game we can appreciate each other, it’s great. It definitely motivates me to go do something, so he can go react. Having that sort of banter with the fans is great for me.”
Who do you think is your best looking teammate?
“I’ve got to say two. The boys are going to give me stick for these. I’ll say Max Hemmings, the sort of new guy: he’s English, a good friend of mine. He dresses well, his hair is always looking good, so he’s up there. And then Edmundo Robinson. They say we’re brothers. Sometimes his outfits are a bit questionable, but I think he’s up there as well.”
Finally: What Disney character are you?
“If I can go Disney and Pixar characters, I’d have to go with Buzz Lightyear. I grew up watching Toy Story, and to me, he was the kind of cool superhero. I’ve always had his toys as a kid, he’s got a great relationship with Woody, and friendships are important to me as well.”
Interview edited for clarity.
We at GVLSoccer would like to thank Cameron for his time and candor! Who should be the next interview on “The Matchelor,” and do you have a specific question for them? Let us know by tweeting Brittany or commenting on Facebook!