Cameron Lancaster is talking off the back of a sensational season. Not only did his side Louisville City win yet another USL Championship but he also broke the record for most goals in a USL season from a single player. His remarkable total of 25 league goals was more than double the amount he had managed in his previous two seasons combined.
His scintillating form did not go unnoticed as after four seasons with Louisville, he has joined fellow USL side Nashville ahead of them joining MLS in 2020.
“Gary Smith [Nashville’s English manager] was the first to show solid interest in me,” says Lancaster. “When the season ended we had some really good conversations and I really liked the ambition he had in building Nashville SC into a top MLS team.
“My expectations are pretty simple, we have to be the best team in the USL. Having that goal can only serve us well going into the MLS in 2020.”
There was likely to be a lot of interest in the former Tottenham Hotspur striker had he spent more time as a free agent but in joining Nashville, he has a path to the top of football in America. Although the club will be competing in the USL once more this season and Nashville players are not guaranteed MLS contracts for the year after it seems more likely that the 26-year-old will be playing top flight football in two years time.
He has in fact played top flight before though. Back in the 2011/12 season, Lancaster was breaking into the first team at Tottenham after a loan spell at Dagenham & Redbridge. He finally got his chance in January 2012 when he replaced Emmanuel Adebayor for the final 12 minutes of Spurs’ 3-1 win over Wigan Athletic.
On the scoresheet that day was Gareth Bale and Luka Modrić, however a certain Harry Kane. The future England hero was out on loan at Millwall at the time, with Lancaster ahead of him in the first team pecking order at the time.
Sadly, his appearance against Wigan would go on to be his only taste of competitive first team action for Spurs. Despite signing a new deal, injuries would play their part in preventing further appearances.
“It was great [being at Spurs] and sadly you only realise how great it was when you leave!
“At times I was [disappointed to not get more chances] but I was hampered with injuries soon after I signed. After getting back on the pitch in 2013 the manager had changed again so it was a struggle to get back into the first team picture, which was frustrating at times but that’s the life of a footballer.
“I still talk to a few of the guys that were in my age group growing up over social media sometimes but nothing more than that honestly. It’s always nice to see them doing well though.”
After being released by Tottenham at in the summer of 2014, the Camden-born forward was snapped up by League Two side Stevenage who would soon have future USL player Charlie Adams in their ranks on loan from Brentford.
Despite scoring his first senior league goal, Lancaster left the Boro after just five league matches and had a short spell at St Albans City in the Conference South. His first real taste of senior football was very different from his upbringing.
“Growing up at Spurs, you have all these top facilities and coaches at your fingertips and naturally some can grow comfortable in that environment. Heading down the leagues was a shock but that experience has helped me become a better player,” he says.
Having dropped further down the leagues, the forward was being increasingly frustrated at a lack of game time to help his recovery from injury but he was handed a lifeline after receiving interest from the States. USL side Louisville City were looking for a new striker ahead of their inaugural season and Lancaster fitted the bill.
“Dropping down to League Two, the manager I was playing for knew I needed time to get fit after my ACL injury and promised me that time. However that’s not how it panned out. I was only given a month to prove myself and even after scoring on my debut that wasn’t enough, so going to Louisville City FC on a trial was basically my last shot at a career.
“I knew I could impress enough to get a contract and thought it would be a great opportunity to start fresh, keep my head down and progress as a player without too many distractions. Thankfully with hard work, that happened.”
After securing a contract, he made his debut as a substitute in April 2015 but his comeback was short lived as disaster struck once more. His solitary appearance against Richmond Kickers would go on to be his only for the entire of 2015.
“It was awful honestly [getting injured], like I said, I just wanted to get my head down and work hard and then to be dealt that blow, it was crushing. The only comfort I took from it happening was my past experience with the injury. I knew I could get back on the pitch eventually, it would just take more time and hard work.”
Louisville kept faith with Lancaster and the following season he scored four times triggering a pattern and consistent improvement from the striker. Last year he doubled his tally to eight league goals before exploding this season. Finally becoming a regular starter, he repaid the club’s faith to hit an astonishing 28 goals in all competitions from 37 appearances. It was the impact the forward knew he could always make.
“I always had the confidence I could achieve the things I did this season, it was just about refining a few things with my body and getting the game time,” he says.
“In the off season I really focused on cutting a few things out of my diet and getting a better base fitness level. After I did that, I just needed the game time and thankfully with the goals I scored I was able to keep my place in the squad and get some momentum.
“It also helps playing with good players that know you as a player, some of the service I had was fantastic.”
It’s a modest response from the forward. It’s fair to say he didn’t need any service at all when he scored a stunning strike from 40 yards out against New York Red Bulls or when he scored a free kick he had absolutely no right to against Indy Eleven in the playoffs.
But of course, it was a team effort which secured Louisville’s second USL Championship in two years. In fact, that goal against Indy Eleven was his only goal in the playoffs as he missed the final, a 1-0 win over Didier Drogba’s Phoenix Rising, through injury.
After back-to-back titles with Louisville, Lancaster will be hoping for more of the same at his new side Nashville, in the USL and in MLS in the future.