The former U.S. national team captain was phased out of Jurgen Klinsmann's plans a year ago, but he has no regrets as he turns his attention to Chivas USA.Sunday served as getaway day for the best American players in Major League Soccer. Players from across the league are converging in Arizona ahead of Wednesday’s U.S. national team friendly against Mexico.
One player who didn’t make that trip is Carlos Bocanegra. The former U.S. captain has spent the better part of the past year adjusting to life after the national team, having been abruptly pushed out of the picture by coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
After six straight years of making at least nine starts from 2007 to 2012, Bocanegra failed to make a single appearance in 2013. His national team career effectively ended with him sitting on the bench during a World Cup qualifying loss in Honduras on Feb. 6, 2013. That hot day in San Pedro Sula was the last time he would be part of the national team, something he has come to grips with nearly 14 months later.
“I had a great run for 10 or 11 years with the national team, and I was fortunate enough to stay with them and be a part of it and have some great experiences for a pretty long time,” Bocanegra told Goal USA in an exclusive interview.
“I told myself after the 2010 World Cup, thinking about whether I should stop or continue, and I said I’m going to go and give it my best until they tell me not to come in anymore. I don’t want to regret it and stop, and you know, I had some fantastic experiences after the World Cup.”
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Bocanegra’s U.S. captaincy continued in 2011 and 2012, including playing an integral role in helping the United States qualify to the hexagonal round of 2014 World Cup qualifying. His national team career ended abruptly, though, as he went from regular starter to being completely out of the picture as Klinsmann transitioned quickly to the next generation of center backs in Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez.
“They stop calling you in and it comes to an end for everybody,” Bocanegra said. “That’s how I looked at it. I gave everything for that team and I feel like I can hold my head up high and be proud, and say, 'You know what? I don’t have regrets.' It was them who told me they’re not bringing me in anymore.
If Bocanegra was unhappy with the way he was cast aside by Klinsmann, he won’t let on. Choosing to take the honorable route befitting a longtime captain, Bocanegra makes it clear he has no interest in ruffling feathers or distracting from the national team’s road to the 2014 World Cup.
“I don’t want to have any controversy going on,” Bocanegra said when asked about his sudden departure from the national team picture. “The team’s preparing for the World Cup and I want the U.S. to do well and everything going right. The boys in there at the moment are doing well. We finished first in qualifying and everything. We’ve got some good young players back there so it’s just a natural evolution.”
For now, Bocanegra is focused on helping his club team, Chivas USA, improve and early signs are that the Goats made considerable progress during this offseason.
“Getting players in here who are competitive and athletic has been key, because this league is pretty damn athletic,” Bocanegra said. “I think we’ve had 14 new players come in, so a completely new team. Now we’re just trying to jell together and get on the same page.”
Bocanegra returned to MLS last summer after a decade spent in Europe, and while he has settled in and established himself as a defensive stalwart on an improving Chivas USA team, he also finds himself playing in a much tougher league than the one he left in 2004.
“When the league’s started, there were a few more older guys who should have been on their way out and were able to make it on teams still,” Bocanegra said. “Now you don’t see that too much. You’re not seeing old guys coming over here. It’s physical and it’s hard. The younger guys and people from Central America and South America coming here and raising the level. You can’t just come over here at an old age and take it easy and get a paycheck.”
Bocanegra feels good about where he is as he prepares to turn 35 in May, with one year remaining on his contract after the 2014 season. He is already preparing for the future, though, having recently completed his B coaching license.
Bocanegra isn’t thinking about calling it a career, even after longtime U.S. teammate and close friend Steve Cherundolo recently announced his own retirement. Bocanegra will continue to play on, and even acknowledged that he would gladly accept a national team call from Klinsmann if the team still needed him.
“If someone goes down or whatever, a change of heart, they need me back in there and he thinks I’m playing well for my club team? Great,” Bocanegra said. “But if not? I’ll cheer on the team just like I would any other time.”
EDU READY TO RESURRECT NATIONAL TEAM CAREER
More than a year removed from having worn a U.S. national team uniform, Maurice Edu has turned a loan move to MLS into a springboard back into the national team picture.
Edu has seen his loan to the Philadelphia Union get off to a very impressive start, with his crisp passing and ability to read the game providing the Union a quality presence in central midfield.
“It feels really good. It’s been a while since I had a chance to play consistently and now I’m getting that opportunity here and I’m enjoying it,” Edu told Goal. “Going out every week and battling with these guys in this dressing room, and knowing that they have my back and I have theirs.
“It’s a nice feeling to be a part of a team where you’re respected, and guys can depend on you, and when you have that position to where the chips are down, or things are against you, guys can sometimes can look to you to be that guy to lift them a little bit.”
Edu joined the U.S. team in Arizona on Sunday, and could make his first appearance for the national team since last year’s World Cup qualifying tie against Mexico in Mexico City on March 22.
“I’m just going into camp with the same focus I’ve had here,” Edu said. “I’m feeling good, feeling confident about my play.”
As for getting the chance to play in another USA-Mexico match? Edu was understandably excited.
“I can’t remember the last time you could talk about a USA-Mexico game that didn’t have some excitement or draw a lot of attention.”
MLS WRAP WEEK 4 AWARDS
Player of the Week- Graham Zusi. The Sporting KC and U.S. national team midfielder turned in a dominating display, having a hand in all three goals in Sporting’s 3-2 comeback win against Colorado.
Team of the Week- Real Salt Lake. Shut down previously unbeaten Toronto FC, and outplayed the visitors from the north in impressive fashion.
Stoppage-Time Game-Winning Goal of the Week- Dom Dwyer. It was a week in which there were several options for this category, and with apologies to Lee Nguyen and Justin Meram, the nod goes to Dwyer. His blistering left-footed winner flew into the top corner of the net, beating Colorado goalkeeper John Berner to the near post and earning Sporting KC a valuable road victory.