After spending the majority of his career in large cities like Chicago, London and Glasgow, Carlos Bocanegra is getting used to life in the small coastal city of Santander in Spain.
"It's a nice lifestyle out there, I've seen the sun quite a bit already," he told Goal.com.
Bocanegra, the captain of the United States national team, joined Spanish second-division side Racing Santander on loan from Scotland's Rangers on the closing day of the European transfer window. It was a reluctant move as Bocanegra made it clear in interviews that he was more than settled in the Scottish capital. Rangers' demotion to the fourth division due to financial turmoil forced the central defender to search for a move to maintain his international career.
However, Bocanegra is excited for the opportunity to play in a different style of soccer than he's used to after years of being in more physical leagues, such as the Premier League, Ligue 1, the Scottish Premier League and MLS.
"It's nice to have some more of the ball. It's cool, I'm learning new tactics and things about the style that they play over there," Bocanegra said.
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Bocanegra's international commitments have conflicted with the Segunda Division schedule and he has had limited impact on Racing, starting in only three of the club's opening nine fixtures. Still, the 33-year-old is being counted on to be almost another coach for the club's young players.
Racing was a La Liga mainstay for almost a decade before being relegated last season. Many of the club's veterans left, looking to remain in the top division and according to Spanish newspapers, Bocanegra was partially brought in to provide a steady veteran presence on a young team.
Marca reported that the club was impressed by the fact the Bocanegra was one of the 11 players that helped the U.S. upset the top-ranked Spain side in the Confederations Cup in 2009. Spain had previously been undefeated in 30 games prior to that match and it is still in the memory of many of the team's players.
Racing is currently in 15th place in the Segunda Division and its chance of promotion looks relatively slim. Yet, the team has played better with the U.S. international. In Bocanegra's three appearances, the club worked its way to one of its two wins, and drew and lost in the other two matches. While Racing is benefiting from Bocanegra's experience, he believes that even in his 12th season, he is learning a few things by playing in Spain.
"When I went to England, I had to adapt my game a bit, France, the same. Now in Spain, it kind of helps me in becoming a bit more rounded," Bocanegra explained.
Though Bocanegra is adding new wrinkles to his game in Spain, he remains hopeful that things can eventually work out with Rangers. He admits that he misses the physical style of soccer played in the United Kingdom.
"I do miss some of the more physical nature of the Premier League," Bocanegra said. "Being able to mash and tackle, it's a bit more direct than [Spain's second division]."
He fondly remembers his first game in the Premier League.
"For me, the speed of play and the physicality, everything was just [heightened]," he recalled. "It was a Monday night football game at Newcastle in a away match."
He added, "I remember saying to myself, 'What the hell did I get myself into? This is crazy.' For me that was the biggest adjustment. You've got to rise to the level."
There is speculation that Rangers has a small chance of returning to the Scottish Premier League next season. Bocanegra is hoping that the rumors are true so that he can return to the club. If that doesn't happen then he will likely have to look for another move next summer. Either way, Bocanegra's current focus is helping Racing become a better team.
"At the moment, I'm enjoying this year," he said. "Obviously, when it gets closer to the summer, I'm still a part of Rangers. I'd like to go back, I hope that stuff changes a bit there.
"I'm not thinking about it. I'm enjoying Spain. Next year is another thing."