Stoppage Time: Carlos Bocanegra prioritizing club success over national team return

The former captain of the U.S. team, who hasn't been called up since earlier this year, spoke with Goal about his decision to join Chivas USA and his international future.
Over the past few months, the United States national team has seen a reemergence of several of long-time absentees, especially in this summer's Gold Cup.

Landon Donovan has undeniably been the tournament's standout performer with five goals and seven assists. That, paired with the return of Alejandro Bedoya and Stuart Holden, has led to an unstoppable U.S. team as it heads into the Gold Cup final on Sunday in Chicago. Even Oguchi Oneywu had a brief cameo. But there's one integral U.S. player who has been noticeably left out of the team:

Carlos Bocanegra.

The former USA captain hasn't made an appearance for the national team since its 2-2 away draw against Russia. He was controversially benched in the Stars and Stripes' opening Hexagonal game of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying against Honduras and unceremoniously lost his armband to Clint Dempsey a month after. Still, Bocanegra's loyalty to the U.S. team hasn't waned.

"The biggest thing is that I'm always going to be supporting the national team whether I'm there or not," Bocanegra explained to Goal. "I've had a fantastic nine years with them and if it [another call-up] comes up again with them, I'd be thrilled."

Bocanegra has paid close attention to the USA's results and is encouraged by the team's strong depth. On a team built primarily on unproven talent along with some key veterans, Bocanegra has been impressed with the amount of players who have shown hunger and desire to prove themselves in the Gold Cup.

"I think guys like Alejandro Bedoya have shown up and helped themselves out," Bocanegra said. "When guys get an opportunity, they have to take it. This is a great opportunity for some of the younger guys.

"And the team is doing well, which is great because the team did well over the summer with the qualifiers and has built off that and made a fantastic run in the Gold Cup. Hopefully we can win on Sunday in Chicago and we bring another Gold Cup title home and be on top of the region, which would be great."

Some of the younger talent that has stood out for the United States in recent months has come in Bocanegra's position at center back as Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez and Geoff Cameron have all made strong cases as regular members of the team. Though their performances might threaten Bocanegra's chances of making a third trip to the World Cup next year, he insists that he is in no rush to reassert himself into the national team.

His focus is on his new club, Major League Soccer's controversial Chivas USA.

Over the past three years, Chivas USA hasn't produced much in the way of results on the field but has certainly made headlines off of it. The club is being accused of discriminatory hiring practices, which was featured on HBO's Real Sports on Tuesday. It has cycled through head coaches the way Anthony Wiener goes through online screen names, running through three managers in the past two years. Chivas USA has an abysmal 19 wins since the start of the 2011 season.

At first glance, it is puzzling why a veteran of Bocanegra's stature would join the team. But upon further examination, the move makes perfect sense. Bocanegra gives the troubled club a leader who can change the culture in the locker room. Thankfully, he appears to be motivated by turning the team around.

"Chivas made a big push for me and I thought that was pretty cool," Bocanegra stated. "They expressed how much they were interested in me. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but it was something that I was looking forward to."

Bocanegra made an immediate impact in his debut with Chivas USA. The Goats, who have the worst defense in MLS, held a clean sheet and got their fourth win of the season against Toronto FC in 1-0 result. Toronto might not be a title contender in the league, but Bocanegra believes that each win will help the moribund franchise rebuild its confidence. Bocanegra's hunger to fix Chivas USA is admirable considering his circumstances over the past few months.

It wasn't easy for Bocanegra to leave storied Scottish side Rangers and he isn't shy about professing his love for the club and its fans. There is speculation that he wanted to remain with the club in Glasgow even though it was in the third division of Scotland, a move that would have effectively ended his international career, and Bocanegra hints that his exit wasn't entirely his choice.

"It was a huge decision for me to leave Rangers," he said. "Obviously, they didn't want to be paying first-division wages in the third division. So it was a little tough from that point [to make it work]."

As hard as the decision was, Bocanegra is excited about his chance to return to MLS especially considering that he has an opportunity to play in Southern California near where he grew up. As for his national team future, everything is still up in the air.

Bocanegra revealed that he had a chat with U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann just before the summer to discuss his status with the team. While Klinsmann has stressed in his discussions with the media that the 34-year-old center back needs to get consistent club minutes to move back on the national team, Bocanegra explained that the conversation didn't deal with that.

"He didn't go that far," said Bocanegra. "He knows what I can do on the field and I'm not really concerning myself with that at the moment too much. I'm concentrating here with Chivas. If he wants to call me back in, obviously I'd come in and that'd be great.

"But I'm not concerning myself with that and it's not my main priority. I've got to concentrate on my job here."

If Bocanegra can succeed in changing Chivas USA's fortunes, he'll definitely deserve another shot with the United States.

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Free Kicks:

- Jurgen Klinsmann's vision for the United States is on display in the Gold Cup: Nineteen goals for, four conceded. Klinsmann has never strayed from his belief that the USA should be more assertive on offense and gut teams that aren't as talented. For the first time in his tenure, U.S. fans are seeing that.

Yes, you can complain that CONCACAF opponents aren't on the level of their counterparts in more competitive regions. But the United States is doing what it's supposed to, thoroughly dominating each team and playing attractive soccer.

Furthermore, the USA has shown an unprecedented level of depth that hasn't existed under previous managers. The team is now at least two deep in each position, something that couldn't be said in the past.

I'm not ready to name the United States a World Cup contender, but I can say with confidence that the team has made major strides since Klinsmann's arrival almost two years ago.

- Chepo has to go: Jose Manuel de la Torre's first two years with Mexico were jaw-dropping. The team played exceptional soccer. So I understand the FMF's reluctance to let him go. Still, Mexico has been figured out and he has been reluctant to adapt his team to the tactics commonly employed by its opponents. Unless you're Spain or Brazil, there are times where the gameplan sometimes has to be changed to determine tactical advantages.

I don't think that Chepo has lost faith from the Mexican international players but he hasn't shown the ability to improve the team over the past few months, and this is a terrible time for Mexico to be struggling. Panama has an excellent coach in Julio Dely Valdes, but let's be honest, Mexico should be playing on Sunday.

- Summer music has been disappointing: First, it was Wale's overhyped album, The Gifted. Then came Kanye's so-so Yeezus and I'm not even going to mention Jay Z's decent at best album. At least Phoenix's Bankrupt! has been solid.

- It's been a while but Stoppage Time is back: Between vacation and Gold Cup, haven't had much time to submit columns and features but will be more consistent for the next few months. 

- Excited to be heading to Chicago for the first time this weekend: Where are the must-eats? Best local brews?

What to watch:

Gold Cup Final: United States vs Panama, Sunday 4 p.m. ET

Duh, unless of course you're a fan of El Tri. Sorry.

You can also take a look at our International Champions Cup coverage as that starts next week.