Of all the absences from the U.S. national team for the upcoming set of World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico, Carlos Bocanegra's is the most glaring.
The U.S. captain, who has 110 caps to his name, was left off manager Jurgen Klinsmann's roster altogether, with his inactivity at Spanish club Racing Santander providing Klinsmann's justification. Bocanegra has not played since Feb. 2 at the Segunda Division side, and he was an unused substitute in the USA's World Cup qualifying loss at Honduras on Feb. 6.
Klinsmann told reporters on a conference call Monday that even though Bocanegra was left out, this is not the end of an era for U.S. Soccer.
"With Carlos I had several very good conversations over the last week," Klinsmann said. "The reason why he is not here is because he is simply not playing. He's not getting any minutes with Racing Santander, so he has no flow. He has no rhythm.
"He understands the situation. Carlos is still in our picture. This is not the end of his national team career. He understands that he is right now behind other players, that he's not in the starter picture."
With Bocanegra and injured teammate Steve Cherundolo out, the U.S. back line is thin on experience. Geoff Cameron's six caps are the most among the six defenders called in, and he, Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson and Matt Besler are the central defenders called upon to fill Bocanegra's void. Maurice Edu, who played center back in the USA's historical friendly triumph at Mexico in August, is also a candidate to step in even though he has been playing midfield on the club level.
Klinsmann refused to publicly name a captain in Bocanegra's absence, instead waiting to address the team first before announcing his decision, which he said he had made. Goalkeeper Tim Howard has worn the armband in Bocanegra's place before, but he is out with broken bones in his back. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones figure to be the leading candidates to guide the team on the field by taking the armband in the coming two matches.
As for Bocanegra, his standing with the national team won't figure to change until his club situation does. Klinsmann alluded to Racing Santander and the club going through four managers this season being "not a very stable environment" for Bocanegra. The 33-year-old defender is on loan with Racing Santander from embattled Scottish side Rangers until the end of the season, at which point Klinsmann is hoping a more productive move will materialize.
"[This has been a] very positive approach by Carlos, very professional, really shows great character of him," Klinsmann said. "So we'll play by ear over the next couple of months how his situation hopefully will improve then."