When the 2010 World Cup came to an end for the United States, and fans began thinking ahead to which players would still be around to contribute four years later at the next World Cup, two players who didn’t get much consideration were Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo.
It didn’t seem to matter that Cherundolo was one of the US team’s best players in South Africa, or that Bocanegra was still the best defender in the pool. The fact that both players will be 35 when the next World Cup kicks off made it seem all but impossible for them to play a role.
We stand two years from the next World Cup and both players haven’t gone anywhere. Neither chose to retire after the last World Cup, and both continue to be the best players at their respective positions for the United States.
That hasn’t stopped lingering questions about their age, and about how much longer Bocanegra and Cherundolo will remain starters. It isn’t a concern within the US camp, where both defenders are still highly regarded.
“Everyone wants to say this, that and the other, but find someone better,” said US goalkeeper Tim Howard. “When you find someone better, then okay, put them in. Right now they’re the best at those positions, and they are there for a reason.
“If there’s a better right back, if there’s a better centerback, then get them and find them and put them in,” Howard said. “I think they’re doing a lot of things right, and that’s why they’re keeping their positions and are playing consistently.”
Bocanegra remains the top centerback option for Klinsmann and has continued to show the qualities that have made him a starter at the past two World Cups. If anything, a bigger question at centerback has been who will line up next to Bocanegra rather than whether the Glasgow Rangers defender will still be a viable option two years from now.
Bocanegra has no plans of giving up his place on the national team, and still has the 2014 World Cup in his sights.
“My body feels good and I want to keep playing,” Bocanegra said. “I want to play at the highest level for as long as I can. We have good guys around us, it’s a good team environment, so I enjoy being here.
“On the field, I can still train and do everything every day,” Bocanegra added. “As long as I can do that, I feel like I put my body out there and I give myself a chance.”
Cherundolo’s continued role as a starter has raised a few more questions because of some younger options coming up the pipeline. Whether it’s Tim Chandler (whose national team future seems up in the air at the moment) or Eric Lichaj, who enjoyed a strong run at Aston Villa this year, the national team has some promising options at right back who could test Cherundolo’s hold on the spot.
For his part, Cherundolo is coming off an outstanding season with German side Hannover 96, and remains a steady presence at right back for the national team. Chandler seemed like a player capable of providing an imminent threat to Cherundolo’s starting spot, but his seeming lack of commitment to the US national team makes Cherundolo look like an even safer bet to hold down the position for the foreseeable future.
As for whether Bocanegra and Cherundolo are showing signs of diminishing ability, Klinsmann hasn’t seen that yet.
“No, I don’t see them slowing down,” Klinsmann said. “We do fitness testing every six months at the latest. We would see that curve going downhill, and it’s not going downhill. It’s actually improving because we give them information on what to do in all the different elements of the game.
“If you look after yourself, if you know exactly what you need to do to stay on top of your (game), there’s no difference between 32 and 34,” Klinsmann said. “The moment you get a sense of getting content, of having achieved what you always wanted to achieve, that will show. You will see that.”
The upcoming round of World Cup qualifying will provide a clear idea of just how strong Bocanegra and Cherundolo still are, and whether there are any other players ready to challenge them. For now, their ages do not matter and Klinsmann believes both can still be key options for the 2014 World Cup.
“Absolutely,” Klinsmann said when asked about them being at the 2014 World Cup. “A tournament like the World Cup is always about momentum, about who presents themselves in the best conditions physically and mentally. Hunger and nastiness. All those elements.
“If you are hungry there’s nothing that holds you back.”