Bocanegra set to make 100th US cap
As a kid in California, Carlos Bocanegra had a different perspective on the life of athletes.
''I remember watching basketball or NFL when I was growing up,'' the U.S. soccer captain said, ''and it was kind of like, `Great veteran leadership from this guy. He's been around the league. He knows how to play the game.' And I'm going: What the hell are these announcers talking about? Get the young guys in there, the flashy ones.''
Now 32, he knows the value of leadership a decade after his international debut. He's set to become the 12th player - and only fourth defender - to make 100 appearances for the American national team when it plays Slovenia in an exhibition Tuesday night in Ljubljana.
''You realize once you do get a bit older and you play on different teams it's nice to have a mix,'' he said during a telephone interview Monday. ''You need some veterans on the team, and some guys who have been there and been through experiences. And you need the guys who don't know any better, and they just go for it.''
Just 1-4-1 since Jurgen Klinsmann replaced Bob Bradley as coach in July, the Americans are coming off a 1-0 exhibition loss Friday at 15th-ranked France. The Green Dragons are ranked 27th, seven places above the U.S.
Bocanegra will join Jeff Agoos (134), Marcelo Balboa (127) and Paul Caligiui (110) as the only American defenders with 100 caps. He needs one goal to match Balboa's 13 for most among U.S. defenders.
''It's funny. I still feel 21,'' Bocanegra said.
After attending Alta Loma High School in Rancho Cucamonga, Bocanegra played at UCLA under Sigi Schmid, now the coach of Major League Soccer's Seattle Sounders. Bocanegra started his professional career with the Chicago Fire in 2000, then went to England with Fulham (2004-08) before switching to France with Rennes (2008-10), and Saint-Etienne (2010-11).
''Obviously, I would love to have my pro team be out of Rancho Cucamonga and be based at home and go to the Sunday barbecues with my buddies and swimming and all that stuff,'' he said. ''But I've been so lucky and so fortunate to be able to see the world through soccer with the travel in other cultures and live in other cultures, experience other cultures. It's really just kind of opened my world and broadened my horizons. I don't think it would have been like this if I stayed in the States.''
In August, he made a somewhat surprising move to Glasgow Rangers, one of the two powers (along with Glasgow Celtic) in the relatively weak Scottish Premier League. Winning a title was his motivation - his last one was the 1997 NCAA championship with UCLA, and the closest he came in Europe was when Rennes lost the 2009 French Cup final 2-1 to Guingamp.
Rangers have built a 12-point lead over Celtic.
''It's just something I'd really like to have in my list of accomplishments at the end of my career,'' he said. ''This opportunity came up with Rangers, and the possibility of playing in the Champions League. I've never done that either. I'd just love to be able to tick that off my list.''
Tuesday's match will be in the 25th different country he's played in with the national team and it will be his 54th as the American captain, a role he took on when Claudio Reyna retired from international play after the 2006 World Cup. Bocanegra had been reticent about discussing the century mark until this week.
''I never thought about it when I was younger,'' he said. ''Jurgen has said a few things this week and a few of the guys said a few things. My parents and my family and everyone, they're always supportive. They know not to bug me too much about it until it happens.''
He thought back to Sam George, a Fire midfielder he played with whose younger brother Seth was a teammate at UCLA. Sam George gave Bocanegra some advice that's stuck with him throughout the years, the games and the countries.
''Hey, you're not in California anymore nor is anyplace in the world going to be like this, wherever you go.'' Bocanegra recalled. ''So suck it up, get over it, and let's get on with it.''
NOTES: The Americans have been outscored 5-2 under Klinsmann. ... Slovenia will be playing its first game since Slavisa Stojanovic took over as coach from Matjaz Kek on Oct. 24, after the Green Dragons failed to qualify for next year's European Championship. ... The U.S. will once again be missing Landon Donovan, who is with the Los Angeles Galaxy preparing for Sunday's MLS Cup final against Houston. Slovenia took a two-goal lead against the Americans during their first-round match at last year's World Cup, but the U.S. rallied for a 2-2 draw on second-half goals by Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley. An apparent 85th-minute goal by Maurice Edu was disallowed by referee Koman Coulibaly of Mali, for reasons still not known.