MNT May 31, 2011
Carlos Bocanegra, now a two-time FIFA World Cup veteran, has developed into a confident leader and was one of five U.S. players to play every minute in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. His national team career began with appearances for the U.S. U-20 and U-23s, and he made his debut appearance with the full National Team on Dec. 9, 2001, against the Korea Republic. Bocanegra’s scoring prowess from set pieces continues to be a trademark, his 12 career goals now just one shy of the record for U.S. defenders. The 2003 MLS Defender of the year now has eight seasons in Europe under his belt, starting at Fulham in the English Premier League before moving across the English Channel to France's Ligue 1.
As Carlos Bocanegra edges closer to 50 appearances as captain of the U.S. Men’s National Team and 87 appearances overall, it seems hard to remember a time when he wasn’t leading the team out of the tunnel on game day. As one of just five U.S. players to play every minute of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Bocanegra has cemented his legacy in U.S. Soccer history. Yet, he still remembers a time when he was just joining the men’s national team and looking up to other legendary American players.
“When I first came into the National Team, I watched how guys like Claudio Reyna, Brian McBride, Eddie Pope, Greg Berhalter and Eddie Lewis carried themselves and how they went about their training sessions and the kind of guys they were on and off the field,” Bocanegra said. “I didn’t realize it so much at the time, but I took a lot of things from them.”
“When it came time for them to retire and the next generation to come in, I thought about it a lot. I said, ‘Okay when these guys came to practice they worked really hard. They were serious about it and raised their level on the field and they brought positive things to the national team. This is what we need to do now and show the way for some of the younger players.’”
Inspiration from players who came before him combined with talent and enthusiasm led to Bocanegra receiving what he calls “a huge honor, wearing the captain’s armband for the first time on June 2, 2007, as the U.S. took on China in a warm-up match for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, a tournament they went on to win later that summer.
“It was a special moment for me,” recalled Bocanegra. “It was in California, in San Jose, so my whole family was able to be there. It was really special, not only just to put on the U.S. jersey but also representing the country as captain. To lead the team out was an unbelievable experience for me.”
Bocanegra’s career continued to flourish. He became one of the few players in U.S. Soccer history to simultaneously captain both his club side as well as the National Team, which he did after captaining Fulham in place of Brian McBride who was injured. Bocanegra led Fulham to a 3-3 draw against Tottenham on Sept. 1, 2007, and then took the armband for the USA in its game against Brazil on Sept. 9 in Chicago.
“That was a great experience for me,” Bocanegra said. “But I have to give a lot of credit to Brian. I got to play with him at my club team day in and day out and I watched him on the national team level as well. His professionalism, how he attacked training and how he always made sure he was prepared for everything was an invaluable lesson for me. He was a great person to try and model myself after.”
The California native and two-time MLS Defender of the Year developed into a confident captain and displayed leadership qualities vital to successfully lead the Men’s National Team. He says it’s important to remain positive and always set a good example for younger players.
“I think each individual has different qualities as a captain,” Bocanegra said. “Leadership is one you’re going to need, but I think my biggest quality is my positive energy. I always try to reinforce positive encouragement into the group and have it pass down on the field and off the field. I think that’s one of my better qualities, to always be looking on the upside. The glass is half-full.”
In 2010, Bocanegra’s positivity helped lead the U.S. on the world’s biggest stage, the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. The early exit from the 2006 World Cup when the team went out in the group stage was something Bocanegra was insistent the team didn’t repeat.
“For me it wasn’t about being captain,” he said. “I wanted to be part of a team that did something special in the World Cup and part of the team that didn’t go out in the group stage. I was part of that in Germany, and that was not a cool feeling at all.”
Bocanegra knew having a successful World Cup wasn’t going to be without challenges. The U.S. opened group play against powerhouse England and were labeled the underdog heading into the tournament by media from across the world. The U.S. ended up drawing with England 1-1 in a game that had fans on the edge of their seats and ultimately left Bocanegra with fond memories.
“Walking out of the tunnel against England in that first game of the World Cup was memorable because it had so much hype leading up to it,” Bocanegra said. “That was really cool. It was a great experience. I remember my stomach was filled with butterflies and I had nervous energy but I was so excited.
“That game, even the bus ride over, it felt like we could have run through a wall that night with our energy. That was something I will never forget. That moment will always stand out in my mind.
Despite the team’s success on the field in South Africa, Bocanegra says his experience was shaped by his close relationship with teammates off the pitch.
“The World Cup is such a big event and I really liked our group of guys,” Bocanegra reflected. “I have so many friends in there and I love being around them. We got to do so many cool things together. That’s something I’ll take away and I’ll always remember. It’s really special.”
As the U.S. approaches another major summer tournament with the June 7 kickoff of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, Bocanegra will once again wear the captain’s armband, a duty he will never take lightly.
“It’s a huge honor and something I take very seriously as well,” he said. “I have an enormous amount of pride for our country. It’s something I cherish.”
For Bocanegra, it seems the glass will always be half-full.