Why You’ll Like Him
Bocanegra is the unquestioned leader of the scrappy American team.
If you ever hear a member of the US National Team talk about leadership and respect, Bocanegra’s name will undoubtedly come up. The Upland, California native has gone through stretches of poor form before and his play was rightly questioned, but never has his leadership come under fire. It is for that reason that he has been the captain of the Nats since 2007, one year after he appeared in his first World Cup. He’s also been a favorite of the female US fans since his first cap in 2001.
Why You’ll Hate Him
Where does Bocanegra play, can he run and is he healthy?
Is Bocanegra better at center back or left back? Does the US need him for at center back or left back? With the United States’ struggles at left back, Bocanegra could be asked to play there instead of center back, where he spent most of the last four years playing. If Bocanegra is to play left back then it raises the question of whether or not he has the pace to play there anymore. His pace, or lack thereof, gave him some issues when he played left back in the 2006 World Cup, but now he is 31-years-old and has lost a spot so can he handle the speedy wingers running at him?
The biggest question now facing Bocanegra is how healthy he is. After dealing with and playing with some smaller injuries for most of the past year, it was revealed that the American captain had hernia surgery at the beginning of May. Since then he has returned to full training, but has yet to play in a match. For a player whose athleticism has come into question when healthy, surgery so close to the World Cup and one that the team kept under wraps for several weeks is an eyebrow raiser at best and ultra-concerning at worst.
Age: 31 (5/25/1979)
Position: Center back, left back
Club Teams: Rennes (2008-present), Fulham (2004-2008) Chicago Fire (2000-2004)
National Team Debut: December 9, 2001, vs. South Korea
World Cups: 2006
With 11 years of professional soccer under his belt, Bocanegra has made his career count. After three years playing at the collegiate level for UCLA, the defender signed a Project 40 contract with Major League Soccer, where he went on to win Rookie of the Year and consecutive Defender of the Year awards with the Chicago Fire. His excellent play in MLS, where he made 93 league appearances, earned him a move to the English Premier League.
After hopping across the pond and joining Fulham at Craven Cottage, Bocanegra became a regular starter at center back. He occasionally featured at left back and even holding midfielder as well, but the American made center back his home. He defended well and even finished second on the team in scoring in 2006-2007 with five as he proved to be an aerial threat on set pieces. Despite becoming a fan favorite and even captaining the team upon occasion, Bocanegra fell out of favor under Roy Hodgson and moved south to France.
Bocanegra has spent two years with Rennes, making 62 appearances primarily at left back in a three-man back line. His recent injuries have kept him from becoming a fixture at the back and the three-man back line has kept him from getting forward, but he has been a key member of a team that has finished fifth and sixth in goals allowed the last two seasons.
While still attending UCLA, Bocanegra put on the US shirt for the first time, albeit it at the youth level. Bocanegra played all 360 minutes for the United States at the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championships (now U-20 World Cup) and even scored a goal in the Americans’ win over Cameroon.
Two years later, Bocanegra made his first senior appearance versus South Korea, but it wasn’t until 2003 that he established himself as a regular member of the team. He spent the next two years bouncing back between left back and center back, a situation that continued through the 2006 World Cup in Germany, where he started twice.
In the cycle that led up to the 2010 World Cup, Bocanegra found a home at center back and as the team leader, earning the captain’s armband. The defender led the United States through the 2007 Gold Cup, which they won, the 2009 Confederations Cup, where they finished second, and World Cup Qualifying, where the US finished atop CONCACAF. Now, Bocanegra will captain the team in South Africa.
What to Look For
There’s not a doubt that the first thing deserving a look is Bocanegra’s health. Hernia surgery is always concerning because it affects the core of one’s body and because the US spent several weeks keeping Bocanegra’s injury from the press, there are legitimate concerns that he is struggling to get back fit. Until he gets into a match and proves his fitness, the fears of his athleticism letting him down increase ten-fold.
If healthy, where Bocanegra plays becomes the next thing to keep an eye on. With the health of other defenders in question, it is unclear if Bocanegra will line up at center back or left back, but how he can handle quick attackers will be an issue at either spot. Never the quickest himself, Bocanegra is fighting health and age in a tournament with the fastest and most talented of player in the world. That said, Bocanegra is a highly intelligent player who uses it to its fullest in an effort to combat speed with mixed results.
One thing that opposing teams will have to look for is Bocanegra coming forward on set pieces to get his head on the ball. With 12 international goals to his name, Bocanegra has proven to be an asset in the attacking third, especially on set pieces. With a knack for reading the flight of a ball and ability to put a strong header on frame, Bocanegra makes the United States a dangerous set piece team.
With all of that said, it is what goes unseen that will be Bocanegra’s most important contribution for the United States. A World Cup veteran and respected dressing room player, Bocanegra will be charged with keeping a relatively inexperienced side composed on the grandest of stages.
Ryan Rosenblatt is a respected dressing room writer at Set Piece Analysts and will be contributing to SB Nation Soccer's World Cup coverage.
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