Bocanegra

Will Carlos Bocanegra’s move to Chivas USA get him back into U.S. national team?

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On the one hand, skillful men have climbed from the debris of ongoing Chivas USA organization chaos to move into better places. We present Brad Guzan and Sacha Kljestan as Exhibits A and B – and fine exhibits they are.

Then again, it’s been awhile since they launched their European careers out of Chivas USA. Guzan escaped the Home Depot Center’s renter tenant in 2008. Kljestan broke free two years later.

So we come to Carlos Bocanegra’s arrival into the renamed ground, the StubHub Center, to join Chivas USA. Richard Farley stared the conversation at PST here, craning his noggin and beginning to ask the questions how, exactly, it makes sense for the player?

It’s a great “get” for the club. That much is clear. Whether Chivas USA will make good and proper use of their veteran commodity, only time will tell.

For Bocanegra, the outcome is even less certain. We already know that one very good player in Chivas USA defense, goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, has seemed to suffer from the franchise’s inability to formulate a solid identity or a solid plan on finding one. For Kennedy, any night in goal is target practice waiting to happen.

And it shows; Kennedy hasn’t quite been the All-Star ‘keeper that he was through the first half of 2012, and who could blame the poor guy? If this thing were a gunfight, he’d be the unlucky one handed a knife. Could the same kind of beat down, a similar wear-and-tear effect, dent the will and initiative of a center back? Of course it could.

Put a good team around Bocanegra, one where he has some solid midfield organizational protection and a pair of reliable outside backs and he would be a great addition, someone to steer the ship. Yes, the former U.S. captain has lost a step. But he could handle MLS duties based on wits and wisdom at the position.

Unfortunately, Chivas isn’t going to offer that defensive support. I’m sure Bocanegra took a good, hard look at that league-worst 31 goals allowed before signing up.

Even recent signs of “something better” en route hold only shallow promise.

If things go as they have over the last year at Chivas USA, with a personnel plan and top-level management in near-constant, unstable flux, then this looks like a recipe for woe. In that case, it will be hard for Bocanegra to look like a man ready to get back into the national team, even in a support role.

I hope I’m wrong, for Bocanegra’s sake. He was a strong, respected captain who represented the team faithfully.  Unfortunately, history says a position on the Chivas USA is like a place on a three-legged stool – one wrong lean from falling plum over.

Amid allocation fun, one destination makes sense for Carlos Bocanegra’s return

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Get ready for some Allocation Order fun, because if Carlos Bocanegra is bound for Major League Soccer, it unlikely Toronto FC will be his final destination.

The Reds hold the first spot on the re-entry list by virtue of their league-worst finish in 2012. But for a player like Bocanegra – having ties elsewhere in the States, a history with another franchise, and likely coming home to close out his professional career – Toronto makes no sense.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Bocanegra’s situation starts to mirror Brian McBride’s, a player whose return from England came with the condition he wind up with the Chicago Fire. Toronto eventually worked out a deal, traded their pick’s rights to the Fire (for Chad Barrett and change), thus getting something out of the unfortunate situation. With Bocanegra, it could happen again.

There have, however, been whispers of an agreement between Toronto and Portland stemming back to this spring’s ill-fated Mix Diskerud pursuit. That agreement, said to be born out of the trade that sent Ryan Johnson to Portland, would have TFC pass on a player of Portland’s liking, allowing the Timbers to select the player with the number two pick acquired from Chivas USA.

Beyond that National Enquirer stuff, it’s worth asking the extent to which Bocanegra would fit with Toronto. For a TFC team that has Doneil Henry, Darren O’Dea pushed to left back, and are looking to firm up a deal for Birmingham City loanee Steven Caldwell, does a commitment to Bocanegra even make sense? Without knowing the money that’d be committed to the former Fire star, it’s impossible to say, but there may be some justification to TFC either trading or passing on the pick.

That leaves Portland at number two and Seattle at number three. With the Timbers’ central defense infirmary, it’s difficult to see them passing on Bocanegra, while Seattle may look to make room for the former UCLA man, possibly at the expense of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado.

Still, you wonder if a situation closer to home might make sense for Bocanegra, with a team that prizes its veterans looking to add a player who would help compensate for an impending loss. At this point in his career, Bocanegra may covet a chance to sacrifice a more lucrative contract in exchange for a chance to play for the LA Galaxy.

And with Omar Gonzalez iffy to be on the roster come 2014, the situation makes sense from LA’s point of view. The veteran would start to Gonzalez’s left for the remainder of this season, giving Bruce Arena a chance to move A.J. DeLaGarza out right and Sean Franklin into midfield. Come 2014, Bocanegra and A.J. DeLaGarza would be the first choices in the middle.
Would all the be worth it in exchange for, say, Michael Stephens? At this point in the season, Toronto’s getting close to a something-or-nothing situation with that pick.

It’s all speculation, but in the wake of what we saw transpire with McBride, it’s important to remember: Some players have a way of landing where they want. Bocanegra is a California guy who could be flexible to LA’s salary cap constraints, while the Galaxy are always looking for the next veteran presence that can help line the trophy cabinet.

Regardless, expect more Allocation Order fun if Carlos Bocanegra agrees to come back to Major League Soccer.

Tim Howard next to defuse U.S. man’s national team controversy (and the developing picture)

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The piece that’s become the talk of the U.S. Soccer world was already a six-of-one-half kind of story, but with a couple of veterans going on record to clarify some of the depictions given to the Sporting News, if feels like there’s some record-straightening going on. Carlos Bocanegra was quick to respond via his Facebook, talking up some of Jurgen Klinsmann’s positive qualities. Now Tim Howard’s gone on record with Soccer by Ives to address the idea of a locker room divided. If Steve Cherundolo and Clint Dempsey chime in, this story may get double back on itself. Or worse.

First, let’s talk Tim Howard. The Everton keeper is out of this week’s qualifiers with broken bones in his back. When he’s in the team, he’s recognized as one of the its leaders, a status that makes his comments to SBI all the more meaningful:

“Our team has always been made up of players who come from different backgrounds, which has been a source of strength for the group. No matter where players are from, the pride in wearing the U.S. shirt is the only thing that matter (sic) to us.

“We have a great group of guys who are all committed to the cause, and the morale and the camaraderie remains high. We are completely unified in our ultimate goal, which is to qualify for the World Cup.”

Obviously these comments only speak to one of many concerns raised by players in Sporting News’ work, but the idea of a divided locker room — one which pitted German-American in a type of culturally-driven split — was one of the more concerning aspects of yesterday’s feature. But between Bocanegra and Howard we have two players who’ve alluded to they unity (Bocanegra’s word) and camaraderie (Howard’s) as a plus. If the locker room isn’t exactly fraternal, I’m inclined to think it’s tenable.

This also gets back to what we discussed in the Bocanegra post. Are these comments just window dressing from a leader or an earnest rebuttal? Given Bocanegra’s role in the team, you can see the virtues of maintaining a public face. But Howard? He’s not the captain. He could stay quiet, yet he’s spoken out.

We’ll double back on this later today, but these two public clarifications bring up a number of concerns:

  • First, this story may have more legs and angles than we thought. If the Sporting News’ story was allowed to run its course, it might die out or be overshadowed come Friday – a one-time bomb. But the life cycle for this story may be longer than we thought (and even from the team’s point of view, that may not be a bad thing).
  • Second, a locker room divided on cultural lines? You don’t say. Shock-gasp-awe. That doesn’t mean the locker room is poisonous, about to explode, or even out of the ordinary. This is just how people tend to organize themselves, for better or worse. More on this later.
  • Third, the Sporting News claimed 22 sources in and around the team, all with a certain level of knowledge of U.S. Soccer. It might be time for us to start seriously considering who these sources could be, because it’s no secret that Klinsmann’s hiring has never been fully loved by the entire establishment. If a revered team member is giving up the worst on Klinsmann, that’s telling. If it’s a former player who never agreed with the hire in the first place, we need to consider the comments in a completely different light.
  • Fourth, there is the risk of a backlash overshadowing the real issues. The concerns brought up by Sporting News are real. The question is more of magnitude than existence. Comments like Bocanegra’s or Howard’s shouldn’t be used to disregard the findings from SN’s work.
  • And finally, the more people that come out clarifying this story, the easy it’s going to be to identify those anonymous sources. And if you think things are bad now (and they’re not, really), it could get worse if people are able to zero in on the dissectors who helped light a powder keg before a World Cup qualifier.

Carlos Bocanegra takes to Facebook, gives defense of Klinsmann

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If Carlos Bocanegra really was broken hearted, he got over it.

That was the distraught picture painted by an anonymous player in yesterday’s buzzworthy piece, but judging by what the U.S. men’s national team captain posted to Facebook last night, he was either never as crestfallen as described or is showing an admirable amount of resiliency.

Posting to his Facebook page last night, Bocanegra provided a tacit defense of Jurgen Klinsmann, lauding one aspect of his coach’s communication style while providing some perspective on a coach’s prerogative:

During the last 18 months Jurgen has introduced a lot of new ideas to the team and has a vision of how he wants to grow the program. Every coach around the world has his own style and methods. He has always been up front with players about where they stand and where he sees them going. Not every player is going to be happy with all of the decisions and methods, but he will tell you to your face where you stand. From a coach, that is the best thing you could ask for. One of the greatest strengths of this team has always been our unity and spirit, and we all remain committed to the cause of qualifying for the World Cup.

Let’s go ahead and read way too much into this.

One possibility holds Bocanegra has put aside his broken heart (another person’s diagnosis) and taken the high road, electing to issue a pacifying statement with the hopes that it can defuse the potentially distracting controversy. Even from Spain, the captain’s providing leadership. He may not be happy with situation, and he could very well share all the concerns that came out this week. But as far as his public face is concerned? He’s the captain.

Another other possibility: Bocanegra is being earnest and just stating the obvious. After Tuesday’s early backlash, he felt it was important to provide a more level-headed perspective. Yes, there are unhappy players, but “[n]ot every player is going to be happy.” Klinsmann’s “vision” is “new”, but “[e]very coach around the world has his own style and methods.”

Much like the Sporting News piece, Bocanegra’s embodies both sides of the debate. Klinsmann has changed things, but players know that, and they know why. According to Bocanegra, “that is the best thing you could ask for.” At some point, players need to adjust.

 

Talking about sitting Carlos Bocanegra, starting Omar Gonzalez

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We knew it was coming. We just didn’t think it was coming so soon, which is why almost every lineup projection you saw ahead of today’s U.S. Men’s National Team match featured Geoff Cameron and captain Carlos Bocanegra in central defense. A few brave souls had MLS Cup final MVP Omar Gonzalez breaking into the starting XI, but the consensus held a road game to open the final round of World Cup Qualifying wouldn’t be met with a roll of the dice. If the big LA Galaxy center half was to be blooded, it would be elsewhere.

But when lineups were released an hour before the match, a mild ripple went through the U.S. soccer-loving world. Bocanegra was out, Gonzalez was in, and in the first competitive match of his United States career, the 24-year-old would be expected to form a quick partnership with Cameron in one of the more adversarial environments in CONCACAF soccer.

(MORE: What we learned from the U.S.’s Honduran Hex opener)

And we saw the results. On a minute-to-minute basis, Gonzalez seemed solid, but severe lapses on both goals put his performance under the microscope. Next to him, Cameron had his most-difficult game since breaking Jurgen Klinsmann’s starting XI. Combined a the poor performance from Timmy Chandler, a below-standard outing from Fabian Johnson, and a big mistake from Tim Howard, you could contend the States were lucky Honduras didn’t score more.

Combined with the basic mistakes that led to the final goal, the defense’s performance will leave U.S. fans asking ‘Why?’ Why was a reliable and experienced Carlos Bocanegra sat on a day when his would have proved so valuable?

In fairness, 75 minutes into the match, few people were talking about Bocanegra’s absence, but the nature of defending means you are judged by your worst moments. Those are the places where goals happen, so after Geoff Cameron failed to clear the through ball that led to the final goal, it’s fair to ask: Would Carlos Bocanegra would have done better? When Tim Howard seemed to misread the play and possibly miscommunicate with Cameron, we can’t help but wonder if the same would have happened if Bocanegra had started. And when Omar Gonzalez pulled up and allowed Jerry Bengston to beat him to the ball that became the winning goal, fans started imagining what the more-experienced Bocanegra would have done.

(MORE: U.S.’s Wednesday Man of the Match)

In our minds, we can see Bocanegra preserving today’s result, but our minds are also filled with the memories of a player that may not have been at Klinsmann’s disposal. In third round qualifying, we saw a more inconsistent Bocanegra than the man that anchored Bob Bradley’s defenses, a diminution made evident as the captain was left chasing Carlos Ruiz early in the U.S.’s final third round qualifying against Guatemala. Since, Bocanegra’s been a part-time player for the worst team in Spain’s second division. Because we’re not at every Racing Santander or U.S. national team practice we don’t know, but there’s strong circumstantial evidence to suggest Bocanegra may no longer be the player defined by our imaginations.

We have to at least concede there’s a possibility Gonzalez was the better option, a concession that doesn’t mean we have to abandon the idea Klinsmann made a mistake. The unfortunate truth is Klinsmann has a monopoly of knowledge on this issue, one that means we can never truly know if the boss made the right decision. All was can do is entertain the possibilities and use our intuition to decide which hypothetical Bocanegra is most likely the man who sat on the bench in Honduras.

(MORE: The falling stock of Wednesday’s performers)

If Bocanegra is still close to the player we imagine, Klinsmann probably made a mistake. That player should have been in Klinsmann’s XI. However, if that version of Bocanegra has been nowhere to be seen in training, we may be asking for a player who no longer exists.