He was the first American to captain an English Premier League team. He earned 110 caps for his country & spent six years as their captain. He captained the American side that gave Spain its first loss in three years back in 2009. He captained Rangers within his first season & led the team proudly onto the pitch for its first ever match in Division Three.
Oh yeah, he also shared a beer with a former President after the inspiring 1-0 victory over Algeria in the 2010 World Cup.
Without a doubt, Carlos Bocanegra embodied American soccer.
This past weekend saw Bocanegra’s career officially come to an end. Sadly, his retirement was rushed due to a concussion he suffered in a match against DC United back in July. He has not appeared in a match since then. Last month, the 35-year old announced that this was his last season, “I’m still hungry for the game and I want to play, but unfortunately you can’t play forever.”
It’s pretty unfortunate to learn that Captain America won’t get to lace up his boots and have a proper send-off to finish his career with the Goats. I n a season that represents a turning point of sorts for MLS and American soccer, several players announced their retirement midseason, sending waves through the league.
In the case of LA Galaxy star Landon Donovan and one-club veteran Logan Pause of the Chicago Fire, they announced their retirement and get to play out the string, to come off the field during or directly after a competitive game, hear the adulation from the crowd at the stadium.
Unfortunately for Bocanegra and his 2010 World Cup defensive partner Jay DeMerit, injuries meant they won’t get to suit up one last time. DeMerit moved on as soon as he announced his retirement, but with Bocanegra, there was still a kernel of belief he could get on the field at least once more.
Strangely enough not only was Carlos Bocanegra calling it quits – so was the team he would end his career with. The experiment, known as Chivas USA, folded into memory on Sunday after only ten years in existence. The team, probably best known for introducing Brad Guzan to the world & for questionable hiring practices, was a failure on & off the pitch for the last few years. The league is preparing to put Chivas out to pasture with a replacement franchise coming to Los Angeles in 2017.
The surreal atmosphere surrounding the collapse of a franchise overshadowed the retirement of the player who has embodied American soccer for much of the past two decades.
There was no pre-match ceremony, no farewell to the supporters – Bocanegra quietly faded into the background as a team said goodbye to its small legion of fans – just over 5,500 showed up for the last match.
Rodriguez spoke to Rangers Report about Bocanegra’s final few months with Chivas & explained that even though he wasn’t playing that the club’s captain was still a leader among his teammates. “Bocanegra has had a presence at the club despite not playing since mid-July.”
“He has traveled on away trips and has remained part of the Chivas USA set-up despite the concussion issues.”
There wasn’t much public recognition, though. “Chivas USA did hold a press conference when Bocanegra retired (and they don’t hold very many of those, to be fair), but did not otherwise do anything.”
“I will say that he wasn’t with Chivas for very long – a season and a half. Still, considering he was captain all season until his injury, it would have been nice for them to do something.”
“I spoke with him a couple times this season. Always a professional, and willing to give good answers.”
That first year at Ibrox was a revelation for the American, as he seemingly finally found the home he had spent his whole career looking for. When Bocanegra officially announced his retirement, he expressed his love for the club.
There are a lot of memories from the different club teams. You are making new friends, seeing new places, and experiencing new cultures. Soccer has shown me the world, and I grew up and became the man I am because of it. One that sticks out was my time at Rangers. It was a fantastic experience at the top club in the country. To have the chance to play in front of 52,000 fans every game at Ibrox was incredible. That showed me how much I love soccer and how much supporters can be a part of a club and even be part of a culture. Those things you never forget.
Who knows if Bocanegra would have soldiered on for another year or two, or if the concussion was the deciding factor in his decision to call it quits His performances have been waning ever since his debut year with Rangers. He surprisingly struggled in Division Three, as it became clear that his future with Rangers would be limited. At the same time he began to struggle with the national team & Jurgen Klinsmann pushed Captain American out of the squad as the United States got into the heart of qualification for the 2014 World Cup.
His return to MLS ended up back in Los Angeles, but with the city’s ‘other team’ & surprisingly for less wages than he earned with Rangers as he earned less than £4,000 a week for Chivas.
In the end, Boca will be beloved by supporters all over the United States, as well as in London for his time with Fulham & hopefully will always be welcomed back at Ibrox with open arms. Brian Straus, who covers American soccer for Sports Illustrated, summed up Bocanegra’s exit from the sport in an article last month.
Bocanegra was relentless and devoted, powered by robust belief and a commitment to set the right example. He was courageous and clutch. It’s why he captained the U.S. for six years, even though he was far from its most skillful or dynamic player.
Bocanegra understood the game, both in the broadest sense and within the confines of a given 90 minutes. He could play in the middle or on the flank. He was technical yet tenacious. He could organize, read the play and find novel ways to contribute.
In October 2011, I had the chance to speak to Bocanegra for a few minutes. He had just joined Rangers FC, one of the two Glasgow teams that dominated Scottish soccer.
“There’s a different pressure, which is new. I hadn’t had that before in my career. We’re expected to win championships,” he said of life atop the Scottish Premier League.”
“I’m really excited because I’ve never had a chance in my career to be able to win something in Europe. I got to a cup final in France [in ‘09] and we lost, and that was frustrating. Now [Rangers] have a chance to win the league. If we win the league, we qualify directly for the Champions League next year, which I’ve never played in. Obviously, it’s a competition you dream about. I watch it every Tuesday and Wednesday night. The Heineken signs come out. The music comes on. That would be awesome. For me, that’s a dream.”
Obviously that Champions League dream never came to fruition & instead he was leading out a patchwork side against Brechin City, in a game that really was the beginning of the end of his time with Rangers.
Given his natural leadership & football IQ, Rangers would be smart to find a way to bring Captain American back in some capacity. He’d be a natural working as a coach – whether it be with Rangers or somewhere else, it’s doubtful that we have seen the last of the captain.
Thanks for a great career, Boca.