BOCANEGRA READY FOR NEW CHALLENGES
Over the past eight years, Carlos Bocanegra has been one of the most consistent American players, being a regular starter and defensive stalwart with every team he's been with from Fulham to Rangers.
Part of the original Fulhamerica team, he went on to log over 120 games with the London side before shipping off to France for three seasons. Finally, he has made his way to the blue side of the Old Firm, with Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers.
Bocanegra was thrown into the fire in his first game with Rangers, starting against Maribor in a Europa League Qualifier. They lost out against the Slovenian side, but he quickly worked himself into the stat sheet and scored his first goal in a 1-1 tie. He told Yanks Abroad about his time in Glasgow so far.
"Unfortunately, we got knocked out of Europe earlier than we wanted to, but I'm enjoying it. I like being back in the U.K., I like the physicalness (sic) of the game up in Scotland."
He‘s been a regular starter since arriving at Rangers, appearing in nine games. He has already scored two goals, matching his totals with Rennes and St. Etienne in France. It's a lively atmosphere for the storied Glasgow club, different from most other teams in the world. He noted the tenacity of the fans, and their high expectations.
"The stadium is filled every time - it's new pressure, (we're) expected to win every game no matter where we go. It's something I haven't had in my career, which is interesting for me. But I like it."
Heading into the 2014 Qualifying campaign, Bocanegra, 32, is one of the few regular starting defenders for the National Team. Barring injury, he should reach the coveted century mark of caps next year in the international friendly windows or in the early stages of Qualifying.
Being with the team as long as he has, he‘s witnessed many roster changes, from the years of Bruce Arena through Bob Bradley and finally to Jurgen Klinsmann. The influx of German-American talent into the player pool recently has come with some surprise amongst fans, but Bocanegra sees it as a natural, welcome progression.
"I think it's been started already with the youth teams. I think Thomas Rongen did quite a good job (with) the youth players. There's something like 150 or 200 kids that are playing in Europe that can possibly play for the American team. It's just nice to be able to have all those choices, and these guys come in and they fit in well, they work hard and it doesn't seem like a foreigner coming into the group."
The seamless integration of differing cultures and backgrounds is an important aspect of team cohesion, and the fact that players like Jermaine Jones, Timmy Chandler, Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams have and are fitting in so quickly, makes it a much easier adjustment for the team.
This cohesion is especially important for the impending game against CONCACAF rival Honduras, a game that the National Team is hoping will be their first win under Klinsmann. Bocanegra is aiming to use the game as mental preparation for future meetings, under more stressful conditions.
"It's a team that we'll play in CONCACAF, so obviously for us to go out there and have a good game- When we do play them in qualifying down the road, we'll get a little bit of a mental advantage. That component is important for us."
That important first win under the new coach has been coming for much longer than anyone anticipated. Critics and fans alike have been getting impatient, wondering what is wrong with the team and what adjustments need to be made on the field or off. As captain of the team, Bocanegra is patient but firm, knowing that results will improve as the team adjusts to its new style of play.
"Every time we go out there we're trying to win. Obviously we're trying to implement some new things, and (that's) what we've been doing in training, and bringing over to the field. I thought we actually did a lot of those things very well in the first few games. The results will come. We've been creating chances - so the goals will come."
Goal opportunities should be coming in from every angle with the inclusion of red-hot Edson Buddle into the roster, replacing injured Landon Donovan. The Ingolstadt striker has found the back of the net five times this season. Bocanegra will be leading Buddle and the rest of the U.S. National Team into action against Honduras in Miami on Saturday, and then they will travel to New Jersey to meet Ecuador on Tuesday.