Carlos Bocanegra: An American Abroad

usa defender carlos bocanegra

Player Profile: Carlos Bocanegra

Date of Birth: 25/5/1979

Height: 1.83 m (6 ft 0 in)

Position: Defender

National Team: United States Men’s National Team

International Caps: 110

International Goals: 14

Club Career

After a stellar soccer career at the University of California, Los Angeles, Carlos Bocanegra turned professional and was drafted by the Chicago Fire in Major League Soccer. Similar to other American professional sports, MLS uses a draft to disperse amateur talent into the professional game.

He made such an impact in his rookie season that he was named 2000 MLS Rookie of the Year for his play in Chicago’s backline. Bocanegra helped the Fire to the MLS Cup Final, which they lost 1-0 to the Kansas City Wizards. The Fire was able to lift the Supporter’s Shield that season as the team with the most points through the regular season.

Bocanegra quickly became one of the league’s best defenders, winning the MLS Defender of the Year twice, in 2002, and 2003. He was the first player in MLS history to win the award twice. Bocanegra’s solid defensive work did not go unnoticed, and eventually, Europe came calling. After four seasons, and two U.S. Open Cup wins, he made the move to Fulham on a free transfer. Bocanegra played 87 times and scored 5 goals in his 4 seasons in the Windy City.

The defender quickly became a fan favourite at Craven Cottage. During his time with the Cottagers, Bocanegra was deployed as a centre back, his natural position, and occasionally as a left-back and holding midfielder.

During the 2006-07 season, Bocanegra got an eye for goal, scoring 5 times. He finished that campaign Fulham’s second-leading goal scorer behind fellow American, Brian McBride. In September of 2007, Bocanegra captained Fulham for the first time. He wasn’t the first American to captain the side, and he wouldn’t be the last.

At the end of the 2008 season, after making 116 appearances and scoring 8 goals, Fulham released Bocanegra. He soon found a new home across the English Channel in the northwest of France, joining French Ligue 1 side Stade Rennais F.C.

Bocanegra played well in his first season in France, featuring in all 38 league matches. He scored a couple of important goals in his first season, including his very first against Auxerre. The American also scored the first goal in the 2009 Coupe de France Final against Guingamp. It was Rennes’ only goal of the day as they fell to two second-half goals by Guingamp.

The defender made 64 appearances for Rennes before being sold to fellow Ligue 1 side Saint-Etienne in the summer of 2010, for a reported fee of £400,000. Bocanegra was allowed to retain the number 3 shirt he wore for both Rennes and the United States.

He made his debut for Les Verts in the opening match of the season and scored his first goal that December against Bordeaux. The following season, 2011-12, Bocanegra was named temporary captain of Saint-Etienne as Loic Perrin missed an extended period through injury. 

Despite taking the armband for Saint-Etienne, Bocanegra played in just one match that year. Before the summer transfer window closed, he was sold to Scottish Premier League club Rangers for a rumoured fee of $506,000.

Bocanegra played just days after his transfer to Rangers in a UEFA Europa League qualifier. Despite his best efforts, and his goal in the second leg, Rangers were knocked out of the tournament by Maribor. He scored his first league goal for Rangers in September against Dunfermline Athletic and would score again in December against Caledonian Thistle. Together with centre-back partner, Dorin Goian, Bocanegra became a fan favourite due to his outstanding defensive work.

He was given the captain’s armband by Rangers for a Scottish Cup game in January of 2012. All was well for the American in Glasgow until disaster struck for the club. Scottish football fans will know the story well. Rangers went into administration, followed by a ten-point deduction, and eventually liquidation.

Rangers Football Club was in disarray, and their future was in question, and Bocanegra’s was too. He was one of just a few players to remain at the club after the club and its assets, including player contracts, were bought by a consortium. However, the club was forced to work their way back up to the Scottish Premiership by playing through the lower leagues of Scottish Football. 

Bocanegra wanted to stay at the club but was unsure if the dip in the quality of the leagues would continue to earn him call-ups to the U.S. Men’s National Team. After being dropped from the national team, Bocanegra made up his mind and moved to Racing Santander in Spain. 

At the time, Bocanegra moved to the Segunda Division side on a season-long loan and intended to return to Rangers after that season. His desire to return to Glasgow only intensified after the move to Spain proved disastrous. He failed to start regularly, and Santander were relegated to the third division of Spanish football. With his time in Spain finished he announced that he would be returning to Scotland, much to the dismay of U.S. National Team Manager Jurgen Klinsmann.

Klinsmann warned him that if he returned to play for Rangers, he would continue to be left out of the national team. That warning forced Bocanegra’s hand, and he eventually opted to return home to Major League Soccer. He was signed by the now-defunct Chivas USA in Los Angeles.

Bocanegra played two seasons for Chivas USA, in which he never managed to play in more than 18 games. In total, he represented the Goats in 30 games before retiring in 2014 after 15 seasons, 389 appearances and 19 goals. Carlos Bocanegra remains one of the greatest American exports in European football, having played in 4 different countries across the continent. 

International Career

Carlos Bocanegra’s first senior international cap came in December 2001 against South Korea. Despite this early introduction to the national team setup, it took an additional 2 years before Bocanegra became a mainstay in the side.

He became an integral part of the U.S. National team in 2003 when he made the most appearances of all the American defenders in the calendar year. Bocanegra put on the red, white and blue 13 times and scored 4 goals that year, which included appearances in the Gold Cup where the United States finished 3rd.

During World Cup qualification in 2005, Bocanegra showed his versatility and swapped back and forth between centre-back and left-back. During the subsequent 2006 World Cup, he started 2 out of 3 of the games at left-back. 

After the United States’ disappointing 2006 World Cup campaign, Bocanegra took over as captain of the national team under manager Bob Bradley. He maintained this leadership role as the U.S. finished 2nd at the 2009 Confederations Cup, and made it to the round of 16 in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

On November 15, 2011, against Slovenia, Bocanegra earned his 100th cap and went on to make his 110th and final appearance for the national team in 2012. In his 110 international caps he scored 14 goals for the United States. He is one of just 17 American men to appear 100 times or more and ranks 11th all-time.

Where is Carlos Bocanegra Now?

In March 2015, Bocanegra was named technical director of newly created Major League Soccer side Atlanta United. The team began to play in 2017 and achieved near-immediate success. United earned entry into the playoffs in their very first season and won the league title in their second. 

These early successes are due in part to the work of Bocanegra. He was rewarded for these efforts with a new four-year contract and the added title of vice-president. In April 2018, Bocanegra was appointed to co-chair the Technical Development Committee at U.S. Soccer.

Did You Know?

– Bocanegra had offers to play college football but instead chose to play soccer.

– He was given the nicknames “The Jackal” and “The Black Snake” while playing at Fulham.

– Bocanegra was inducted into the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame for his performance as a Bruin’s soccer player.