The U. S. men’s national team hosts Costa Rica on Friday, March 22, at Dick’s Sport Goods Park in Denver (CO.), then play at Mexico’s Azteca Stadium on Tuesday for a second qualifier in four days. These are crucial matches for the U. S. in this final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil next summer, crucial because the Americans has no points and are coning off a loss in Honduras in the first game of this final round. A loss at home on Friday, makes it doubly tough to win in Mexico, where the U.S. has never won a World Cup qualifier.
Considering all this, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann made the bold and controversial move to drop former captain and experienced World Cup defender, Carlos Bocanegra, from the squad – a mistake that could cost the U. S. a place in Brazil and Klinsmann his job.
Klinsmann addressed the Bocanegra omission in a recent interview for the public: “With Carlos, I have had several very good conversations over the past weeks. The reason he’s not here is because he’s simply not playing. He’s not getting any minutes with Racing Santander in the second division in Spain, so he has no flow, he has no rhythm, and he understands the situation. Carlos is still in our picture. This is not the end of his National Team career. He understands that right now he’s behind other players. He’s not in the starter picture and he understands that he gives other players a chance to show what they can prove…”
Bocanegra is a proven World Cup defender with over 10 years of playing internationals for the U.S.; he is a leader and well respected among the players; Bocanegra is left out from a squad that is very inexperienced, particularly at central defense, where he plays; to drop one of your most experienced defenders because he is not starting on his second division club team is a mistake. In dropping the former captain, Klinsmann is disregarding Bocanegra’s achievements as a national player for the team and has allowed a very unstable situation at Racing Santander to dictate his team selection. The lack of rhythm or flow is a moot; rhythm and flow is easily reclaimed for a seasoned player like Bocanegra, and especially with the emotions that are involved in World Cup qualifying play.
Klinsmann erred by failing to recognize that Bocanegra, regardless of his lacking of playing time at Racing Santander, is a very different player when he pulls on the Red, White and Blue jersey and still very valuable to this inexperienced squad; his leadership and ability to motivate his teammates on the pitch are well known and are invaluable intangibles that this current team desperately needs. Compounding the situation for the U.S. is the fact that veteran goalkeeper and defensive leader Tim Howard is not in the squad because of injury. In fact this team is only now about to select a new captain, in the midst of the qualifying campaign; Bocanegra’s leadership could make the difference on defense in Howard’s absence.
I don’t think that the central defenders chosen – Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Jeff Cameron (Stoke City) and Clarence Goodson (Brondby) – are even close to the player that Bocanegra is now, despite not playing consistently at Racing Santander. The U. S. coach has to look at the total player and what he brings, overall, to the team and not judge him from this current snapshot of his entire career. Cameron and Gonzalez – most likely the starting central defenders against Costa Rica – are very inexperienced at international play and World Cup qualifiers are not the ideal situation to be dependent on them.
It seems that Klinsmann may be repeating the Honduras mistake by pairing Cameron and Gonzalez in defense; Goodson is a better choice at one of the central positions. In Honduras, the experienced World Cup defensive midfielder, Maurice Edu, should have been paired with Bocanegra to man the defense. If Edu is not in the midfield, then he should play at central defense on this inexperienced squad.