Chicago Fire defender Carlos Bocanegra is coming off his finest season as a professional, earning the MLS Defender of the Year award and being a named a member of the MLS Best XI. The 23-year old has collected seven caps in his young international career, and now has his sights firmly set on Germany in 2006. ussoccer.com talked with Bocanegra today about his offseason, his goals for the national team and the future of the Chicago Fire.
ussoccer.com: Tell us about your offseason and getting ready for the U.S. MNT training camp…
Carlos Bocanegra: I took a couple months off after the season was over. I definitely did a little bit more preparation for this camp than I did in the past, mostly because it was for the national team. I started training last month with a lot of the MLS guys who live in Southern California, guys like Brian Dunseth, Nick Rimando, Pete Vagenas, Steve Shak, and some of my friends. Everybody just called each other and we set up pick-up games. I was fortunate to get to play against good competition prior to coming to Florida.
ussoccer.com: With such a long layoff, how have the first few days of training been for you?
CB: It’s tough. No matter how hard you train to get ready, the competition is a step above MLS. Your legs start to get tired a bit earlier, and the sessions always stay intense. You can tell guys are out to make a name for themselves.
ussoccer.com: Even with only seven caps, you’re already one of the veterans in this camp …
CB: Not so much like a veteran, but I definitely have a different mentality. When I came into camps last year, I didn’t really get to play much in games. There were guys like Claudio Reyna, Earnie Stewart, Joe-Max Moore, who have been around forever. I came in a little timid playing against those guys. I wanted to play hard, but I didn’t want to hurt anyone or throw off the chemistry of the team. Now it’s guys my age like Pablo Mastroeni, Clint Mathis, DaMarcus Beasley - I’m not afraid to kick them [laughs]. I have more confidence this time around, and I feel more comfortable about being myself and being aggressive on the field. I’m not trying to hurt anyone, obviously, but I’m definitely battling for my spot.
ussoccer.com: The U.S. has a busy schedule in 2003, and 2006 World Cup qualifying is only 18 months away. Have you set any goals for yourself for the upcoming year?
CB: I’d like to start and play 90 minutes in every single game this year, whether in the center of the defense or out wide. That’s my first goal. The second is to be consistent. Everybody’s not going to have the best game of their life when they step on the field with the national team, but I need to have quite a few good games to establish myself. In the long run, the goal is to win a place in the team for World Cup qualifying and then make it to Germany in 2006. But I’d like to be here for the whole ride through.
ussoccer.com: Has Bruce Arena discussed with you his expectations?
CB: He told me he wants me to be very vocal and organize the defense from the center back spot, and that he wants to get me as many games as possible. He said there might be times when he needs me to play out wide, which is fine. I’d like to be in the center, because I feel like I get more of the ball and distribute better, as well as having a bigger role in the defense. But I’ll play anywhere.
ussoccer.com: Shifting gears, it’s been a somewhat tumultuous offseason for the Chicago Fire. What’s your take on the situation?
CB: I just sit back and whatever happens, happens. We’ll go into preseason with whoever is on the roster and start building ourselves as a team. I wish we could keep all those guys, but obviously with the salary cap, we had to make some tough moves. There’s definitely nothing I can do, and I know Dave Sarachan and Peter Wilt had some difficult decisions to make. So, we’ll deal with it and move on.
ussoccer.com: Once again, you’re in a situation where you are one of the veterans…
CB: I’m definitely going to have to take a bigger leadership role. There’s only a handful of guys that have been around as long or longer than me, and we are all going to have to step. I think it’s a pretty cool opportunity for me to be able to help younger guys, like C.J. Brown, Lubos Kubik, and others helped me. I’m not going to be the one out there being rah-rah in the huddle and screaming all the time, but I’ll try to lead by example. I think I really learned last year, about halfway through, how to be a true professional both on and off the field, and what it takes to be successful at this level. I’d like to be able to pass that on to the younger guys.
ussoccer.com: You had the opportunity to train with Feyenoord in the Netherlands during the offseason. Tell us about your experience…
CB: The level of soccer was really good. It was a pretty cool experience, checking out their lifestyle and style of play. It’s a lot different than here. At Feyenoord they were all about possession, whereas in MLS we play more directly at times. Off the field, it’s a very free existence. Those guys are total celebrities, and you have to be able to regulate yourself. The players do a good job of taking care of themselves and having good habits. The only thing I didn’t like was that the entire nation smoked cigarettes.
ussoccer.com: You’ve had a rather difficult schedule since arriving in Bradenton, especially with training sessions twice a day. How have you been spending the down time?
CB: Mostly sleeping and eating. With two-a-days, there isn’t much time for anything else. I play a little bit of X-box, but if I play too much I’ll get addicted and stay up all night. We’ve been cooking meals in our apartment a lot. Last night we had burritos. I can’t go too long without burritos.
ussoccer.com: Despite being four years away, a lot of people have already mentioned your name as one of the future starting center backs for the United States. How do you deal with the expectations?
CB: I’ve heard those things, but it doesn’t really matter what people say. I’d like to be, and I think I can be, one of the defenders in the middle. It’s certainly nice to hear, but I’ve got to go out and prove myself. Over the next year, I hope to do that.