Carlos Bocanegra, One-on-One: On France, USMNT failure and the phenomenon in Atlanta
FFT: You spent nearly a decade in Europe, playing in England, France, Scotland and Spain. How did the experience open your eyes?
CB: I think France probably opened my eyes to more stuff, as far as full development from the youth all the way up to the first team.
How they monitored blood, sugar, heart rates, eating. Everything was really monitored so highly and so in depth that you see kind of that vertical integration from the youth teams training to the reserve team to the first-team playing style, so when [players] make that jump up to the first team, it's not a big shock for these kids, them being integrated in and around the training ground. England was very separate; you'd never really interact with the academies.
I had three different coaches in France [Guy Lacombe and Frederic Antonelli at Rennes, Christophe Galtier at Saint-Etienne], all excellent in their own individual way and the way they go about teaching the game. That was really interesting for me to learn.
England, France, Spain, Scotland — I was exposed to different environments and had different experiences, whether it's with the language, the culture, on the field, off the field, playing style. All those things. What I tried to do with that was take all the best from everywhere I've been and try to implement that and make that part of our culture here in Atlanta. That's where I think all those experiences help the most.
FFT: Do you think more young players should be thinking about going to Europe? That's been prominent in the discussion following the World Cup qualifying failure.
CB: I think that's a nice buzzword or headline for [the media]. I think everyone's path is different.
For me, you look at a kid like Tyler Adams in New York, you look at a kid like Kellyn Acosta in Dallas. I think they have really, really bright futures, and they're able to develop here in America; they're able to get meaningful first-team minutes and play vital roles on their teams at young ages. And kids like this are going to be the future of our national team. Do they eventually get lured overseas and eventually go over there? Maybe, but I'll tell you what, they've developed here, and they've done a damn good job.
You see a kid like Weston McKennie. He comes out of Dallas' academy, and he starts for Schalke here and there. I don't buy that fact, that you have to go over to Europe. We have made huge strides in the development of players in this country, implementing the Development Academy, each MLS club having an academy system in place. It's getting there. And it's still quite young.
Do we need to reevaluate, take a step back and look at how we can continue to improve? Yes, 100 percent. And we can make some changes here and there.
FFT: As a former U.S. national team captain and one with 110 caps, how did you see the World Cup qualifying debacle?
CB: I mean, look, it felt like a gut punch, right? I love this country. It was unbelievable playing [for the national team], being captain of your country as well. I've got a lot of respect for the whole program.
— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) October 11, 2017
Everybody was real bummed out and hurt and angry and upset, and it's just like, man, there's so many emotions that you go through. It stinks for the fans, it stinks for the players, for everybody involved with soccer. I mean, everyone's pulling for the U.S. to continue to get better and better and better and grow the sport, and so that part hurt. Not to have a competitive game for about 18 months is a real shame.
Not that I would have liked it to go this way, but we have to use it as an opportunity to say what can we do better and how can we improve.
FFT: When you look back on your time with the U.S., and at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, what stands out?
CB: I think the U.S. has been right on the brink for a long time. In 2002, they tied [South] Korea and then lost to Poland [in group play] but got through and beat Mexico and got knocked out by Germany in the round of 16, right? And then in 2006 we ended up getting a draw with Italy and we had that chance [to advance in the last group game] against Ghana. Bad penalty kick called against us, and we lose, get knocked out.
And then 2010, we get the game-winning goal [from Landon Donovan against Algeria], like a walk-off homer, in, like, the 90-whatever minute, and we advance. And you'd see all these videos going around [of people in the U.S. celebrating], and you think, ‘Man, we made the whole country happy for that day,’ which is a pretty amazing feeling, you know?
FFT: Was the semifinal win over Spain at the 2009 Confederations Cup the highlight of your U.S. career?
CB: Uh ... funny enough, no. That was cool. That was fun to beat them down there. We had a great group of guys, so that one felt good, because it was kind of like everybody counted us down and out, and we played almost a perfect game against them. We had probably three shots, scored on two of them. They had probably 150 shots on us, and we were blocking everything and sliding and covering for each other. It went our way that day, so that was awesome.
I think one of the high moments was definitely when we beat Algeria to advance [in 2010]. We felt like we had the world on our shoulders, that we'd be such a disappointment if we didn't get out of our group. We'd positioned ourselves to get to that stage to advance, and we felt like we were good enough to do it. Yeah, that was an excellent moment in my career.