Carlos Bocanegra's importance to Yanks 

May, 25, 2012
05/25/12
2:12
PM ET

ORLANDO, Fla. -- It's hard to believe that U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra was contemplating retirement from the national team after appearing in his second World Cup in 2010. But back then, who could have blamed him?

The veteran central defender, who celebrates his 33rd birthday today, had spent the previous seven years as one of Yanks' most reliable performers. He was getting to an age where prolonging his successful club career in Europe by limiting the travel and wear and tear that accompanies international soccer could have been his priority. Plus, did he have a realistic chance of representing the U.S. in one last World Cup, as a 35-year-old at Brazil 2014, anyway?

Almost two years later -- and two weeks before the Americans' qualifying games for 2014 begin -- Bocanegra is doing more than still just kicking around. He earned his 100th cap in November, is as important to the national team as he's ever been, and arrived at the U.S. training camp in Orlando after perhaps the best season of his life.

Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.
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