Breakfast with United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann: Today’s topic – Carlos Bocanegra’s evolving role
Dec 12, 2012, 12:30 PM EDT
I was among a small group of journalists who had breakfast recently with Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. national team coach whose methods and player selection tendencies can sometimes lean to the less conventional. The results so far have been mostly favorable, even if the aesthetic hasn’t always risen to expectation.
Over the next week or so, we will extract one element each day of the extremely informative conversation, where Klinsmann expanded candidly on subjects ranging from Jozy Altidore to evolving player roles to Jermaine Jones to future matches and all points in between.
Today’s topic: Carlos Bocanegra’s evolving role
Clearly, Carlos Bocanegra cannot bravely strap on the armband forever. A shame, too, because he’s a heck of a fellow, a reliable center back and a captain that U.S. soccer supporters can be proud of in every way.
But we all have calculators on our smart phones, laptops and i-Whatevers … so no supporter can ever drift far from the hard truth that their trusty U.S. captain will be 35 by the next World Cup. Ouch.
Supporters may wish away the harsh realities, hoping against hope that Bocanegra’s little hiccups on the field of late were just that – hiccups, glitches in the Matrix.
Trouble is, Jurgen Klinsmann doesn’t have that luxury. “Wishing” and “hoping” cannot be variables in the player selection equation. The U.S. manager has hard choices ahead, and none seem more critical than this one. Because the final stage of World Cup qualifying looks like a bugger – and the Americans didn’t exactly waltz effortlessly through the semifinal stage, if we’re being honest.
So what does that mean for Bocanegra and his evolving role? Clearly, whether it’s on the bench or in the starting XI, Klinsmann wants the former Rangers man in the picture.
“To that group, Carlos is a tremendous leader. He leads by example. The way he is kind of fighting through his career [with Rangers and the unfortunate, forced switch into Spain] … every time he comes into camp with us, he is still a role model. That’s why it’s important to have him around.
“At the same time, I tell Carlos, ‘The other ones are knocking at your door! Geoff Cameron broke in, Clarence [Goodson] is not happy sitting on the bench. Gooch [Oguchi Onyewu] is waiting for his moment. Omar Gonzalez is a name who will become part of that future, too. … We have had Matt Besler come in. There are other center backs who want your spot. He knows that. But he is standing his ground.”
That last part, Klinsmann said with a note of respect rather than annoyance.
For most of us, this is just delicious fodder for discussion over a good ribeye and a merlot. But it’s a critical choice for the manager – when to begin the inevitable transition? Considering all the moving parts, just what is the ideal synchronization for this switch-over, when Bocanegra becomes more valuable as a guiding shepherd than as a member of the herd?
Just guessing – well, “guessing” while listening closely to Klinsmann – it sounds like the manager hopes Bocanegra can sustain starter status through qualifying. Then, perhaps, might come the switcharoo. We asked Klinsmann if he believed Bocanegra would accept a different role?
“Those roles exist as well. I don’t know. It will be down to conversations with him. We will approach that step-by-step.”
But then Klinsmann talked about similar situations. And, without prompting, he began speaking of the chemistry, selflessness and leadership that are essential elements for any World Cup roster.
“A world Cup roster is a different animal. A World Cup roster is made out of players that are there 24-7 for the team. The chemistry is the biggest card to play,” he said.
Klinsmann believes toxic chemistry is frequently to blame as some of the talented global heavies fall out of the World Cup race earlier than they should. African teams, he mentioned, are notorious for this. Others, too.
“They can’t sustain it within their own group. … They are falling apart after the group stage. England usually falls apart. France usually falls apart. … You need to have a group of 23 guys who really are there for each other. They are pushing each other. Everybody understands his role.”
Klinsmann said that six years ago with Germany, en route to that surprising third-place finish, he left more talented players off the roster, preferring self-aware worker bees who were satisfied with support roles.
Klinsmann cited a like-for-like in Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who keeps earning call-ups but is not starting for the United States lately. No matter, in Klinsmann’s eyes, because he loves what Beckerman brings in attitude and daily training.
“He’s a giver, and you need givers,” Klinsmann said. “When you go two months in such a stressful campaign, you can only carry along a few takers. Very, very few takers. Sooner or later, the energy [of the group] will be gone.”
In Germany before the 2006 World Cup, Klinsmann had a toughie to deal with in Oliver Kahn, a giant figure in German soccer, Die Mannschaft’s longtime No. 1. Only, Klinsmann had to inform Kahn that he would be No. 2 in goal for World Cup 2006. Not a pleasant conversation.
“Obviously he was not happy. But he understood it. I told him to take a couple of days and think about it. We feared he would say ‘I am not part of it anymore, because I am … who I am.’ Then he came back and said, ‘I am pissed off. I am mad at you, but I am in.’
“If you understand your role, if you become a real driving force from the bench, a real connector, a kind of a solution finder when there are problems [between players] … He became that driving force. He became that mentor. He became that pusher. Even though he was pissed as hell at me, that was OK. So there are specific roles that are even more important than guys on the field.”
Remember that was about Oliver Kahn – but it’s not hard to draw the parallels with Bocanegra. (Well, all except the huge ego part; that’s never been part of Bocanegra’s DNA.)
So has Klinsmann begun having those conversations with Bocanegra?
“No, it’s still too early for that. A lot will happen in 2013 … Hopefully, all for the better.”
MORE of the Klinsmann conversation …
- Explaining Jermaine Jones
- Sorting through Landon Donvan’s career crisis
- Jozy Altidore’s recent roster omission
- Looking at the tough friendlies ahead
- The relentless drive for individual improvement
- Never having a problem with being proven wrong
Aug 1, 2014, 7:56 PM EDT
Two Eastern Conference teams on unbeaten streaks meet at Sporting Park in Kansas City.
Aug 1, 2014, 7:39 PM EDT
The Arsenal captain saw his games drop significantly last season, and would be a fantastic grab for Manchester United.
Aug 1, 2014, 6:51 PM EDT
After a very disappointing debut season with Norwich City, the Dutch striker is off to France.
Aug 1, 2014, 5:55 PM EDT
A head-scratching moment by the New York defender cost him two games, while the ensuing melee dug into the wallets of others.
Aug 1, 2014, 5:16 PM EDT
With helpful videos, NBC is getting you ready for the upcoming Premier League season just days away!
Aug 1, 2014, 4:34 PM EDT
Despite reports to the contrary a month ago, it appears the newly-added Crimean clubs will indeed play in the Russian leagues next season.
Aug 1, 2014, 3:52 PM EDT
After 13 years at Chelsea, there’s a good chance Frank Lampard could play at Stamford Bridge again…in a lighter shade of blue.
Aug 1, 2014, 3:18 PM EDT
Arsenal, Newcastle and West Ham are among the teams who’ve loaded up on talent.
Aug 1, 2014, 2:34 PM EDT
Myers and actor Daniel Craig were among the luminaries on hand to watch Liverpool take on Manchester City at Yankee Stadium.
Aug 1, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT
Silly season has reached an absurd level, with even sports books creating rumors out of club links.
Aug 1, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Birmigham City defender Will Packwood and Southampton goalkeeper Cody Cropper are on the list of U-23 stars preparing for the Bahamas.
Aug 1, 2014, 12:10 PM EDT
Serbia and the Ivory Coast also tab new bosses as the race for continental and world glory continues.
Aug 1, 2014, 11:25 AM EDT
Fans of Detroit City FC helped raise money for slain Michigan referee John Bieniewicz via a “swear jar”, then saluting him with silent red card salute.
Aug 1, 2014, 10:51 AM EDT
A great save followed up by an awful rebound, as Hull draws Trencin 0-0 in its Europa League debut.
Aug 1, 2014, 9:59 AM EDT
West Ham, Crystal Palace and Newcastle have all added players for 2014/15, according to reports.
Aug 1, 2014, 9:23 AM EDT
Would City’s best prospects playing in MLS be a boon for the league, or lend the league a minor league image it’s trying to escape?
Aug 1, 2014, 8:36 AM EDT
Alberto Moreno of Sevilla is the key cog of the pair, appearing 40-plus times for Sevilla in its run across La Liga and the Europa League.
Aug 1, 2014, 7:57 AM EDT
Brazilian outlet UOL says Ronaldinho could be on his way to Major League Soccer, as the Red Bulls up the ante in NY rivalry.
Aug 1, 2014, 1:03 AM EDT
A nine-match weekend sees MLS return to NBC, with NBCSN set to broadcast games in Kansas City, San Francisco.
Jul 31, 2014, 10:07 PM EDT
Manager remains insistent the Spanish international will stay at Stamford Bridge.
- Learn the chants for every Premier League team! 1
- Updated team-by-team list of Premier League transfers this summer 3
- US U23 list for Bahamas camp unveiled as Olympic prep continues 0
- New York City FC could be a proving ground for Man City youth 6
- Report: Red Bulls meet Ronaldinho’s reps; Reunion with Henry coming? 1
- MLS weekend preview: Conference leaders, surging Galaxy take to NBC, NBCSN 5