It is without question that Chivas USA's biggest and most surprising player acquisition in 2013 was signing defender Carlos Bocanegra midseason. As a team best known for dispensing with players who were not eligible for the Mexican national team all season, the signing of Bocanegra, along with those of Caleb Calvert and Matthew Fondy, showed that attitudes had changed on some level by the middle of the season. And with Bocanegra's extensive resume, for both club and country, and his experience, it looked like a great move for the club.
Overall, was it a good move? I'd say yes, but it wasn't an absolute success. Bocanegra brought more to the table than he took away, and he was probably the best defender on the squad all season, but there were bumps along the way.
The biggest plus he brought to the Goats was his leadership. Chivas were rudderless for most of the season, with Dan Kennedy forced to direct his teammates and inspire them from the very back, and without much help. Bocanegra, with his vast experience as a captain for the U.S. Men's National Team and various clubs in Europe, stepped in and picked up the club right away. In the first weeks following his arrival, Chivas were more organized, and seemed to fight for results with a purpose, instead of playing with a reckless energy that was equal parts inspiring and maddening early on.
Bocanegra's arrival coincided with that of forward Erick Torres, and the duo helped Chivas enjoy a lift in form in the late summer, as the Goats won three and tied three between mid-July and mid-September. Several additional factors contributed to the uptick, including Jose Luis Real implementing a new gameplan and settling on a regular lineup, the quality of opponents faced, and the new faces, but it worked.
And then it didn't. There were good moments after Bocanegra arrived, to be sure, but the bottom fell out late on, and the five-game losing streak to end the season covered nobody on the team in glory.
Here are Bocanegra's statistics with Chivas in 2013:
|Games Played||Games Started||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Shots||SOG||Yellow Cards||Red Cards|
|MLS Regular Season||12||12||1,052||0||0||6||2||2||1|
|U.S. Open Cup||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
As I said, Bocanegra was probably the best defender on the team in 2013, but Chivas' defensive corps was bad. His ability to deal with players in the air remains strong, and he dealt with opponents bombarding Chivas' box better than a Goat defender I've seen in the past few years, but that is faint praise. As you would expect with a 34-year-old, he has lost a step, maybe more, and cannot always keep up with shifty or speedy attackers.
And his red card against the San Jose Earthquakes was somewhat concerning. Prior to going in for a very dangerous challenge, Bocanegra was visibly upset that Dan Kennedy didn't draw a foul, and apparently lashed out at another player in frustration. For a team that dealt with major disciplinary issues during the season, seeing the de facto leader of the squad make such a stupid play did not set a good example, and of course set Chivas back in the game itself. Mistakes are made, and nobody was hurt on the play, but Bocanegra was fortunate in that situation. Luckily, the incident looked like a one-off.
Opinions on Bocanegra's season with Chivas appear to be mixed. Some believe he was a key player and did the best he could, while others think he underperformed. As I said, I think he was more good than bad, but he is getting older. At the same time, a team with as many problems and talent deficiencies as Chivas could not be completely transformed by one player's arrival. He may not have that long to go in his playing career, but hopefully Bocanegra can contribute more to this team next year, and hopefully there is more quality to help him.
All current indications are that Bocanegra will be back in 2014, though a shock trade or a sudden retirement are always possible. Still, it looks like he'll be back.
According to the MLS Players Union, Bocanegra made $228,000 in base salary in 2013, which was a good salary in my opinion, considering his priors and recent tenure with the USMNT. As long as he remains below a DP level and remains healthy, one would hope he can be a valuable contributor to Chivas' backline.
Perhaps Bocanegra can help new Chivas defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste in his development as well next season. We still don't know who will coach this team or which defenders will be favored, but Boca and AJB could very well be the first-choice partnership in 2014, and it could actually be a good arrangement, with the veteran's experience and the youngster's energy and ability to cover ground.
The pair could really help transform this team. But they can't do it alone, and there need to be many parts brought in, including perhaps most crucially full backs, to finally try and turn this club around on the field. We'll see if Bocanegra can help kickstart a revival next season.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!
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