Chivas USA captain Carlos Bocanegra has been a rock in 2014, starting 18 of 19 games to start the MLS season. But after picking up a concussion at some point during the Goats' loss to D.C. United on July 20, the former U.S. Men's National Team defender has been out of the lineup, and that appears set to continue, as he's listed as out for Saturday's game against the Vancouver Whitecaps on the team's injury report.*
* Note: The injury reports are not official and are not binding. At least once this season, the team has listed a player as out who ended up playing in the game that week.
Although Chivas did lose that last game in which Bocanegra played, and have lost many other games since he joined the team last summer, there's no question that he's been at the center of the team's good defensive play in 2014. His indispensability is demonstrated by the fact that the only game he missed prior to this recent stretch was the second game in a week, something that is not surprising in the least for a player who's 35 and has been a workhorse.
On some level, it seems inevitable that he would have to miss some time due to injury. But the nature of concussions means this particular injury could be much worse than pesky muscle injuries.
Young players get concussions just as old players get concussions, but the list of players who have been permanently sidelined by concussions grows in MLS. Current ESPN commentator Taylor Twellman is perhaps the most notable example, but Chivas USA fans may remember the short-lived tenure of another veteran defender on their team, Jimmy Conrad, who got punched in the head by a goalkeeper during CUSA's second game of 2011 and suffered a concussion that sidelined him for good, as he retired midseason.
Of course, there are players who have post-concussion symptoms that force them off the field for weeks, even months, but end up coming back. Pablo Mastroeni and Ricardo Clark are players who both sat out for months before returning to play. Another Chivas USA player, Juan Pablo Angel did something similar, struggling after suffering a concussion for quite some time before eventually getting back into the lineup in 2012.
But there comes a time when the cost-benefit analysis of symptoms, chance of suffering another concussion, and age catch up to a player, and there has to be concern about Bocanegra's future here.
And this concern is two-fold. It appears the club is doing right by the player in following the concussion protocol. And to this point, he does not appear to be ready to rejoin his teammates. It will be four games by the time the Vancouver game rolls around, and that's ok. Nobody wants to see a catastrophic injury. Ultimately, Bocanegra's health is the primary concern.
It must be said, however, that the club may want to consider making another addition to the roster this season. Although Bobby Burling, whose absence at center back has also been sorely felt, may return as soon as Saturday, it's clear that Bocanegra's leadership and experience is irreplaceable on this team. And although Tony Lochhead has deputized as CB in recent games as an emergency measure, he's playing out of position.
Perhaps Bocanegra will be back as soon as this month, and business as usual can resume. But the team probably needs to consider finding a player to bridge the gap between Bocanegra-Burling and Eriq Zavaleta, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, and Michael Nwiloh -- young players who are not ready to take over the mantle as starters without veteran assistance. It won't be an easy task, but there are a few teams around the league with a stockpile of central defenders that may be tempted to part with one.
At present, the waiting game with Bocanegra is difficult. It's of course much more difficult for him personally, since he's experiencing it, but it's tough on the outside, too, since we don't quite know if the injury is a blip, or if we may have already witnessed the end of a terrific career. For the sake of everyone, if he can get back to health, let's hope it's not the latter.
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