When the rumors started percolating in June 2013 that Carlos Bocanegra could be on his way to Chivas USA, it seemed unbelievable.
Why was it unbelievable? Chivas USA was in the midst of a long losing streak, had recently canned one coach and saw his replacement take his time in joining the team, and had a cloud hanging over its head with one discrimination lawsuit filed by two ex-academy coaches (another lawsuit, filed by the former human resources head, was filed later that summer).
But the biggest reason it seemed inconceivable that Bocanegra would join the Goats was that Chivas USA in 2013 seemed dead set on only signing players of Mexican descent who were also eligible for Chivas de Guadalajara. In that way, if any of those players really shined, they could always get transferred to CD Guadalajara, as it almost happened with Eric Avila last season.
Bocanegra is of Mexican descent, but the player nicknamed "Captain America" seemed like the opposite of what Jorge Vergara was going for in his project concerning his MLS team. Whether Bocanegra signed because the owner wanted him (that seems unlikely), the player really insisted on coming back to only Southern California (possible), and/or the league pushed for this destination to help Chivas USA in any way (very possible), he did indeed sign with the league and went to play for the Goats.
What's his legacy off the field? Despite the flagging attendance numbers, Bocanegra's presence on the team was a positive. Although the club never really took full advantage of him for marketing purposes and as a spokesperson in the community for the club, he, along with Erick Torres, who joined the team at the same time, and longtime goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, immediately became the faces of the club. Bocanegra was not going to bring thousands of fans to the stadium alone, but his arrival helped give the team a sense of credibility they lacked before.
Furthermore, his signing signaled a reversal in the team's practice of only signing Latino players. Again, Bocanegra himself is Latino, but as somebody so closely identified with the United States, bringing him in opened the door for the signings of non-Latino players Caleb Calvert and Matthew Fondy later in 2013. If nothing else, it signaled that the club, or more likely, the league's pressure on the club, meant that the policy set in place was changing. And bear in mind, that although non-Latino players remained on the roster throughout 2013, the reality is that the quality of the players brought in before Bocanegra and Torres simply could not cut it in MLS. Just one player who was added in the first half of 2013 remains on the roster, and that's Avila, one of a precious few MLS veterans brought in by that particular regime.
On the field, Bocanegra's legacy is mixed. On one hand, the team's record was really horrible overall, despite playing under two coaches and almost completely different rosters. On it's own, a record of 9-13-7 with Bocanegra in the lineup doesn't look sparkling. However, when he wasn't playing they were 0-9-2. In other words, CUSA picked up 1.17 points per game when he was in the lineup, and 0.18 points when he wasn't. That one point swing might not have made him an All-Star in his second stint in MLS, but it shows how significant he was to his team.
In the end, the reality is that Bocanegra still had plenty of skill in MLS, but he didn't have a team good enough to really give him a platform to shine. Paired with defenders who were either inexperienced or slow-footed like him, the defense only had one three-game stretch where they came together and looked like they could compete. Unfortunately, that stretch came at the tail-end of Bocanegra's time on the field.
I think Bocanegra shouldn't really have regrets about his playing career. He had more European experience than just about any American player in the modern era, and was one of the stalwarts of the USMNT. He also had two stints in MLS, the first very successful with the Chicago Fire, and the second that will ultimately probably be underrated with Chivas. It's too bad the team around him couldn't have been better, to showcase his ability and perhaps give him more time on the field, but we must make peace with it. That's what he's doing with the decision to retire, after all.
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