Carlos Bocanegra shakes off fatigue to lead shorthanded Chivas USA to clean sheet

CARSON, Calif. – Erick “Cubo” Torres might have been the hero for Chivas USA on Wednesday night after scoring the game-winner in their 1-0 victory against Toronto FC, but fellow debutant Carlos Bocanegra also received rave reviews following his first MLS match in a decade.

“Bocanegra is a superstar for me,” head coach José Luis “Guero” Real told reporters.

Bocanegra, who signed with the Goats in early July following stints with Spanish Segunda División’s Racing Santander and Scottish side Rangers FC, fit right in with the backline, contributing to the team’s second shutout of the season despite playing with 10 men for 65 minutes. More importantly, it was the club's first win in the last 14 matches.

The 34-year-old was itching to return to the pitch after missing Chivas USA’s previous game in Philadelphia as he awaited the arrival of his International Transfer Certificate.

“It was frustrating,” Bocanegra told reporters. “Things like that happen, but I just wanted to get on the field and try to help any way I could as soon as possible.”

Bocanegra did just that, complementing captain Dan Kennedy’s leadership in front of goal when the Goats needed it most. He cleared a handful of centering passes and helped the defense withstand Toronto’s late barrage.

“The last 20 minutes, they were pumping us and my calves were starting to hurt a little bit, but it’s normal,” Bocanegra said. “I need a few games under my belt to be fit for 90 minutes. The midfielders did a great job running around and all defenders chased back. It was a good team effort.”

An Upland, Calif., native who played his college ball at nearby UCLA, Bocanegra said it was nice to be back in his hometown and had about 20 people in the stands supporting him.

Yet his biggest supporters might have been on the field.

“We all know how good Carlos is and he’s only going to improve,” Kennedy said.

Bocanegra’s debut appeared headed in a negative direction after midfielder Eric Avila was ejected for a tackle in the 25th minute, but the veteran helped stabilize the group.

“It’s leadership,” midfielder Tristan Bowen said. “It’s another voice back there including Dan’s. There’s more communication and it’s a little more organized. He demands a lot of everyone and we stepped it up. With 10 men, for 65 minutes, it’s physically demanding and mentally demanding, so just having a voice back there constantly in our ear, pushing us, definitely helped.”

Blair Angulo covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com.