For Carlos Bocanegra, being at the MLS All-Star Game is nothing new. In fact, he is one of only five players at this year's MLS All-Star Game who participated in the league's first summer showcase against a foreign club.
The California native played the full 90 minutes as the MLS All-Stars defeated CD Guadalajara 3-1 in 2003 at The Home Depot Center. Now he's back for a similar experience in 2005, with just one little difference -- this time he is a member of the foreign club's squad instead of the MLS All-Stars.
"I think it's going to be a good environment," Bocanegra said of Saturday's 2005 Sierra Mist MLS All-Star game at Columbus Crew Stadium. "Playing against some of my old teammates will be fun."
After four highly successful seasons with the Chicago Fire, the U.S. national team defender packed his bags and headed for one of soccer's most sought-after destinations, the English Premier League. All he did there was shift into a new position (from center back to left back), take up residence in a foreign land and step almost immediately into a starting role defending against some of the best players in the world.
Bocanegra said he has enjoyed his time with the London club, but he can see the continued development of Major League Soccer. He was, however, quick to point out that Fulham's loss to the Columbus Crew on Wednesday was not completely representative of what his team is capable of.
"(MLS) is doing a good job with the young players and bringing them up. Columbus looked good," he said. "A couple of the (Fulham FC) guys were very complimentary of them. The level keeps improving every year. Obviously, they're midseason and we're in our preseason. Not to take away anything from them, but we're doing double-days and they're coming out here flying against us."
Being on the other side of the field at this year's All-Star Game gives Bocanegra a unique perspective on the match. The only other American on the Fulham squad, MLS fan favorite striker Brian McBride, was not a part of the All-Star Game in 2003.
"It's kind of an exciting thing to be able to come back and be on the foreign team that plays against the All-Star team," said Bocanegra. "I think (the MLS All-Stars) are definitely going to have some pride at stake and they're going to want to try a little harder. Playing on the MLS team against Chivas -- obviously, Mexico is a big rival of ours for the United States, so that had a little more with it. We're an English Premier side and (the MLS All-Stars) want to show that they can compete with us and they definitely can."
A stellar campaign in England and strong showings in Bruce Arena's U.S. national team have made Bocanegra one of the favorites to lock up a roster spot for next summer's FIFA World Cup in Germany.
"I just think I have improved overall being a part of the league," he said. "As far as nailing down my roster spot, you never know with that. I have to keep working hard this year and hopefully I can be a part of the team. I would like to be, so hopefully in Bruce's eyes it has helped as well."
While his international aspirations are no secret, Bocanegra is fully focused on the task at hand and the more foreseeable future, namely the MLS All-Star team.
"The players out here are all good athletes and very technical. These guys are pretty big and tall and physical and I think that's pretty much how it is throughout the league. They're horses, basically."
While Bocanegra is the first player to make the jump from the MLS All-Stars to a foreign club set to face off against the hometown team, his journey could eventually come full circle. He anticipates making a return to his domestic league at some point in the future.
"I'd love to come back and play in MLS," he said. "I had a great time in Chicago the four years I was there. They are getting their own stadium now. Obviously, in L.A., where I'm from, they have excellent facilities and their own stadium. I'd like to stay (in England) for a while and then definitely come back and live in the States."
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.