Longtime United States national team regular and 2010 World Cup team captain Carlos Bocanegra announced Tuesday that he will retire at the end of the season, his 15th and final year in professional soccer.
Best known as a steady-headed defender on the backline for the USMNT for two consecutive World Cup cycles, Bocanegra sandwiched stints in Major League Soccer around nearly a decade spent abroad, mostly as a regular with English side Fulham.
He also played in France, Scotland and Spain before he returned to MLS and his native Southern California, where he’s spent the past season and a half with Chivas USA. He started 18 of the team’s first 19 matches to start this season, but he’s battled concussion symptoms since mid-July and has not appeared in any of the team’s past seven games.
"I'm still hungry for the game and I want to play, but unfortunately you can't play forever. I was thinking about this in the offseason, and it took me about six months to come to a final decision," said Bocanegra in a statement. "The timing is right for me. I've known for a little while now in my mind and in my heart. I'm happy with it, and I'm looking forward to the new challenges.”
Bocanegra’s 110 caps for the United States are tied for seventh all-time in the program’s history. He made his debut in 2001 under head coach Bruce Arena – shortly after winning the MLS Rookie of the Year with the Chicago Fire in 2000 – and eventually started two of the team’s three games of the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
By the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Bocanegra was the captain under head coach Bob Bradley and one of the team’s most experienced and vocal leaders. He switched between center back and left back for Bradley’s squad and played every minute on the field in the tournament, one of six players to accomplish the feat.
“Carlos is a great friend and someone I have played with since I was 15 years old," USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard told US Soccer's website. "What is outstanding about Carlos is what a great captain he was for the national team. Along with his abilities and consistency, his leadership was brilliant. He was a great defender, one of the best the national team has seen.”
He scored 14 goals and added eights assists in his career for the US, the most points scored by a defender in the program’s history.
“Carlos has been an outstanding ambassador for US Soccer,” said US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati. “As a player, a captain and a leader, he has epitomized the best of what it means to be a member of the National Team throughout his career. We are all extremely proud of everything he has accomplished, and look forward to working with him in continuing to help grow the sport in the country.”
Although Bocanegra figured heavily into the US team’s 2012 qualification for the CONCACAF Hexagonal, he didn’t play in any of the team’s final 10 games on the road to Brazil. His last appearance came on Nov. 14, 2012 in a 2-2 draw against Russia in Krasnodar, when he wore the captain’s armband under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Originally from Alta Loma, Calif., and a collegiate standout at nearby UCLA, Bocanegra was an instant standout in MLS. He became the first player in league history to win the Defender of the Year twice (2002 and 2003), and he leveraged his success into a deal with Fulham in January 2004.
He spent five seasons at Craven Cottage, appearing in 116 matches and teaming with fellow USMNT regulars Brian McBride and Clint Dempsey to make Fulham one of the EPL’s most-watched clubs among American fans.
“Carlos is one of the finest defenders that the United States has ever produced," Arena told US Soccer's website. "He is a tremendous competitor, a great leader and the type of person you always wanted on your team. His career and contributions to MLS, US Soccer and abroad are something to be respected.”
Bocanegra eventually played with both Rennes and Saint-Étienne in France before he landed with Scottish power Rangers in 2011 with an eye on playing in the UEFA Champions League. That dream never materialized, however, and Bocanegra moved on to Spanish second division side Racing Santander for a one-year stint before he returned to MLS to close out his career.