On June 12, soccer teams from 32 different countries converged on Brazilian soil to compete in the quadrennial FIFA World Cup.
After Sunday’s World Cup final, only one country, Germany, remained standing with a championship trophy in hand.
The United States was one of the 31 countries that left Brazil empty-handed, as they were eliminated by Belgium in the round of 16. After the 2-1 extra-time loss to Belgium, the U.S. team returned home with a 1-1-2 World Cup record, a -1 overall goal differential and several what-if moments to reflect on.
This past week, the Daily Bruin’s Matthew Joye interviewed a two-time U.S. World Cup team member and the 2010 U.S. World Cup team captain, Carlos Bocanegra, to ask his opinion on the U.S. team’s play at this year’s World Cup.
Bocanegra, a UCLA soccer player from 1997-1999, is a member of the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame and currently plays in Major League Soccer as a defender for Chivas U.S.A.
Daily Bruin: What did you think of the United States’ team performance in this year’s World Cup?
Carlos Bocanegra: I thought they did a great job. I mean they’re in a very, very difficult group and were able to move on from that group, which a lot of people kind of counted us out. You know, I thought we put in some very athletic performances. We’re very smart tactically.
Unfortunately, we were overpowered a little bit by a strong German team that’s in the final now, but I think it showed just how good this U.S. team was. We were right there, playing with Germany. It was 1-0. We had a few chances to get something out of that game. I think we can be proud of the team.
I think now, people in America that are U.S. soccer people, (and) just the general public, are looking for a little bit more, and I think that’s a good thing. We’re not happy just getting out of the group stages anymore.
DB: How would you compare this year’s U.S. World Cup team to the ones you played for in 2006 and 2010?
CB: I think every year we’re getting a little bit better. It’s the very same makeup as far as we have athletic guys, we have a few players who can make a difference – like the Clint Dempseys, or the Landon Donovans of the past – and you have really good goalkeeping, especially Tim Howard this year, in which he had a fantastic tournament. We have a solid team, very athletic now, then we just need to get a little bit better technically, and you know we’ll move on to the next stages.
DB: How important do you think improving the competition in the MLS will be to getting a stronger U.S. World Cup team in years to come? And do you think that the stronger World Cup team this year was a result of the MLS getting more competitive in recent years?
CB: Well, I think the MLS has already improved our national team by leaps and bounds. If we didn’t have the MLS in this country, our national team program would be very, very far behind.
And at the moment, we’re competing with some of the best teams in the world that have been established for hundreds of years – they have had their domestic leagues for hundreds of years as well, (their) player development system has been in place. So we’re relatively new to the soccer world, so to speak on that aspect, but we’re catching up quite quickly, and MLS plays a huge part in that.
DB: Looking back at the World Cup, what would you say is the one thing the U.S. did really well and the one thing it needs to improve upon for the next World Cup?
CB: I think they’re very organized. Tactically they did very well. Like I said, our team for the past 10-15 years has been made up of a bunch of guys who are hard workers, who are very fit – we can run all game – and we have a few difference-makers now.
If you look at this tournament, we gave ourselves a chance to push a game into penalty kicks with Belgium. Right at the end, we had two chances. And those are the little things about the World Cup. The teams are so close and the competition is so high, that it’s (about) little details.
Compiled by Matthew Joye, Bruin Sports senior staff.