Joshua Wells on the inevitable and the impersonal.
The legend is ingrained in our culture.
The powerful leader stands before his followers, wizened by years, wrinkled by time, but still strong and seemingly invincible to his enemies. He leads his warriors against the foe in a last blaze of glory, winning a vicious battle and going to a glorious death. As his funeral pyre burns, a new generation carries on his legacy while simultaneously honoring his memory.
Unfortunately, legends rarely manifest themselves in the real world.
In the real world, time is undefeated. It adds weight and saps strength. It gives experience while slowing thought. Time diminishes us until the young take our place.
Part of being a fan of sports is watching the ravages of time overtake our heroes. I knew I was getting old when I could remember the entire careers of athletes who were retiring. I began to feel even older when athletes began to retire who started their careers after I started mine. Jurgen Klinnsman’s latest World Cup Qualifying roster bore further evidence that time does, and always will, remain undefeated.
It became apparent from the moment Jurgen’s roster was announced that the names on the team sheet owed much to necessity and rather less to choice. Injury had decimated his choices of fullback and had necessitated the promotion of Brad Guzan to first choice keeper. While the inclusion of names like Bessler, Beltran, and Morrow on the roster certainly give cause for concern, given the shallow depth of the player pool at the moment, it’s difficult to name viable alternatives that would definitely be upgrades. Two names not on the roster signal something different though…the offensive and defensive leaders of the USMNT in the last World Cup would not be playing in the two most important matches of Jurgen Klinnsman’s reign to date.
Landon Donovan has removed himself. There’s nothing much that can be done on that score. After fourteen years of competition at the highest levels, or not so highest levels according to some (most), Landon has decided to take an extended sabbatical. Last seen posing for photographs with Cambodian youths, there’s no telling if or when the hero of World Cup 2010 will return. Jurgen is wisely moving on as if Donovan will never wear the badge again.
The matter of Carlos Bocanegra is different entirely. Until a few months ago, Boca, as he’s affectionately known, was the undisputed captain and leader of a transitioning USMNT backline. An ill fated move to Racing Santander in the Spanish Segunda league, five matches played, and more than a month without a game have seemingly left Carlos on the outside of the USMNT looking in. In what seems like an amazingly short period of time, Bocanegra has gone from indispensible to unwanted in deference to a group of defenders who have barely played a meaningful match in the red, white, and blue strip.
Understandably, the focus of analysis on this roster has been on the exclusion of Bocanegra. On a roster filled with nascent defenders, how can the USMNT afford to dispense with the experience and leadership that Bocanegra is famed for providing as it faces a must win match against Costa Rica and a trip to the cauldron that is Azteca?
If you gave Klinsmann a truth serum, my guess his answer would simply be, “Easily.”
The value of leadership in any group is dependent on both the effectiveness of the leader and the willingness of his followers.
In the present circumstance, the value of Bocanegra’s experience and leadership has been compromised on both fronts.