By Ian Parker Special to PA SportsTicker
Carlos Bocanegra will be back on familiar turf when the United States faces Canada at Soldier Field in the semifinal of the Gold Cup on Thursday.
Bocanegra called Chicago home for four years as he made his name in soccer with the Fire in Major League Soccer, ultimately earning a move to the English Premier League with Fulham in 2004.
Now he is back in the Windy City to represent his country.
With a place in the final against either arch-rival Mexico or Guadeloupe on the line, Bocanegra is trying to concentrate on the game, but let loose on his old stomping ground once again, he's having a hard time.
The first thing he did when he got back to the Chicago was not soccer related.
"We went to Lalo's for some Mexican food," Bocanegra told ussoccer.com. "It's one of my favorite places to go. Got some carne asada, enchilasas, ceviche, chips and guacamole...everything.
"You can't really get good Mexican food in England. It's a great city, and I'm super excited to be back."
But Bocanegra will have to concentrate at the task in hand, particularly now he has added responsibilities.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley, who was in charge of the Fire during Bocanegra's time with the club, has handed the defender the captain's armband in a number of recent games.
After several players retired following the World Cup, the 28-year-old Bocanegra is one of the most experienced players on the team.
"Some of us who were younger during the Word Cup are now the veterans," Bocanegra said. "For me, it's an honor to lead your country. It's a tough feeling to put into words."
He admitted it has taken something of an adjustment to be the leader on the team. One of the proudest moments for any captain is leading his country onto the field, but Bocanegra has been too worried to really enjoy it.
"It's kind of weird," he said. "You walk out and look over your shoulder to make sure everyone is following you."
The U.S. head into Thursday's game looking for a better performance after scraping by Panama 2-1 in Saturday's quarterfinal.
After the game, Bradley focused on the result, but he will know his team must play better if they are to be sure of reaching the final.
Canada swept aside Guatemala 3-0 to book their place in the semifinal, but as impressive as that performance was, they shouldn't be a match for the United States as they were in the group stages of this competition.
The U.S were the only team to emerge unbeaten from the group stages of this competition, scoring seven goals without conceding.
After that, the performance against Panama was a disappointment, even if it did get the job done.
Bocanegra knows that, and no matter how much fun he is having, he is ready to get back to business.
"The most important thing is to win the Gold Cup," Bocanegra said. "It would be pretty sweet to win it back in Chicago at Soldier Field."
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