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Who starts in central defense tonight? I say, Carlos Bocanegra

Bocanegra head shot

Carlos Bocanegra is 33 years old and, safe to say, is not getting any faster.

Until this week, he was been playing in Scotland’s fourth tier, which may or may not be any better than the top Sunday amateur league in our area. A toss-up, really. And that’s hardly a way to prep for something so important as a World Cup qualifier.

But never mind any of that. I expect to see Bocanegra in the starting XI tonight when the United States lines up against Jamaica.

Why? Simple: The man has forgotten more about playing in these kooky regional qualifiers than most professional soccer players will ever know. And as U.S. captain, Bocanegra usually manages to wear that experience well. I know others have different theories about who should or shouldn’t be in Jurgen Klinsmann favor at center abck.

Most of them say that Geoff Cameron and Maurice Edu started in the U.S. win over Mexico and should, therefore, be the default selections for this one.

I get it – but just don’t see it that way. First, let’s look at the center backs from which Klinsmann can choose:

  • Bocanegra
  • Cameron
  • Edu
  • Clarence Goodson
  • Michael Orozco Fiscal
  • Michael Parkhurst

Goodson has managed to play well almost every time he gets the call. I wouldn’t have any problem with him. (Parkhurst and Orozco Fiscal don’t have experience in qualifiers, so I suspect they were brought primarily for cover.)

Nor would I have a big problem with the Cameron-Edu duo, which admittedly would be a better pairing (than Cameron-Bocanegra) for matching Jamaica’s scary-speedy attackers.

Still, for the experience factor, I like Bocanegra, paired with Cameron. (And for one other reason, which we will get to …)

(MORE: the regional World Cup qualifying picture)

Through positioning and instincts, and by reading the action around him, Bocanegra will know how to deal with the long-legged, speedy stride of Luton Shelton. Or with Omar Cummings’ speed or Darren Mattocks’ speed or with Ryan Johnson’s combination of speed and muscle, or whomever the home team starts.

Count on Shelton being one of them. In Jamaica’s first two qualifiers it has been Shelton and Johnson, with equally speedy Dane Richards running the flank. That was also the Jamaican attacking combo last time these teams met, a 2-0 Gold Cup win for the United States in June of 2011.

Shelton, who plays in Turkey for Karabükspor, scored both goals for Jamaica in last month’s 2-0 win over El Salvador at RFK Stadium. (Here’s a video clip of the man.) Shelton has 31 goals in 64 international appearances for the Reggae Boyz.

Bocanegra has struggled here and there with speedy forwards, especially when he gets overly aggressive and drawn out too far from goal. (Most of the trouble we’ve seen in the past is when he plays on the left. The veteran’s days at left back are probably long gone – although given Klinsmann’s unpredictable nature, nothing ever seems truly off the table.)

There’s one more reason to expect Bocanegra manning the middle tonight: If Klinsmann prefers a Cameron-Edu redux in central defense, that leaves precious little cover at the defensive midfield spot. As it is, Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones are the only other true, defensive-minded midfielders on the U.S. roster.

(MORE: Clint Dempsey to start?)