Late bloomers play key role for U.S. 

June, 10, 2011

TAMPA, Fla. -- In most of the world, soccer is often a young man's game. Players such as Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney show up as teenagers and suddenly command the world stage. And while the Yanks gave soccer the 20-year-old Landon Donovan in 2002, the U.S. is more likely to provide exceptions to that rule, with late bloomers and long lasters playing prominent roles during this CONCACAF Gold Cup.

It starts with Carlos Bocanegra, who is quietly approaching 50 caps as U.S. captain and showing no signs of fading away. He will don the captain's arm band for the 44th time Saturday against Panama after anchoring a 2-0 shutout in the Gold Cup opener against Canada. "It's an honor," Bocanegra said. "But we have a great group here. We have a lot of leaders on this team. Timmy Howard, Landon, Stevie [Cherundolo], Clint [Dempsey], these guys all step up, take big roles."

Luke Cyphers is a former senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.