- Associated Press - Monday, July 11, 2011

PHOENIX (AP) - Carlos Bocanegra was sitting in a little cafe Sunday morning, watching the U.S. women’s thrilling comeback against Brazil in the World Cup quarterfinals in Germany.

“The whole place was glued to it,” the U.S. men’s soccer captain said.

Bocanegra made a rare baseball appearance later in the day, singling to left in his only plate appearance at the celebrity softball game as Major League Baseball began its three-day All-Star celebration. The women’s 5-3 victory on penalty kicks after a 2-2 tie made for a great start to the day, especially with Abby Wambach’s 122nd-minute goal saving the Americans from quarterfinal elimination.

“It was a great header,” he said. “I think even if the goalie didn’t come out, she still would have made it.”

For Bocanegra, there were reminders to the World Cup run of the American men last year, when they came from two goals down to draw Slovenia 2-2 in the first round, then advanced to the knockout stage when Landon Donovan scored in second-half injury time to defeat Algeria 1-0.

“They were coming from being down. The similarities were maybe the bad calls we got the game before,” he said.

Bocanegra hopes the win will propel the U.S. women to their third World Cup title and first since 1999. They play France in Wednesday’s semifinal, and the winner meets Sweden or Japan in next weekend’s final.

“Germany is out. That’s nice,” he said. “Hopefully they can take that momentum. I think they were getting a lot of bad pub for their (group phase) game against Sweden.”

Bocanegra’s three-week offseason is nearly at an end. He’s been off following the U.S. men’s 4-2 loss to Mexico on June 25 in the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, and he will return to France on Friday of Saturday for preseason training with Saint-Etienne ahead of its opener at Bordeaux on Aug. 7.

While some have questioned the tactics and roster picks of U.S. coach Bob Bradley, Bocanegra thinks complaints are without merit. By winning the Gold Cup, Mexico qualified for the 2013 Confederations Cup, the key warmup tournament for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

“Everybody criticizes whoever the coach is, whatever the sport is. You can’t make everybody happy,” he said. “Obviously, it would have been nice to win it, but we weren’t good enough on that day, and Mexico was on fire.”

The U.S. had a 2-0 lead in the first half. The American defense began to crumble when right back Steve Cherundolo injured an ankle. Cherundolo left in the 11th minute and was replaced by Jonathan Bornstein, who went to left back, with Eric Lichaj switching to the right.

Mexico’s first three goals were on Bornstein’s side of the field.

“It hurt us a lot when Stevie went down, because I thought our back line had formed a pretty solid partnership,” Bocanegra said. “He had been our most consistent player all-around, one of our better players. When you lose a veteran defender like that, it’s hard.

On the final goal, Javier Hernandez dribbled past Bocanegra out of the corner, and passed to Giovani Dos Santos, who chipped over goalkeeper Tim Howard.

“He impressed me. He’s stronger than I thought he would be,” Bocanegra said. “He works hard off the ball and does dirty work for the team that people don’t see.”

Bocanegra got into the softball game through his agent. Before he batted, teammates brought a soccer ball out onto the field, and the opposition formed an eight-person wall between home plate and the mound. After lightly taking a soccer shot, he lined a single.

“One for 1. Batting 1.000,” he said. “I stopped playing when I was 15. I haven’t thrown a ball or hit a ball for like 10 years. I was scared today.”

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