Tom Smart, Deseret News
U.S. soccer team captain Carlos Bocanegra practices Wednesday in Park City in preparation for Saturday's World Cup Qualifier at Rio Tinto.

PARK CITY — U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra is living the dream.

A standout for a European club, Rennes of French Ligue 1, and the captain of the U.S. National Team, the 30-year-old defender has come a long, long way in just a few short years, and he's doing everything he can to soak it all in.

"I'm just enjoying it at the moment," he said. "I'm trying to get as much out of it as I can before it all goes away and I stop playing. I enjoy being out there with the guys, not only here but also in France, and I'm just enjoying myself."

If nothing else, it certainly seems that Bocanegra is enjoying himself right now.

Bocanegra will lead his U.S. National Team onto the pristine pitch inside Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday when the U.S. faces El Salvador in a crunch World Cup Qualifier.

The 30-year-old native of California has developed into a solid and steady defender for U.S. coach Bob Bradley when he's played for the national team, and he's also garnered praise for his performances at the club level, as he enjoyed considerable success last year for Rennes after joining from Fulham FC of the English Premier League.

Being solid and steady and enjoying considerable success were hallmarks of former U.S. captain Claudio Reyna's illustrious career. And it was obvious from the moment he announced his retirement from International duty after the 2006 World Cup that it would be extraordinarily difficult to replace the leadership he had given to the U.S. for years and years.

Bradley, who took over for Bruce Arena after the 2006 World Cup, could've gone in a number of directions when determining who would replace Reyna as captain, but he eventually settled on Bocanegra.

He hasn't looked back.

Bocanegra has never got caught up in trying to "replace" Reyna, who was in many ways irreplaceable. To his credit, Bocanegra has instead just gone out and has tried to lead the U.S. team his way — by example.

"I've just always tried to do my job — come out here and play as hard as I can," he said. "Hopefully that rubs off on other players and onto the team.

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"Claudio was a fantastic captain. I've been lucky enough to play under some good ones, (like) Brian McBride with my club team (Fulham), which was very cool. I try to take little things from those guys that you learn — leadership abilities on and off the field — and just apply it to yourself."

U.S. star attacker Clint Dempsey, for one, believes Bocanegra's role as captain has been a successful one to date.

"I think Carlos Bocanegra's been a good captain for the team," said Dempsey, who played with Bocanegra at Fulham FC for one-and-a-half years. "He's someone that every player on the team can relate with. I think he leads by example, on and off the field, and we enjoy having him as our captain."

World Cup qualifying

U.S. vs. El Salvador

Rio Tinto Stadium

Saturday, 6 p.m.

TV: ESPN Classic, GalavisionHeady