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Ochoa explains decision to commit to Mexico over USMNT

12:34 AM EDT 8/13/21
Ochoa RSL 2021
The Real Salt Lake goalkeeper says he'll commit his international future to El Tri while opening up on his battle with depression

Real Salt Lake goalkeeper David Ochoa has committed to Mexico after previously representing the U.S. men's national team.

Ochoa was in the USMNT's Nations League squad for this summer's triumph over El Tri, but will now make the switch over to Mexico after shining for the U.S. throughout the youth levels.

The 20-year-old goalkeeper explained his decision in a piece for the Players' Tribune, where he detailed his complicated Mexican-American upbringing, his battles with depression and why he has ultimately opted to play for El Tri going forward.

What did Ochoa say about the USMNT?

"Just so you know, my decision is nothing against the U.S. It’s nothing against any teammate or any coach, or against American soccer," Ochoa wrote while detailing how the loss of goalkeeper coach Des McAleenan to suicide shaped his decision-making process. "Honestly. I still play soccer here, and I owe so much of my career to the American youth system.

"This is where I have matured as a player and a person. This is where I found the coach who changed my life. So, yeah, I want to make that clear: I am very, very grateful to American soccer.

He added: "And I realized that, no matter how much I try, I will never be fully American. Nor will I ever be fully Mexican, so it’s about where I feel more comfortable, and something inside me feels more at home with the Mexican players. They are loud and fun and outgoing. They make me feel like I’m with my friends from Oxnard...Basically, after all that’s happened, I just want to be happy.

"So that’s why I’m choosing Mexico, and I really hope you understand. Even though it’s a personal, emotional decision, I hope it makes sense. It definitely does to me."

Nations League frustration

Ochoa joined Zack Steffen and Ethan Horvath in the USMNT squad for the Nations League as well as a post-tournament friendly against Costa Rica.

The Real Salt Lake goalkeeper was the only U.S. player not to feature across the three games, including in the friendly at his home stadium.

While the incident was the true deciding factor, Ochoa admitted that he was left frustrated that Gregg Berhalter opted not to play him in front of his hometown fans.

"The final against Mexico was weird," he said. "Sitting on the bench, I was obviously rooting for the U.S., because I was part of the team. But something in my heart was like, Wow ... these Mexican players are the ones I grew up watching on TV. Guillermo Ochoa was playing. I really felt that Mexico had a place in my heart. 

"In the end, I became the only player in the camp not to play a single minute. I’m not saying I should have played in the Nations League. I’m still young, and the team had two other very good goalkeepers. I also know that I’d made an error in the Olympic qualifiers. But I did really well in training, and I wanted to show what I could do. 

"When we met Costa Rica after the tournament in a friendly, I was thinking, They have to give me this game.  We were playing where I play home games with Real Salt Lake, in front of my own fans.

"At one point, the crowd was chanting for me to come on.  The game was easy for us, too. One half. Even just 15 minutes. But it never happened. 

"I'm not gonna lie about it: I was frustrated. I was angry. I felt like they didn’t really believe in me. So when Mexico invited me to a training camp before the Gold Cup, I felt like I had been given the green light to say yes. Tata Martino had coached Barcelona and Argentina — he had been working with the best goalkeepers in the world — and now he was saying that he believed in my potential. So I went just to train and check things out. "

The bigger picture

In joining Mexico, Ochoa joins a program that also offers a clear path towards senior minutes.

The U.S. currently has Steffen, Horvath and Matt Turner as the program's top three goalkeepers, with Turner the oldest of that group at just 27.

Mexico, meanwhile, are still led by Ochoa at age 36, while 38-year-old Alfredo Talavera started all of El Tri's games at this summer's Gold Cup with Ochoa at the Olympics.

Further reading