When your time comes, will you be ready?
That is the question that constantly faces goalkeepers. There is only one spot on the field for them and much of the game is spent waiting for a moment to shine.
It’s a microscope of how many goalkeeper careers go. When the moment comes and you get the call, will you shine?
David Ochoa’s moment is coming soon. The 18-year-old from Oxnard, California is in contention to start for the U.S. U20 Men’s National Team as they kick off the U20 World Cup in Poland against Ukraine on Friday.
Ochoa has battled for that spot over the last 12 months. In August, he was playing with his birth year peers on the U.S. U18 Men’s National Team - only one age group off from the U20 squad, but it often feels many worlds apart. He made two saves during the penalty kick shootout in the championship game to help the USA squad win the Vaclav Jezek Tournament. His heroics with the U18 team drew quite a bit of attention. In November, he was the reserve for the U20 MNT during the qualifying process. He made two appearances during the eight-game tournament.
Six months later, he is looking at the starting spot in the eye. Mainly thanks to the trust that U20 head coach Tab Ramos has put into the youngest goalkeeper on the roster.
“Coach and I have a really good relationship,” Ochoa told TopDrawerSoccer in an interview earlier this week. “Before I signed my Homegrown [contract] with Real Salt Lake, I spoke with him a lot about my opportunities both domestically and internationally, and he really helped me make a decision that I was comfortable with and one that focused on my development. Obviously, being an 01 [a player born in 2001] playing up this cycle has given me a lot of confidence and I really appreciate the opportunities that he’s given me.”
Ramos sung Ochoa’s praises during the pre-World Cup press conference. He called the young star a winner and he was going to play a big part in this World Cup.
Ochoa has not been given this spot. He’s earned it.
During the 2019 USL Championship season, Ochoa made 30 saves in seven appearances for the Real Monarchs, Real Salt Lake’s reserve team. The 30 saves is good enough for seventh best among goalkeepers in the league, which is impressive for an 18-year-old. It is even more impressive considering he has done it in only seven games while the league leader in saves has played in 12 games. Ochoa’s time in the USL Championship has been cut short with the first team using him as the reserve goalkeeper for the past month.
“My personal goal is to continue to perform with the Monarchs, secure more clean sheets and ultimately show that I’m ready to break into the first team and play consistently at the top level,” Ochoa told TopDrawerSoccer. “As a team, our goal is to win the USL Championship. So for me, I just work hard in training and take every opportunity I get in goal to perform my best and help out the team.”
It’s been a quick rise for Ochoa with the national team and with his club team. Last summer, he was part of the RSL academy team during the Development Academy playoffs in Oceanside. Now, he looks like he is an integral member of the Real Salt Lake future.
“The move from academy to Monarchs was one that I really enjoyed,” Ochoa said. “The level is higher and the trainings are more professional and competitive. Every single player is fighting for their starting place, which I think is unique to the professional level and something you may not see at the academy level.”
Ochoa is not the only piece to move from the academy to Real Monarchs for the 2019 season. Academy Director Martin Vasquez was promoted to head coach with the Real Monarchs.
“Martin [Vasquez] being in charge has helped me so much,” Ochoa said. “He gives me a ton of confidence and I have learned from him since the beginning of my team at RSL. He has a lot of influence on the player I am today and I hope that is something that will continue from Monarchs to the first team and beyond.”
Ochoa’s path from Oxnard, California to Salt Lake City, Utah has had quite a few detours already.
Chivas [Club Deportivo Guadalajara] was the first club to try to lure in the goalkeeper. Chivas scouted Ochoa at the 2016 Dallas Cup when he was playing with AC Brea, a club team from Fullerton, California. The team’s run at the prestigious youth tournament ended in the semifinals, but Ochoa’s career was just getting started. C.F. Monterrey, Real Salt Lake (then Real Salt Lake-Arizona), and Chivas all expressed interest in bringing him in.
Ochoa decided to join Chivas [he has a Mexican passport - and appeared in camps at the U16 level with the Mexico Youth National Team].
“Chivas was my first professional experience,” Ochoa said. “It was highly competitive and it absolutely helped me adjust to Arizona, since I was already used to living on my own. As a player, I think the earlier you can take care of yourself, the better. It started very early on with me at Chivas.”
Ochoa could not play in official games with Chivas as his family did not move with him and he was underage. The lack of games led him back to the States and he latched on with Real Salt Lake’s Residential Academy in Casa Grande, Arizona. He spent two years dominating in the Development Academy with RSL.
Despite his success there, opportunities with the Youth National Team were relatively limited. Ochoa has said in previous interviews that Martin Vasquez put in the word with YNT coaches to give him a chance with the National Team.
Ochoa’s affinity with the coach and the club helped the MLS side secure him to a professional contract in November. Ochoa had a trial with Manchester United that had the English club interested in signing him to a deal when he was 18 years old and laid out a plan for his trajectory over the next five years.
Despite the glitz and glam of a Premier League opportunity in the future, Ochoa decided to stick with the opportunity that RSL provided thanks to them taking care of him over the past few years.
“My experience with RSL has been fantastic,” Ochoa said. “That’s my club and I have so much love for the crest. My teammates, coaches, and the staff there have all given me so much and I just hope that when I am given the opportunity to play with the first team, I can show all that I have learned and give back to the club and the fans. I would not be the player I am today without RSL.”
Ochoa’s immediate focus is with the Youth National Team in Poland.
“I want to win it all,” Ochoa said about his goal for the tournament. “Just as a natural competitor, I always want to be the best. I think we have a really great group of guys who can compete at the international level, and I know we are all looking forward to getting out on the world stage and showing what we are capable of.”