David Ochoa came into the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team roster not knowing whether or not he would get a shot in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Ochoa got the nod in Thursday’s opening match against Costa Rica and delivered his best performance to date in an important opening night win over Los Ticos.
Ochoa put in a Man of the Match outing in a 1-0 victory in Group A play, making nine saves and helping his team to three points. The 20-year-old goalkeeper was given his first start with the Under-23’s, getting the nod over the more-experienced JT Marcinowski and fellow youngster Matt Freese.
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Not only did Ochoa rise to the bright lights of the tournament, he impressed U-23 head coach Jason Kreis who gave him that opportunity.
“I thought Ochoa was excellent,” Kreis said post match. “The decision [to start him] was based upon performance in this camp. Both of the goalkeepers that we would have thought to give the first chance to with JT [Marcinkowski] and David both came in here with a slight injury, so it was kind of interesting to watch them in the first 10 days as they built back to a place where they were 100 percent.
“And I just felt over the last couple of days, really made the decision very, very late, but it seemed pretty clear to me that at this moment right now, Ochoa is in a little bit better form. So we knew that we were going to need him to make some saves tonight and he came through in a very big way for us.”
Ochoa came into camp with only one MLS appearance under his belt for Real Salt Lake, playing mainly for USL affiliate Real Monarchs. He looked like a seasoned veteran in Guadalajara on Thursday night, denying multiple Costa Rica players including Luis Diaz, Randall Leal, and several others on his way to a shutout.
He also helped direct a United States backline that was shaky at times, making needless errors and giving away possession cheaply in its own side of the field. Ochoa’s top performance could see him retain the starting job ahead of Sunday’s showdown with the Dominican Republic, a team needing a bounce-back performance after a 4-1 drubbing to Mexico later Thursday night.
“I think he was arguably the most important player for us today,” Kreis said. “I think he stepped forward in a major big way. Some of the times he came off his line to re-place balls that were put in behind us were second to none. We believe that Ochoa has a huge future in front of him and it’s nice to see that he’s beginning to put his best foot forward.”
Ochoa and his teammates will rest and recover before taking on the Dominicans at Estadio Akron, four days before closing out group stage play against El Tri.