David Ochoa’s decision to play for Mexico had already been reported a week ago, but the Real Salt Lake goalkeeper and now-former U.S. men’s national team prospect broke his silence on the subject on Thursday with the release of an article on the Players Tribune confirming the decision and laying out the process that led to his decision.
Ochoa provided some clear evidence of his looming decision on Wednesday night on his Instagram account when he posted a photo of him as a child wearing a Mexico jersey.
On Thursday, Ochoa released an article on The Players Tribune where he provided detail on his background and what led him to ultimately choose to play for Mexico despite having been with the U.S. men’s national team as recently as June when he was on the USMNT squad that won the Concacaf Nations League.
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.
They even make me feel like I did when Des was around. And at this stage, that’s what I want to feel. I want to feel loved, and at home.
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.
— David Ochoa
Ochoa’s decision comes just a month after he accepted an invitation to train with the Mexican national team ahead of its participation in the Concacaf Gold Cup, an invitation Ochoa accepted just days after being on the USMNT for Nations League, and three months after being the starting goalkeeper for the U.S. Under-23 men’s national team for Olympic qualifying.
It is that timetable that has left some USMNT fans surprised by Ochoa’s decision, but it is clear in the article he wrote that the decision was something he had been wrestling with for a long time.
The decision has led to predictable backlash from USMNT fans, a reaction that has been exacerbated by Ochoa’s Liking of a video of a goal given up by USMNT goalkeeper Ethan Horvath in his club debut with Nottingham Forest on Wednesday on Twitter.
Ochoa’s decision to ‘Like’ the Horvath goal video does give the impression of some resentment, though Ochoa steered clear of outright bashing the USMNT setup or U.S. Soccer in his article. He did admit to being upset over Gregg Berhalter’s decision not to play him in the USMNT’s friendly against Costa Rica, which was played at the home of Ochoa’s club team, Real Salt Lake.
Though Ochoa didn’t say so, it does feel like being kept out of the Costa Rica friendly, even as home fans chanted for him to be brought in, served as a sort of last straw for the young goalkeeper, who then joined the Mexico camp and received a warm welcome that helped cement his decision to switch national team allegiances.
Does Ochoa’s decision feel like a rushed one by a 20-year-old goalkeeper who is most likely still a few years away from being a factor on the international stage? It does, but Ochoa left no doubt in his article that he feels good about his decision, and he has found peace of mind after making it.
Ochoa isn’t the first Mexican-American player to choose to play for Mexico, and is unlikely to be the last, and while Ochoa stopped short of issuing any blame toward U.S. Soccer for his decision, the USMNT and U.S. Soccer leadership should see Ochoa’s decision as a chance now to make more of an effort to understand the Mexican-American contingent in the talent pipeline.
There are more top Mexican-American prospects facing the same decision, including FC Dallas striker Ricardo Pepi and Julian Araujo, and as much as the USMNT is enjoying an unprecedented talent boon, it would be foolish not to try and learn something from Ochoa’s decision, and foolish to pretend more can’t be done to foster a stronger bond with, and better understanding of the Mexican-Americans, and Latino-Americans, in the player pool.