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David Ochoa will play for Mexico, and what it means for the USMNT

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.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CSc1g7GLFH6/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

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.

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

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.

Comments

  1. Not losing one ounce of sleep on this “loss.” He didn’t want to be here and if there is one position we have always been able to replace talent, it’s at GK. Besides, the current “A” crop has many years left. Steffan is 28, Turner is 25, and Horvath is 26. Ochoa wasn’t better than any of these guys and that doesn’t count the teens we have working their way up the ladder in Europe like: Odunze (Leicester City), Defreitas-Hansen (Swansea City), or Wady (Chelsea).

    The bottom line is if a teen isn’t in Europe or about to move there, we shouldn’t sweat it. Because chances are we already have (or soon will have) someone else there playing the same position. Losing Pepi (IMO) would hurt, because of our lack of quality strikers in Europe. But otherwise, I doubt we will miss a beat without Alvarez, Gomez, or even Araujo. Because there is a Cowell, Bello, and Scally who has more upside ready to go. Let Mexico have guys who stay in MLS or Liga MX. We need talent that can do better.

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  2. I don’t begrudge him for playing for US youth teams and then selecting Mexico. I believe through my heritage, I could have represented Ireland or US. If Ireland had invited me to play for their youth team and the US did not, I am pretty certain I would have played for Ireland as it is an experience that very few people get. Likewise, he has a legitimate opportunity to go to a world cup next year as a player which is an experience even less people get whereas he has almost no chance of being part of the US team next year assuming they qualify. A lot can happen in 4 years. He may never get a better opportunity than this. Hats off to Berhalter if he isn’t trying to force young players to cap tie when picking US may not be their best choice. Gonzalez chose Mexico but I don’t think he ever gets called up. He probably would have gotten opportunities with US but hindsight is 20/20 that is why I applaud Berhalter if he isnt forcing young people into making decisions they may later regret. Probably an unpopular opinion on this site.

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  3. i think there is some revisionism in the “hit the bricks” arguments. we didn’t feel secure in our keeping until after the summer, having tripped over 2 relatively uncapped but strong keepers. he was on the NL team and sounded like he decided smack in the middle. the fan base generally discovered turner afterwards.

    i say this because there are positions like mid and wingback where we could use players and people like efrain and araujo are walking and people can’t take the same “after fact” victory lap because the situation is messier. the summer candidates did not cover themselves in the same glory in so much depth it’s like buzz off.

    we also have players with some injury history and you never know what happens so i think it’s smug to be like we don’t need him. i think the spring assessment on him was pretty good shotstopper. if i can stack those 5 deep that’s even better than 3 deep. i also think the reality is we had only 1 — one — keeper play well for an extended run this summer, and that was turner. horvath got a game and change. steffen was OK and is kind of living off rep. not sure if this is quite yet keller and friedel with hahnemann behind them. it has that promise but they’d need to keep doing it, do it against better opposition, etc.

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  4. It cuts both ways. How about the numerous Euro Black players that have an American parent. Most have a tenuous connection to the USA, but feel at home culturally with the USMNT.

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  5. We don’t need him and I won’t miss him. Having grown up in San Diego, I have known many dual nationals and one of my best friends grew up on both sides of the border and I’ve seen him and his brother switch from English to Spanish or vice versa right in the middle of a sentence. Yet, they are decidedly American and not Mexican. In the southern part of the county close to 80% of the kids have Spanish/Mexican surnames, so there isn’t any discrimination that I’m aware of and I suspect the vast majority of Mexican-Americans in this area identify with the US. So I wouldn’t draw any larger conclusions from his decision to go with Mexico.

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  6. Lets not forget the other day, Ochoa gave a like on a goal that Horvath gave up in the Nottingham Forest game. Ochoa seems real salty and a really immature kid.

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  7. Good luck to him, but where would he have fit in the next 6 to 8 years? A 3rd keeper and where hit fits in with Mexico might be a better option. All the Mexican dual nationals have parents repping Mexico not the US so it makes it easier for them probably(can’t speak for them ofcourse). If it’s a better situation and can further his career than do what’s best for you. Don’t get mad at the ones the USA loses and praise the ones they get, it the same thing. Maybe some played with ynt and some didn’t sh!t happens, it goes both ways and the future is bright regardless.

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  8. Alex mendez, Ulysses llanez and Richie ledezma a concern we can be losing? Who would hurt most? Growing up in L.A. the affinity chicanos feel for mexico is very strong and deep, especially in two sports they find passion….boxing and fubtol

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  9. I think it’s a bunch of hogwash…he wants to feel special and Mexico made him feel special…but the truth will come when we see or don’t see him on the field…He could have said no to the youth team call ups…pefok was being recruited for a while before he said yes…if he felt mexican then he would’ve waited…i know it’s a personal decision but something in his explanation doesn’t makes me say hmmmm…

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    • Apparently Ochoa gave an interview on Sirius and had nothing bad to say about his experience with the US program. His parents are Mexican immigrants with strong ties to Mexico, and that is how he was raised. It made no sense for him at age 20 with a bright future in the US program to make a switch outside of what appears to be ethnic bonding.
      .
      I sensed other dual nats might start feeling the pressure on social media and in their enclosed communities, especially after 2 losses to the US this summer.
      .
      Word is Arajo is filing a switch

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  10. The Players Tribune is something I very much enjoy, but it all must be taken with a grain of salt. Pretty much all of the content could be described as “puff pieces” written from an artificially first-person perspective, usually involving a controversial athlete who feels misunderstood or is dealing with an issue of identity. It becomes almost formulaic once you read enough of them. Certainly there is truth and honesty in there, but it’s a marketing exercise as well.

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  11. Not sure I buy all the “emotional” stuff. Perhaps he saw firsthand that the USMNT has three keepers much better than him, that will all probably be around for 8 more years. He concluded he would have a better shot at international playing time with Mexico…

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  12. In the end, it is up to him and what he feels is the right decision for his soccer career. However, the manner in which he handled this is very unprofessional, to be kind to him.
    From the looks of it, the USMNT locker room, at least now, seems to be very warm, friendly and almost frat-boy like (which is fine, there is a strong sense of camaraderie within the group), although in the past, there has been some toxicity and cliques.
    Perhaps the Mexican-Americans or Hispanic-Americans just don’t feel like they belong in this kind of environment. Hopefully, the toxicity and cliques have left with the last crop of players and it is just a matter of the Latino players not not liking this current kind of locker-room atmosphere, which is not a problem, at least to me.

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  13. Mexico has a culture that is even more nationalistic than the US. There isn’t as much cultural diversity, and being Mexican feels like an ethnic and national identity, whereas Americans have a national identity and often also have a different ethnic identity. So if you parents were born in Mexico, and you were born in the US, your parents probably would raise you with a Mexican identity (ethnicity) and not really care that you are actually an American. This is the same in many ethno states like Mexico, Germany, Japan, etc. The US isn’t an ethno state it’s a melting pot, and some Americans just don’t have that strong a connection to the US. They are American but they don’t care that much. I have no problem with these players choosing Mexico over the US. However, if you start for the US and become an important part of the youth teams, I think it’s disrespectful and treasonous to switch. If the US cast him aside that’s also different. But if he felt more Mexican than American, then don’t agree to play for the US in the first place. Wait for Mexico to call you in. How many players have switched from Mexico to the US after having played for Mexico? I can’t think of any, but I can think of players who chose the US over Mexico and never changed. Curious what others think.

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    • Edgar Castillo….though he didn’t play…he was called several times and made the bench for friendlies… maybe Joe Corona,,,I know Mexico was chasing him for a minute…

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      • Yup on Castillo, at least 3 caps and Joe corona had one cap for a Mexico youth team. I do think in both cases they switched because Mexico wasn’t picking them to play. So it’s more understandable as they were maybe cast aside. I wonder if there any more?

    • Germany has had a fair amount of diversity for at least 20 years.
      They have had a large influx of Turks in the past and other areas of the Middle East more recently (the boat people). As for Joe Corona, I don’t think he was ever seriously considering the Mexican national team but just went where he could play. Coming out of high school his goal was to play in MLS, but never got an offer and after a year of college at San Diego State he got an offer from Tijuana and that’s why he started in Mexico. He grew up only about 5 miles north of the border and was pretty bi-national but went to high school in San Diego County, where he was the County Player of the Year his senior year.

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      • Agreed, and Germany has gone farther in recognizing and welcoming people into the national team, who may not have traditional German roots. I feel like Mexico is still having a strong battle about even including naturalized citizens on the national team like Funes Mori.

    • Former USMNT international and assistant coach – Martin Vasquez, representrd our El Tri in senior i ternational matches before playing for the USA as well.

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      • That’s a great one. I think he was the first. I never saw him play and he didn’t make the 1998 world cup roster, so I didn’t know about him. I think he only had few games for each team and don’t catch on.

  14. I don’t like losing players, especially to Mexico.
    That said there are certain positions where the loss of a prospect would be more gut wrenching than others. For example the loss of Johnathan Gonzalez was harder to accept because we desperately needed to replace Bradley & Trapp when he went to Mexico. Its a little less painful now because of the emergence of Adams & McKennie. Don’t get me wrong I still wish he was a USMNT player, but it’s not as painful as it was.
    If we lose Araujo, I’m not concerned since we have Dest, Reynolds, & Cannon (all similar ages)….but I’d hate to lose Jonathan Gomez considering the lack of LB options/prospects.
    If we lose Pepi but somehow get Balogun & Sanogo…I’m Ok with the trade-off.
    As for Ochoa…I find it ridiculous for a 20 yr old keeper to feel slighted for not seeing minutes for a Sr. National Team. He should have been honored to have even been included in a camp so recently after his crap performance at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. He comes off as an arrogant & entitled if that’s his justification. Hope he enjoys the US beating his new team while he watches on on the TV from his home.

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  15. His family supports the Mexican national team. That is the reason he wants to play for them. The USMNT is generally in a sweet spot when it comes to attracting dual nationals, but Mexico is the one country that is tough to compete with just because they have such a large fan base in the United States and are fairly equivalent in prestige and resources. I am not too worried about it. And I’m not really interested in national team coaches spending time recruiting dual nationals, promising them stuff and playing them just to cap tie them. That’s all seedy. Are they going to pay the players more than the other federation? Where does that go?

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  16. I think one more thing to consider for everyone, among what’s been written, is the age of the goalkeepers involved with both national teams. The US has three goalkeepers in their mid twenties on the up in Europe and likely headed there. All of Mexico’s top goalkeepers are 34 or older. He’ll have a much better chance of catching on with the national team for a longer period anyway, among everything else. I get he may well have been frustrated; but, look at what’s in front of him, too.

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  17. side question, at a point in his narrative he seems to suggest the FIFA 18 year old rule barred him being at chivas. in terms of the rule, if he had mexican dual citizenship, it couldn’t have. that’s how reyna and pulisic get abroad early. is he misunderstanding? i’m not sure he realizes if he was picking US youth teams what that would have meant to Chivas, which is run on kind of “Athletic Bilbao” rules, ie, we play only mexicans. unless he didn’t have his mexican passport sorted at the time, i’m not sure if he has the story straight and it would be an odd misunderstanding when he’s selling the mexican welcome. sounds to me like he was teased for being american before being punted for it based on chivas’ roster approach. not sure why some of the history he tells is so formative and that…..wasn’t.

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    • I believe there was a special exception given to players going from one EU country to another. Thus Pulisic and Reyna were not effected because their passports were EU. Konrad was exempted because his family moved for his father’s job.

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      • inaccurate. if i am mexican i don’t need an exception to play in mexico. that meets the core idea of the rule that you can only register where you are a national. i need an exception if i am croatian (pulisic) or polish (lederman) or the like and want to play in another part of europe. this is likely a compromise meant to avoid a legal fight since technically EU residents can work in any other EU country. FIFA then glosses that and says, well, if you are 16 and moving within EU; or mom and dad move for their job.

        the underlying idea is avoiding import of minor players until they are majority age. that doesn’t speak to a mexican wanting to play in mexico. he should have had every right. try again.

  18. if you read between the lines, i am right. he felt a tug between both over time. he does feel culturally mexican but he lives and plays here and had a mentor (deceased) here. what i got out of it, GB, his staff, and the players didn’t make a special effort to welcome him in, and he felt the absence of his YNT keeper coach who did make that effort. under GB’s merit driven approach he wasn’t cap tied in the tournament or even given a minute of his “home” friendly. someone who feels somewhat culturally mexican and has dealt with some mental health issues then made an emotional decision based on his initial greetings to Mexican camp that they were his true home. despite a past history where he says he was mocked for his americanness while at chivas (to be fair, notoriously nativist). i assume the teasing will come later, but they will also probably sort out a way to make him feel wanted.

    this is basically the opposite response to the musah scenario. if you generally treat the NT as a pure merit exercise, make no special effort to welcome, make no special effort to cap tie, you leave this emotional door open. all due respect to the kid, and i wish him well career wise and fighting depression, but i think if we do our sales job like it sounds like tata did (kid, did you ever consider the mexican players might have been encouraged to welcome you????), and we lock him in, the emotional decision never happens.

    i am sure if this comes out opposite he could use half the elements of this narrative the other way. the YNT coach that made him feel welcome, and allowed his mexican style quirks. the MNT coach that went more out of his way and played him at his freaking home game in a friendly, i mean, jesus, were we even trying??

    i also think we’re skipping the “but mr. subotic are you perhaps being a bit naive about your wartorn homeland” angle where perhaps the political vibe of the day makes it harder to sell that mexico has some serious issues, economic, political, corruption, violence, which is why dad fled here. and also that after several of these mexico camps and the nice welcome, maybe he sees more where he is fairly americanized. the teasing comes back, etc.

    but what’s done is done. wish the kid well but buried within his own text it sounds like regardless of the themes he is pushing, if we’d done our job, he would have committed just the same.

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    • Agree with plenty here, but you lost me a bit at the Musah example. Seemed to me that while we certainly made some extra effort to reach out to Musah, GB went out of his way to *not* use an obvious opportunity to cap-tie him (water is murky, but from what I understand he still hasn’t been truly cap-tied). Given how easy it would’ve been, I read this as GB confirming the message that nobody will be given competitive minutes for the pure reason of cap-tying, So for me, he was being rightly consistent… did you see something else?

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      • We would have also had to play Ochoa four times to cap tie him as he is under 21. I believe he would have to wait three years though if he had played in a competitive fixture.

      • i am not sure if i buy he never cuts any slack — dest. just like he doesn’t always go with form. many of his favorites are no on form.
        however generally speaking he does seem to not hand out “cap tie” appearances independent of his idea of performance. i was saying that if you do that you risk a mix of musahs (who stay despite everything) and ochoas (who walk). we have historically bent such rules to try to keep ochoas. if you make no special effort we may accumulate an unusual amount of ochoas (efrain araujo akinola). at some point your “principles” — and he’s capping some strange people instead sometimes — have to be weighed against the breakage. and i also argued down the thread that the usual way of cap tying is not a risky start but instead a harmless garbage time appearance with the result/advancement secured. martinique. the canada game. nations league against cuba. we had some chances where the result risks were near zero and the value of cap tying should outweigh worrying if we beat martinique 7-0 or 4-1 or whatever. it’s kind of absolutist to be like i am never early cap tying anyone. that sounds like a good way to lose players, who by definition will usually be in demand and have some cultural tug both ways.

      • JR: that’s not the way i read the rule regarding regional championships. i read it as 4 “A” games including friendlies OR regional championships. you can switch within 3 caps if they are not gold cup. hence akinola.

  19. I understand being torn between two cultures as I don’t feel fully American nor fully Cuban, but this country is where I live and what has given me opportunities…then this country is what I represent…not where I think I can have the most fun. Unless I’m being discriminated against (and sports tend to be the most equal of equals at this level), the US is my country and where my loyalties lie.

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  20. If I were Mexico, I would use Ochoa as a recruiting tool for dual Mexican-American players. Mexico plays so many home games in the US that dual nationals could be swayed, as well as the influence of Spanish language social media on these players. Ochoa’s statement to me sounds like a carrot to dual nationals, describing a fun atmosphere and bond with others who share your ethnicity. We’ve reached that point where Mexico is finding US-based talent is good enough for El Tri, and this looks like it may be effective.

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    • the press articles suggested we got dest by pushing the “keep your YNT together” angle. like these are the kids you grew up playing with. it’s then interesting to me mexico has usually linked araujo, efrain, and ochoa together. like, come as a group. i also wonder, slightly different angle on your thought, what ochoa’s social situation was with the YNT. his story was more about his coach than his teammates. maybe as a keeper he wasn’t buddy buddy with everyone, or maybe he didn’t have a bunch of buddies, and so it was a harder sell. you do kind of wonder with musah’s eagerness whether some of this is a social vibe thing. he talked a lot of abstractions and then it was my old youth coach versus my new teammates welcomed me. like where were the U20s and our senior team? and maybe that’s the point.

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    • That would only work if he is actually playing. Othewise, it would be obvious he is being used for his dual-nationality and the federation doesn’t give a damn about him personally.

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    • i thought he said it outright in the piece, like he was going along, and might have sealed the deal, then we didn’t play him a minute that 4 game stretch, and particularly in salt lake. i get he’s saying he felt a little bit disconnected and that’s fair enough, but from a (cynical?) standpoint, if we’d made a halfway effort, job done. i think in theory he could have pulled an akinola and switched back out, but i think he’s downplaying the soccer aspect.

      it is interesting the article is in english. he still plays here and this is primarily for our consumption.

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      • FWIW, Ives linked to the English-language version, which begins with a link to the Spanish-language version. Given most pieces on the Players Tribune are heavily ghost-written (understandably), I’m not sure there would be a “true source” between the two.

  21. I’m not torn up about this. The kid seemed like a punk anyway. But it does leave me wondering whether there is something systemic behind the US losing so many of its Mexican-American dual nationals given the relative parity between the teams. Or is it perhaps cultural, where most of these second-generation kids grew up feeling more “Mexican” than “American”. Either way, it’s hard not to notice that our national team is full of dual nationals from all over the world but really short on Mexican-Americans, who you’d think would be the best represented, given our demographics.
    For what it’s worth, I really hope we can hold on to Ricardo Pepi.

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    • I really don’t want to be a cynic but I’ve already chalked Pepi up as a loss. Would love to be wrong. I’m sure Tata has already had dinner with him and his family like 3x by now.

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    • Over the last 5-10 years, how many dual nationals have we actually lost to Mexico, or rather how many have we lost that made us regret them leaving? I can’t think of any that’s for sure! We’ve taken some away from Mexico too, so this works both ways, but I wouldn’t sweat losing this kid he has a lot of growing up to do and I was never impressed with him tbh!

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      • I hope he is benched. This is disgusting what he did to Horvath. This is the reason he is leaving. He is way down the order, and Martino is promising a World Cup. Martino must not have watched the Olympic qualifying against Honduras.

        El Tri can have him. Good riddance!

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