BRIAN SCIARETTA - Thursday, April 4, 2013
The US U-20 team may have been placed into the Group of Death for this summer's World Cup but left back Juan Pablo Oceguda believes the team has the heart to compete against elite teams.
Ocegueda, 19, has been a regular for US U20 head coach Tab Ramos this entire cycle and has attended nearly every single camp. He has been a consistent presence on the backline and despite being drawn into a group with Spain, France, and Ghana, he is adamant that the team can impress at the World Cup.
"The draw left us in a group that will be difficult," Ocegueda told YA. "Spain and France are two of the strongest nations when it comes to soccer. The group has a lot of competition but anyone can come of out the group on top. We just have to prepare ourselves one game at a time and play our hearts out, and play smart. Our team is confident enough to play against the strongest nations. At the end of the day it depends on who wants it more."
In February's World Cup qualifying tournament based in Mexico, the US team played well and improved as the tournament progressed. After a lackluster 2-1 win over Haiti, the US team put on strong performances against Costa Rica, Canada, and Cuba.
With qualification secure following a quarterfinal win over Canada in the quarterfinals, the US faced Mexico in the finals. Many top US players had left to return to their clubs leaving the Ramos' squad with a depleted bench. With the score deadlocked at 1-1 at the end of regulation, Mexico eventually prevailed 3-1 after 120 minutes.
Despite the loss, the US team's impressive performances were a confidence builder heading into the World Cup and Ocegueda feels as if it was a turning point in the team's growth.
"The feeling of playing for your nation at the qualifiers in search of a World Cup spot is unmatchable," Ocegueda said. "It's something you can't feel at your club team or anything like that. With each game the team grew, the confidence grew, the passion grew, the willingness to suffer and defend the US nation grew. It made our team stronger with each and every game and I'm proud to have been part of the team in qualifiers. The team is family to me each player protected each other on and off the field. But yet we can't be satisfied we need to keep working and prepare ourselves for the next challenge."
On the US U20 team, Ocegueda is one of many dual national players who also holds citizenship with Mexico. Also on the team, Mikey Lopez, Luis Gil, Benji Joya, Daniel Cuevas, and Jose Villarreal also have the eligibility to play for Mexico.
Ocegueda's case is more prominent because in his past he has turned down invitations to play for Mexican youth national teams. He has been public in defending his decision to stick with the United States and play for the country where he was born.
Most recently, last week he went on Twitter for a series of posts discussing why he feels so strongly playing for the United States.
"I just didn't like the fact that people would say that the players in the USA aren't good enough to be in Mexico or be in any other nation - which isn't true," Ocegueda explained. "We just choose to represent the USA. I'm passionate about the sport and I defend any shirt I wear till death. In this case I'm defending the USA shirt and proud to be part of this team."
On the club front, Ocegueda is currently playing within the Chivas de Guadalajara system on loan from Tigres. It's unclear what his future with the club given its policy of only employing players both eligible and willing to represent Mexico internationally.
Ocegueda is currently playing with Chivas' U-20 team and is enjoying his time there. He knows that a solid World Cup this summer could open doors and that the months ahead will be very important in determining the next steps in his career.
"Everything at Chivas is good," Ocegueda concluded. "I'm training hard and staying fit preparing myself for the games with the national team. I'm at the U20 level practicing and playing any friendlies that I can. I'm doing what I can to maintain myself [and stay] on top of things. I'm just hoping for the best after the World Cup."