BRIAN SCIARETTA - Tuesday, April 5, 2011
The left back position has long been the Achilles heel for US Soccer but Juan Pablo Ocegueda hopes to change that as he is on the rise for both the US U-18 national team and Tigres.
Ocegueda, 17, is now a starter at left back for Tigres' U20 team despite being one of the youngest players on the team. Now he is part of the US system and is enjoying his time with the U-18 national team despite the different style he plays with his Mexican club.
"Playing for the US U-18 team has been a good experience for me," Ocegueda told YA. "It was difficult at first due to the different style of play which is more direct. I was used to the style here in Mexico of keeping the ball waiting for the open space to hit a ball through. It took me a little more time to understand but I feel like I've adapted to the style."
Ocegueda's ascension through the Tigres organization has also made it possible that he could earn time with the US U-20 national team if the team qualifies for this summer's World Cup. He is also eligible for the 2013 cycle and will be a strong candidate for that team but he also holds out hope that he can break into Rongen's squad this summer.
"Making the cycle this year is a lot harder since the World Cup is just around the corner but anything can happen," Ocegueda discussed. "It all depends on the coach but I will work hard to hopefully get a chance to go. I haven't had a chance to have him as a coach yet, but it will be a great opportunity to be on his team either this cycle or the next and just work hard if I do get the chance."
Ocegueda was born in Riverside, California to Mexican parents and his progress has not gone unnoticed by the Mexican youth national teams. Recently the Mexican U-18 national team invited Ocegueda to play with them but the youngster declined because he is happy with the US program.
"I turned them down because I have had a good start with the U-18 U.S. national team," Ocegueda explained. "In going to the Mexican one, I would have to start from zero. So I chose to keep being in the process with the US."
Ocegueda left for Mexico two years ago when he was just 15 to play at Tigres because he felt that it was the best opportunity for him to develop as a player. At the time he left the US he was a forward but now he is confident he is quickly developing into a professional quality left back at Tigres.
As a left back, he is very aggressive in his desire to quickly move the ball up the field and to contribute in the attack and take defenders on with his dribble. He also working hard on his defensive responsibilities as he likes to keep the attackers wide and neutralize them.
"I have played this season as a starter with Tigres' U20 team," Ocegueda said of this season. "It has been going well. I started off nervous but little by little I started to get confidence and started to earn the coach's trust. I feel like I've developed quickly here. I came to Mexico without knowing how to play left back since I use to be a forward. Over the time I learned so many things and have been getting better."
Ocegueda's improvement has been rewarded as recently he played with Tigres' first team in friendly match against FC Dallas on March 24th. Ocegueda entered into the game in the second half and it was his debut for the top team.
Ocegueda, who did not expect to play, struggled at first but eventually calmed down and played well.
"The experience in debuting was having your emotions run wild," Ocegueda recalled. "I didn't expect it. It was a good opportunity for me to show what I have to give and what I can do for the team. When I had gone in I felt nervous. I had too much adrenaline and wanted to do the things perfect. My first two touches were pretty bad but once I calmed down the game felt simple and that's when I started playing a lot better. Overall it was good."
As for the short term future, Ocegueda thinks that he can build on his appearance against FC Dallas and that an appearance with the first team in a league game is not too far away.
"I think I can be up there with the first team soon," Ocegueda concluded. "Debuting with the first team in a league game would have to be the coach's decision. The first team coaches have told me that I am a good left back and there are things I still have to learn but soon my time will come."