BRIAN SCIARETTA - Wednesday, February 22, 2012
The US U-20 national team received a boost this past week when Tigres left back Juan Ocegueda turned down an invitation from Mexico to remain with the United States.
Ocegueda, 18, has been regularly playing with US youth national teams and was part of the US team that played in the 2011 Milk Cup in Northern Ireland as well as part of the first U20 camp of 2012 in January.
Last week, however, Ocegueda received a formal invitation to play with the Mexican U-20 team for an upcoming camp. Born in Riverside, California to Mexican parents Ocegueda has the option to play with either country.
The callup was tempting for Ocegueda but he declined the offer due to his willingness to stick with the United States.
"I received the call up about a week ago," Ocegueda told YA on Friday. "It seemed like a good opportunity to see how it would feel like being with the Mexican team and see how I would fit in. Coming from a Mexican family, my parents were excited to hear that."
"It was something that I had to think about and what made me stick with the USA was the fact that they gave me my first opportunity," he added. "They open the doors for me and I had a lot of progress with the USA. I felt comfortable being with them [so I] just stayed loyal to the team."
As with many other dual nationals who are being courted by multiple national teams, the decisions are difficult on many levels. Ocegueda's parents in fact wanted him to play with Mexico.
Ocegueda's decision, however, to stay with the United States is firm and he ready to lead the US U-20 into the 2013 cycle.
"My parents wanted me to go to the Mexican camp since they're Mexicans but also told me that it all depending on me and that they would be supporting me no matter what," Ocegueda said. "Playing for Mexico would have been great but I am staying with the USA. Now I am ready to work hard and prepare myself with the team for [next year's U-20 World Cup] qualifiers."
Ocegueda was with the US U20 team in January and it was his first camp under new head coach Tab Ramos who was hired in the fall.
The former US national team captain Ramos is emphasizing an system that is possession oriented. Ocegueda feels that this fits his strengths and the style of most of the US players in this pool.
"I really enjoyed going to the camp," Ocegueda discussed. "Getting to know the coaches and learning from the style Tab will bring to the team. His style is am offensive style of play but at the same time being able to keep the ball moving it from one side to another until we have a opening to attack.
This US U-20 team is beginning the cycle with an abundance of talent. In addition to Ocegueda, two players in Villyan Bijev and Marc Pelosi have been signed by Liverpool. John Anthony Brooks and Jerome Kiesewetter are with Hertha Berlin. Luis Gil and Omar Salgado are top MLS prospects. Cody Cropper is on the verge of the first team at Ipswich and Sean Cunningham is with Norwegian champion Molde.
Ocegueda is the most prominent player that is based in Mexico but he is not the only one. On the current roster for the upcoming camp, there are also three players from Santos Laguna. The different styles of all the players leaves Ocegued optimistic over the team's ability.
"The talent that the team has is really good," Ocegueda stated emphatically. "Tab brought in players from Mexico which is really good and mixing them in with the college players, MLS players, and the players outside of the USA gives the team a unique style of play."
"The players all seem to be coming from places where the competition is good," he continued. "This will make the players better and will make the team better as they bring in their own style of play and combine it with everyone else. As long as we keep coming together and getting better as a team, the possibilities of getting far into the World Cup are good."
On the club front, Ocegueda is also upbeat. He is currently trying to break through at a Tigres who are one of the best teams in Mexico. Last month he along with fellow American Victor Garza was on the bench for Tigres' Copa Libertadores matches. Garza was subbed into the second game but Oceguda went unused each time as Tigres was eliminated by Union Espanola.
Despite not playing, Ocegueda feels that this was a step forward in his career and he feels that he is progressing at Tigres.
"I've been a starter with the Tigres U-20 team for about a year and a half," Ocegueda said. "The Copa Libertadores was a great opportunities for the young players. I would have loved to have played a couple of minutes but [being on the] bench was a great thing."
"The good thing about it was a teammate of mine and very good friend, Victor Garza, got the chance to debut on the second game. He is basically a brother to me so it was a great thing to see. It just motivates me to keep going because the opportunity to play could be just around the corner."
Ocegueda has had some experiences with the Tigres first team. He played in a friendly last summer against FC Dallas and trained with them in preseason. He is still very young so he remains patient but he also does not feel that he is far off from making an appearance.
"I've felt close to the first team for awhile already since I've been to preseason with them," Ocegueda concluded. "I played a friendly with the first team against FC Dallas, I've also been practicing with them every once in awhile. I feel [a debut is] near but there are things to learn. Everything will just come at its time. Hopefully the opportunities come soon."