Gringo Report: Is Tigres teen the US left back of the future?
GUADALAJARA, Mexico – It's no big secret that the United States national team is facing problems with an aging core of veterans and, once again, a depth crisis at left back.
Fabian Johnson has been a nice addition, sure, and Edgar Castillo has had flashes of potential. But as this past international break demonstrated, when both those top options are unavailable, the same old problem that plagued Jurgen Klinsmann predecessor is still around.
So what's the answer? How about someone who has actually come up through the US youth system?
Tigres UANL's Juan Pablo Ocegueda would like to make his case.
The 19-year-old has captained the US Under-20 side in this current cycle, opted to represent the US over Mexico and has been a vital part of his age group since before the 2011 Milk Cup. He has also shot up in height and bulked up physically over the last couple of years and now stands at 5-foot-11.
The Riverside, Calif., native is part of the current crop of Tab Ramos' U-20s who are aiming for a berth in next year's U-20 World Cup in Turkey. And right there is where he may fall right into Klinsmann's wheelhouse.
The Latino influence Klinsmann talked about when he first took over the senior national team is strong with this current group of U-20s, and Ramos is introducing a fluid pressing game that the likes of Ocegueda relish.
“It is a team that really pressures a lot and is always on top of the other team, making them create mistakes,” Ocegueda told MLSsoccer.com by phone from Monterrey on Wednesday. “We always try to get forward as soon as you can, trying to play out the back, and keeping the ball as much as we can, but moving forward. We vary in formation from 4-3-3 to 4-4-1-1.”
Ocegueda would like to think (as would Greg Garza at Club Tijuana) that he's somewhere on the radar for the United States in a position where the pool is one of the shallowest. He also plays his club soccer in Mexico with a team that has a very good youth set-up and plays a similarly aggressive style to the one which Klinsmann is trying to implement in the United States.
He's keenly aware that he's still a ways from graduating to the US senior team, but Ocegueda is setting his sights high.
“My goal in any team that I go to is to reach the first team and start as its left back,” said Ocegueda. “And that includes the full men's national team.”
Ocegueda describes himself as a balanced fullback who knows his first responsibility is to defend, but likes to move the ball forward and isn't frightened to shoot when the opportunity arises.
But his situation at Tigres is tenuous at a club stacked with options at left back. Arguably Mexico's best two players in that position – Jorge Torres Nilo and Carlos Salcido – play there, as does as US World Cup veteran left back Jonathan Bornstein, presenting obstacles, but also players from which Ocegueda can learn plenty.
The youngster, known even to Tigres head coach Ricardo Ferretti by his nickname “Pacquiao,” deals with the situation by not letting his head drop and focusing on moving forward.
“I don't really pay attention to all that, that will come at its time,” explained Ocegueda of the competition and making his first-team debut for Tigres. “I'm just concentrating on doing my best in every game that I play and every practice and, hopefully, I get my opportunity soon.”
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.