GUADALAJARA, Mexico – For Michael Orozco Fiscal, the question marks and criticism leveled at his inclusion in the US men's national team are like water off a duck's back.
“Maybe a lot of people don't have that faith or don't see some kind of potential, but it's not bringing me down,” the 25-year-old San Luis center back told MLSsoccer.com recently in a Guadalajara hotel. “I'm out here in San Luis working hard, 110 percent, to get more calls into the national team.”
To be specific, the Orange, Calif., native isn't just looking for the odd call here and there; he wants to become a fixture in coach Jurgen Klinsmann's long-term plans for the US team.
“I see, for example, Carlos Bocanegra has just played 100 games, I see a lot of players, and I think, 'Why can't I do that?'” he said. “I think it's the work rate that gives you that extra punch, not just in soccer, but in life in general.”
Orozco Fiscal started three games for the US in 2011, all since Klinsmann took charge, and the defender has loved every minute of life in USMNT camp.
“It's a family, they treat you good, it's a different feeling,” he said. “Everybody meets and you have fun, but obviously when it's time to work, we work.”
Although the year is young, 2012 has already been especially good to Orozco Fiscal. He has been a central part of San Luis' quick start, helping the club keep two clean sheets in the first two games of the season to claim first position in Mexico's top division.
Orozco Fiscal says his fitness has hit new levels thanks to an athletic performance coach the club brought in, and believes his team could do big things in the Clausura 2012.
“Our mentality is to go out and win,” he said. “It doesn't matter if you play good or bad, as long as you get three points. We're all happy, all on the same page and we know what needs to be done.”
It may come as a surprise that while playing for club teams in Southern California and even after he moved to Mexico, Orozco Fiscal played as a central midfielder. That fact, perhaps, accounts for Orozco Fiscal's ability to pick out passes and maintain possession, and could be part of the reason why Klinsmann has taken a shining to him.
While Orozco Fiscal honed his youth career in the US, and had spells training at both LA Galaxy and Chivas USA, it was in Mexico that he made it as a pro.
Back in 2004, he trained for two days with Necaxa during the club's preseason in California, impressed the coaches and got invited down to his parents’ native Mexico to play for the Aguascalientes-based club.
Playing professional soccer in Mexico at 18 years of age was exactly the environment Orozco Fiscal was looking for, rather than going through college. And he doesn't regret the decision.
“Out here, you practically have breakfast, lunch and dinner just thinking about soccer,” he said with a laugh. “It's something you appreciate a lot. It's all about soccer. That's your profession. It has to be soccer and improvement in every aspect on and off the field.”
That said, he was strongly considering a move north in 2006 when Raúl Arías, the coach who had brought him to Necaxa and had since taken over at San Luis, called asking him to join the Gladiadores.
A switch to center back and a debut swiftly followed in August 2006, but it wasn't exactly the stuff of dreams – Orozco Fiscal lasted just two minutes in his debut before being sent off, something that still elicits a wry smile. As his career took off in Mexico, however, he never doubted that the US national team was where he wanted to play international soccer.
“When we [Mexican-Americans] come out here, it's just to start a career, not to play for Mexico,” Orozco Fiscal said. “I think everyone out here wants to go back and play for the US. Our hearts, our life, everything is in the US.”
MLS fans got a close look at Orozco Fiscal when he moved on loan to the Philadelphia Union in January of 2010, but although he appreciated his time there and was keen to stay, a deal to could not be struck last summer.
“I wanted to be part of Philadelphia, things just didn't go the right way,” he lamented, adding that he still follows and supports the Union. “But now I'm here in San Luis and happy to be here.”
The interest in the “gringos” playing in Mexico, helped by television coverage of the Primera División in the US and fueled by Klinsmann calling up Mexico-based American players, has caught Orozco Fiscal's attention since moving back.
“It motivates me that people watch our games,” he said, “and it makes you want to do things the right way.”
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.