CARSON, Calif. – Juan Pablo Ocegueda's commitment to U.S. Soccer has put his club career on hold, sort of. He trains with Chivas Guadalajara, whom he joined on loan this year from Tigres UANL, but cannot see game action because of the storied club's Mexicans-only policy.
Ocegueda, the left back for the US Under-20 national team, isn't sure what the future holds. He chose the US over Mexico and is preparing for this summer's FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey. After that, who knows.
“At the moment right now, my situation is just training and staying fit for the World Cup and just wait to see what comes after it,” said Ocegueda, who was in camp with the team the past week at the Home Depot Center. “[Guadalajara] told me right now we're going to wait until the World Cup's over, then we'll see what happens.”
US U-20 coach Tab Ramos likes what he gets from Ocegueda, who has been part of every camp since the cycle began. Ramos calls him a “very technical defender [with] good feet, connects well going forward, can cross a good ball and is a pretty sound defender,” and he sees the Chivas situation as a plus, in a way.
“I know sometimes all the difficult situations the players have to go through,” Ramos told MLSsoccer.com. “He found what was probably the best deal for himself, and that's the one he had to take. I think what's great for us is that he showed a lot of commitment to our men's national team. Let's not forget, this is a player that was called in by Mexico last year, and he turned them down to come to us.
"And now not only that, but now he's pretty much in a situation where he can't play so that he continue to be with us," Ramos continued. "If anything, it shows a lot of commitment to our national team and to play for us, and that's something that, obviously, we appreciate a lot.”
Ocegueda, 19, grew up in Santa Ana, Calif., just a few miles from the HDC, but went to Tigres when he was 14. He played for the Mexican powerhouse's U-20 side, alongside a number of American-born players, and trained intermittently with the first team.
He's looking for the opportunity to play, and cracking Tigres' lineup wasn't going to be simple. A hoped-for loan to Chivas USA never materialized, so he ended up in Guadalajara.
“Right now,” he said, “the idea is to play anywhere I get the opportunity. If I get the opportunity [at Chivas], I'm going to take it. If I don't, then I'll see where I can get it. But I just want to play.”
He's one of three Mexico-based players who are shoo-ins for the World Cup roster, along with Santos Laguna midfielder Benji Joya and forward Danny Cuevas, both from Northern California.
“Benji and Danny are guys that everybody pulls for because they've come [to the national team] the unconventional way,” Ramos said. “They're sort of the guys people didn't want, and they've come here and done a great job. They're very important to us.”
Playing in Mexico accelerates growth, said Ramos, who spent a year with Tigres before Major League Soccer's debut.
“They're in a tough environment,” he said. “It's not the easiest life in the world. You have to really be dedicated and really want to do this in order to succeed at the younger levels in Mexico, so I think that we get a lot out of that.”
Ocegueda saw that first-hand.
“You learn a lot from the first-team players,” he said. “[At Tigres], you've got [Mexican national-teamers Jorge] Torres Nilo and [Carlos] Salcido, great left backs, and I learned a lot from them, I learned a lot from the coach, and I learned a lot from everybody there.”