Love him or hate him, David Ochoa isn't changing.
The Real Salt Lake goalkeeper was among the stories of Round One in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs after his team's penalty-kick triumph over the Seattle Sounders, which saw Ochoa emerge as the primary antagonist at Lumen Field as his team pulled off the postseason's most stunning upset so far.
With RSL again a heavy underdog in their upcoming Western Conference Semifinal at Sporting Kansas City on Sunday (3 pm ET | ABC, ESPN Deportes), Ochoa is relishing another opportunity to shock the league.
"I think that's our biggest motivation right now," the 20-year-old said during his Friday video call. "The league has doubted us this whole season. It's funny for me. I like humor. I think it's funny we're shutting a lot of mouths up. So that's definitely our motivation.
"At the same time, thanks to them for giving us that motivation. It makes us play harder, play smarter and just give it all for this crest and for this group. I think we're on a good path and this group has been really confident and we're up for the task on Sunday, which is Sporting KC."
Asked about RSL's upcoming opponent, Ochoa clearly respects a Sporting KC attack that boasts wingers Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi, plus is poised to get striker Alan Pulido back. But he also feels RSL already vanquished a better foe in Seattle, comparing the West's No. 2 and No. 3 seeds.
"Sporting KC is a top opponent," Ochoa said. "They have really good players, but at the same time I would say in my opinion Seattle's a better team. And for us to beat Seattle, one of the top dogs in the league for me, I think it gives us the confidence to go against any other team in the playoffs and get a result. Like I said, I think Seattle was a tougher opponent, so I think we're all confident going into Sporting KC and I think we're going to give a good battle."
RSL will likely need another strong defensive effort, especially with captain Albert Rusnak due to again miss out after testing positive for COVID-19. That contributed to ceding the majority of possession at Seattle and RSL getting outshot 21-0.
But when he hears criticism of RSL's defensive tactics, Ochoa raises several counter-points. For one, Ochoa feels those narratives don't take into account that Seattle's best chance was a low-percentage distance shot that Raul Ruidiaz sent off the post.
"They didn't test me. I would even bring up Ruidiaz's shot that everyone's talking about: It's a good shot, but I had it covered. He's not beating me from that far," Ochoa said. "It's hitting the top of the crossbar. So I don't think they had any chances to really make me make a play and have to make a diving save at all.
"People talk about us having zero shots on goal or whatever, but they had 20 shots and the only three they had on target were right to my hands, so to me it doesn't really count. The same people who are talking smack right now are the same people who doubted us this whole season. So we're fully confident and we have a good mentality going to Sporting KC and I think we'll come out on top."
If winning in penalties doesn't earn his team many national plaudits, Ochoa maintains that isn't of concern for him. The homegrown backstop is clearly confident in his backline, and the Claret and Cobalt plan on riding this wave as far as it will take them.
Plus, RSL already beat Sporting KC twice this season, including a dramatic Decision Day 1-0 win that gave them the West's No. 7 seed.
"My backline was spot-on," he said. "I would say all four of them back there, again, maybe people doubted us because we're such a young backline, but at the same time put some respect on our name. We've got some quality players back there and hopefully people are starting to see it after Seattle, one of the best attacking teams in the league, we didn't give them any chances.
"After Seattle, man, I'm feeling really confident. I think my backline is really good right now. I think all four of them are on fire."