Ochoa, whose US youth international career included the Under-23's failed bid to qualify for the just-concluded Tokyo Olympics, sent out a tweet Thursday morning announcing his decision. In a lengthy and revelatory essay in The Players' Tribune, Ochoa reflected on being Mexican-American and delved into the topic of depression.
In the intro to the piece, he noted, "Just so you know, my decision is nothing against the U.S. It’s nothing against any teammate or any coach, or against American soccer. Honestly. I still play soccer here, and I owe so much of my career to the American youth system."
"This is where I have matured as a player and a person. This is where I found the coach who changed my life. So, yeah, I want to make that clear: I am very, very grateful to American soccer."
The essay goes into detail about Ochoa's special relationship with U.S. Soccer goalkeeping coach Des McAleenan, who he met when he joined the U-18 squad.
After McAleenan took a job in Colombia, Ochoa thought the pair might be reunited when McAleenan emerged on the shortlist for an open RSL goalkeeping coach job. But in February, he learned that McAleenan had taken his own life.
"That news made me question absolutely everything," Ochoa shared. "I found out that Des, too, had been struggling with depression. It was such a shock, because he had seemed like this happy guy, always smiling, always working hard. But nobody knew until it was too late."
He also reflected on growing up the son of a Chivas fan and going to the Liga MX team's heralded academy with dreams to eventually play for El Tri. "It was so tough being with the Mexican kids at Chivas," he wrote in the essay, "I had a Mexican passport, I looked Mexican, but since I came from the U.S., I was always the gringo. I was the spoiled kid from the States who had had everything handed to him."
He credits his move to Real Salt Lake's academy as a crucial one in his personal and professional development, especially noting the role academy director Martín Vásquez played.
In the end, Ochoa said the choice boiled down to a gut check. "I realized that, no matter how much I try, I will never be fully American," he reflected. "Nor will I ever be fully Mexican, so it’s about where I feel more comfortable, and something inside me feels more at home with the Mexican players."
Ochoa has 13 starts and three clean sheets during his first full season as RSL's first-choice goalkeeper — and he'll get his next shot at another shutout when the Claret and Cobalt face Austin FC at Rio Tinto Stadium this Saturday.