CARSON, Calif. – Juan Pablo Ocegueda made a bad decision.
He's 19. It happens.
The U.S. under-20 left back joined Chivas de Guadalajara from Tigres this year. The hitch? Chivas exclusively plays Mexican nationals. Because of his international allegiances and despite his Mexican passport, Ocegueda is frozen out. He can train, but little else. He can't play in reserve or U-20 games.
"The situation is pretty difficult for me at the moment," Ocegueda told Goal.com.
Currently, training camps and friendlies with the U.S. U-20 team represent the most competitive action Ocegueda sees.
Ocegueda was born in Orange County. He grew up in Santa Ana, Calif. and played for West Coast FC before moving to Riverside when he was 14. Five games into his second year at Saddleback, he joined Tigres in Mexico.
"I think it's great for us to have some of our players make that decision early, to leave and go to Mexico, because there's always been great football there. We're happy that they're going there and we're certainly getting the fruits of that here," U.S. U-20 coach Tab Ramos told reporters.
"They're in a tough environment. A lot of kids who go to Mexico early, they're in dorms together. It's not the easiest life in the world. You really have to be dedicated and really want to do this in order to succeed in the younger levels in Mexico."
Ocegueda suffered significant homesickness initially.
"At the beginning it's hard, but you start getting used to it," he told reporters. "You've got to follow your dream. You gotta do what you gotta do to get where you want to be."
Ocegueda toughed it out for four years. He played for the Tigres U-20s and trained with the first team, studying Jorge Torres Nilo and Carlos Salcido, the first two choices at left back for the Mexican national team. "I learned a lot from them," he said. But after spending most of his teenage years at Tigres, Ocegueda glanced around the league and craved first-team minutes.
"The situation was good at the moment, but I was there for four years," Ocegueda said. "[I] decided to see if I could get any other option somewhere else."
Ocegueda joined Chivas on loan this year. Initially, it didn't seem such a poor move. Ocegueda's parents come from Jalisco, the district Guadalajara is in. Chivas, traditionally one of the two biggest clubs in Liga MX, has a reputation for trusting youth. The Goats gave league debuts to nine homegrown players this season. Under owner Jorge Vergara, Chivas has slightly softened its Mexican-only policy, and Ocegueda hoped more tweaks would come.
Plus, if that didn't pan out, he could always join Chivas USA, also owned by Vergara.
"At the moment it seemed like a great option for me," Ocegueda told Goal.com. "They have also Chivas USA here, so it seemed like a great option – either if I stay over there or come back here."
Or so he thought. Instead, MLS mechanisms prevented the move. U.S. youth internationals are sent through a weighted lottery when they join the league. Ocegueda had already represented the United States in the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, helping the country reach the final and qualify for the World Cup.
Currently, the U-20 World Cup in Turkey in June is Ocegueda's focus. He can't move again until after it ends and the transfer window opens again. It represents his best chance to raise his profile with the absence of playing time on the club level.
A weakness at left back should preserve Ocegueda's starting spot. Ocegueda played in all five games at the CONCACAF Championship, starting the last four.
"Just as long as I stay fit," Ocegueda told Goal.com. "That's all [Ramos] wants from all the players – stay fit, suffer for the team. That's about it."
Ramos said that the 22-man roster for the 2013 Toulon Tournament, a U-21 competition that begins on May 28, will feature "guys who are not playing as much." From that group, he estimated that 15 or 16 will make the World Cup roster.
Come July, Ocegueda will revisit his club situation. He hopes to make a better decision this time around.
"The idea is to play anywhere I get the opportunity to play," he told reporters. "If I get the opportunity [in Guadalajara], then I'm going to take it. If I don't, I'll see where I can get it. I just want to play."
Would he consider MLS?
"I'd love to play in the U.S.," he said. He paused. "I'd love to play anywhere."
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