By Juan Mesa
U.S. Men's National Team defender Michael Orozco has registered only a few goals throughout his international career, but one was more than enough to earn him the nickname “El Histórico,” or “The Historic One,” from his family, teammates and coaches.
The goal happened on August 15, 2012 in Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca. That day, Michael scored the winning goal in the USA’s 1-0 friendly victory over Mexico. It was the first ever win for the Stars and Stripes in Mexican soil.
“In my heart, it was a dream,” Orozco recalls from his home in Tijuana, Baja California. “Playing for the U.S. MNT against Mexico in Azteca and giving my country a victory is something that I’m very proud of. I still have a news clipping from that day.”
This was without a doubt the most symbolic moment of the Mexican-American defender’s career. Orozco grew up following the Mexican league and watching “El Tri” matches, but he opted to represent the United States at an international level.
“I’m happy to represent the United States in every minute of every game,” Orozco says. “My parents have always supported me and they’re happy that I chose the USA. It’s where I was born and the country that has given my family and I endless opportunities. The fact that my family has supported me all along is what motivates me the most.”
However, most of Orozco’s professional career has transpired in Mexico. The defender debuted with Mexican side San Luis in 2006, where he remained until his 2010 transfer to M.L.S. club Philadelphia Union. He returned to San Luis for two years, and later signed with Puebla for two seasons. In 2015 he arrived at his current club, Xolos de Tijuana.
Being a U.S. MNT player and a professional player in Mexico has enriched his life in many aspects, but walking the line between two worlds has not been easy.
“At times it’s difficult when we play these matches against Mexico because there are a lot of negative comments,” Orozco says. “But you have to stay focused because in the end there will always be teammates that agree or disagree with what team you play for or which country you chose to represent. Not playing for Mexico is something that us Mexican-Americans have to answer to a lot.”
Nonetheless, life in Tijuana has had a very positive impact on Orozco’s life. He’s closer to home there, and his family enjoys living next to the beach. On the sporting side, he’s earned a spot in Xolos’ head coach Miguel “Piojo” Herrera’s starting lineup.
“I am an hour and a half drive away from Anaheim, where my parents live,” Orozco explains. “Now I can see them every two weeks instead of every three to four months.”
In Orozco’s mind, the border city represents his family’s future. When he’s not training, he’s overseeing the construction of his new home on the beach or spending time with his kids. His four and six-year old daughters are receiving a fully bilingual education, something he considers to be another benefit of living on the USA-Mexico border. Orozco’s hope is to stay with Xolos for a long time.
“Michael [Orozco] is a player that knows how to use his defensive skills very well,” Corona states. “He wins his man-to-man duels and going into the attack he always has a clear and concise idea of what he has to do. However, he is also a player that jokes around a lot on the field. He always has some comments during the match that help relieve some of the stress and pressure from the game.”
For Herrera, Orozco’s work with Xolos has been on the rise since he arrived in 2015.
“He [Orozco] got progressively better during the last season,” Herrera notes. “This season, he had a great preseason and earned, through his work, a spot in the starting lineup. He has great marking capacity, does very well on headers, and is a very organized player.”
Orozco is certain that at Tijuana he’s currently in the best moment of his career. His good form is ideal for his aspirations to be called up to the USA’s roster for the Hex, CONCACAF’s 2018 World Cup Qualifying round, especially when the first matchup is against Mexico on November 11 in Columbus, Ohio.
“Columbus is special because of the ‘Dos a Cero’,” Orozco expresses in reference to the infamous score line that has become a staple in the rivalry between the two countries. “It’s our home field. When we play in Columbus, it’s 100% USA fans and they support us from the first minute to the 90th.”
The defender hopes that the USA can continue its winning streak in that city when it comes to facing Mexico in World Cup Qualifiers.
“We have always won, and it has been ‘Dos a Cero’ for a long time. Hopefully the final result will be the same, but if we can score three or four goals I would be even happier. It’s the great rivalry of CONCACAF,” Orozco says.
Defeating Mexico, however, is only one game of many. It’s never the ultimate goal for “El Histórico.” His goals and objectives are vast and limitless, like the Pacific Ocean that Orozco contemplates on a daily basis from his balcony. It is clear to him that a professional athlete’s career is short and it’s a matter of enjoying every moment.
“At the start of every season I write down everything I want to accomplish with my club and with the National Team,” Orozco says. “It’s about always wanting more, not settling for just one game or one opponent. I want to defend against the best players in the world and give everything I have. I am someone that never gives up, and I’m always going to keep fighting.”