Cuevas, Joya and Ocegueda Bring Professional Experience from Mexico to U.S. Under-20s
as they Prepare for 2013 CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Puebla
The U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team has its share of playing backgrounds, and with the 2013 CONCACAF U-20 Championship on the horizon, several players’ professional ties have been built in Mexico.
The familiarity of the soccer fabric in Mexico bodes well for Santos Laguna forward Daniel Cuevas and midfielder Benji Joya, and Chivas de Guadalajara defender Juan Pablo Ocegueda. The three Mexico-based players will now bring that experience to the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team during the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, which will qualify four teams to the U-20 FIFA World Cup. The opening match for the U.S. takes place against Haiti at 6:30 p.m. ET on Monday, Feb. 18, in Puebla, Mexico (televised on FOX Soccer).
“Being able to play here and just knowing how the culture is, it’s actually good for us because we know how it’s like over here,” Cuevas said. “You know how people are outside of the field and know what everything is like.”
All three are based out of California, but they are working up the ranks south of the border. For Cuevas and Joya, both traveled to Mexico in June of 2011 to train for Santos. The original plan was to then showcase themselves for Atlas and Chivas to keep their options open.
“After the first two days of training with Santos, they told us we were going to stay,” Cuevas said.
Joya is a U.S. Soccer Development Academy product, having previously played for De Anza Force. Joya was set to go the college route with Cal State Bakersfield, but he took the chance to play in Mexico and his work paid off with Santos.
“I’ve trained a lot with the first team and practice with them on a daily basis,” Joya said. “I’m in the 25 players, but during most games they move me down to the U-20s. I still consider myself a U-20 player working hard to become a first-team player.”
Ocegueda was scouted by Chivas when he was 15 and another opportunity came up with Tigres, which is now loaning him to C.D. Guadalajara. Ocegueda, who holds dual citizenship and is from Riverside, Calif., has demonstrated his allegiance to U.S. Soccer since being a part of its Youth National Team system.
“Everything I have done from a soccer standpoint has been with the U.S.,” Ocegueda said. “I never really had the chance to be seen by Mexico and the U.S. gave me my first opportunity. That is always my initiative.”
Now he is part of a U-20 MNT guided by head coach Tab Ramos, whose style of play and coaching mesh with this Mexico-based trio.
“The style that Tab has been bringing to the team has been more possession and keeping the ball,” Ocegueda said. “You try to play the ball forward, but you’re also not hitting it directly – just moving it around and waiting for the right options.”
One of the fortunate ties to both professional soccer in Mexico and U.S. Soccer that Cuevas and Joya enjoy is the opportunity to associate with U.S. MNT forward Herculez Gomez. The first-team Santos striker has formed a good friendship with the two U-20 players.
“He has invited us over to his house, we’ve eaten together and he usually has us under his wing to give us tips when we train with him,” Cuevas said. “If he sees we’re doing something bad or if something’s not going right, he motivates us most of the time because he knows how our style of play is. It really helps a lot when he talks to us.”
Now the motivation rests on putting together a strong performance at the CONCACAF Championship to qualify for this year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey.
“I’m trying to win this tournament, and that is my top priority,” Joya said. “We all want to do our part and be seen, and winning the tournament is our main goal. We want to take advantage of this opportunity.”