During his time with the U.S. U-20 National Team, Real Salt Lake goalkeeper David Ochoa learned many valuable lessons from goalkeeper coach Des McAleenan.
Beyond the positional training that comes with spending weeks at a time at various camps throughout the year in the buildup to the 2019 U-20 World Cup, confidence, positivity and leadership were chief among those lessons.
When McAleenan passed away on February 26 at just 53 years old, his memory was understandably on Ochoa’s mind as he prepared for the 2020 Concacaf Olympic Qualifying tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“He meant a lot to me. When I was younger I had a couple slip-ups and he saw the good side of me and worked with me and talked with me and got to know me,” Ochoa said. “He wasn’t just a goalkeeper coach. He was a friend. It’s sad to see that he’s gone, but his legacy lives in me. He’s always in my head.”
Those lessons have come in handy for Ochoa as he readied to start for RSL in the season opener on Saturday in Minnesota.
After playing well throughout the Concacaf Olympic Qualifying tournament and arguably being the key to advancement to the Semifinal round after posting a shutout in a nail-biting 1-0 win over Costa Rica in the first Group Stage match, one misplayed ball easily could have been nightmare fuel for the 20-year-old goalkeeper.
That miscue led to a goal for Honduras in the semifinals as the U.S. fell 2-1 and missed out on the Olympics for a third consecutive cycle. After the match, the weight of the moment showed on his face as he sat on the field in dismay. Adding to the heartbreak of bowing out of Olympic qualifying, Ochoa learned while he was in Mexico that his grandfather – Gilberto Solorzano Ramirez – had passed away in his sleep.
However, once he arrived in Arizona to join Real Salt Lake in preseason, he rejoined his teammates and showed no signs that the losses on and off the field took a toll on him. Instead, he jumped right back into being the brashly confident shotstopper that earned acclaim when he backstopped the Monarchs to the 2019 USL Championship title, posting a 1.15 goals against average in four matches as the Monarchs rolled through the opposition on the way to their second trophy.
That self-confidence was on full display in a 2-1 win to kick off the 2021 season for RSL and he attributes that directly to the teachings of McAleenan.
“I’m not giving up. I’m not letting that mistake affect me,” he said. “I’m seeing that mistake as a lesson that I can learn from and get better.”
When he talks about the Olympic Qualifying tournament, he talks about his standout play with eight saves against Costa Rica and a tremendous match in a losing effort against Mexico. He may have learned lessons from the match against Honduras that knocked the U.S. out of the tournament, but it isn’t his lasting memory from the tournament.
“Some would say it was my breakout tournament. It was exciting to see my progress and the positivity that I got after that,” Ochoa said. “I felt really good. I felt my play was very consistent outside of the mistake in the last game. I thought I was consistent in the other two games and I was confident in myself.”
Real Salt Lake faces off against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for noon with live coverage on KMYU, the KSL TV app, ESPN 700 and in Spanish on Latino 106.3 FM.