On Monday morning, Real Salt Lake goalkeeper David Ochoa couldn’t help but look to his right and smile.
While training with a group of some of the best young talent in Major League Soccer for the 2019 MLS Homegrown Game in Orlando, Florida, the MLS All-Stars were training just one field over. With the likes of Carlos Vela, Josef Martinez, Nani and some of the best players in the league just 50 yards away, everyone on the field with the Homegrowns did a little stargazing during the teams training session. But Ochoa found himself gravitating towards a familiar face in Nick Rimando. Even while training with him every week at the Zions Bank Training Center, he still knows there is so much more he can learn from the all-time MLS leader in wins, shutouts, saves and games played. Not to mention, a two-time MLS Cup champion, World Cup veteran and nine-time MLS All-Star.
“You never get tired of looking at Nick,” Ochoa beamed on Monday. “Since preseason he’s been helping me a lot. He’s played a big part in this. I don’t know that I’d be here without him.”
Ochoa first trained with Real Salt Lake as an academy standout last season. Needing an extra body to cover the goalkeeping duties, RSL brought up a young and talented player to get him exposed to the professional atmosphere. On the surface, he was ready of the challenge, but like any big opportunity, it came with a bit of nerves for the then-17-year-old Ochoa. With veteran goalkeepers Rimando and Alex Horwath, he knew he couldn’t be the one to bring down the level of the training session.
“It was a bit scary training with him and Alex,” Ochoa said. “You warm up the first time, it’s pretty scary, but then it’s just like you’re training with anybody else. It pumps you up way more and try to be sharp.”
Since that first session, he has steadily climbed the ladder, garnering valuable experience at every opportunity along the way. In 10 games at the USL Championship level with the Real Monarchs, he has posted a 1.60 goals against average. He’s experienced the highs of three clean sheets and helped the Monarchs to an 8-7-4 record while climbing the USL Championship standings with a 5-1-1 record in the last seven games. He also helped the U.S. U-20 National Team reach the quarterfinals of the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup. In addition, he has been on the bench on several occasions with Real Salt Lake, taking in the big-game atmosphere while also being at the ready if he’s needed on the field.
Each of those experiences has helped mold Ochoa, who is still a work in progress at just 18 years old. But each of those experiences has also been an earned opportunity for an up-and-coming talent that is yet another player who embodies Real Salt Lake’s belief and commitment to youth development.
“I’m just happy for all these opportunities that are coming my way. I’m just trying to work hard and keep learning more and more,” Ochoa said. “In the USL I’m getting games in and building up my confidence. With the first team, it’s just getting the experience. It’s a way bigger atmosphere, but it’s the same thing. I just get little tips and make sure I’m ready in case anything happens.”
The latest in the long line of chances to prove himself comes with the MLS Homegrown Game on Tuesday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando. The top Homegrown talent in the league will take on the Chivas de Guadalajara U-20s on Tuesday evening in a showcase match for the youth of the league.
While it’s difficult to know what to expect from a group of players brought together with just two training sessions, Ochoa is optimistic and eager for the opportunity.
“It’s been a good experience. I’m playing with a bunch of talented players and it’s always good to compete and work hard. It’s been really good,” he said. “We have a really good team. I think we’re going to go out there and give Chivas a show.”