Mexico has a two-tournament summer ahead of it, which means it has to find two teams worth of players. It needs one 23-man squad for the Gold Cup, where it aims to take back the tournament’s title from the United States, and another for South America’s championship, Copa América.
That leaves Miguel Herrera with a lot of choices to make, but ESPN’s John Sutcliffe says he has already made one. Memo Ochoa, starter for El Tri during last summer’s World Cup, will be the team’s goalkeeper for the Gold Cup. Jose de Jesús Corona is getting the nod in Copa América.
The move isn’t entirely surprising. The belief all along was that Mexico would send the bulk of last year’s World Cup team to the Gold Cup, with a predominantly Liga MX-based side going to Copa América. That would mean Ochoa in the Gold Cup and Corona, who plays for Cruz Azul, in Copa América. Done and done, easy as can be, right?
Unfortunately and fortunately for Herrera, things weren’t so easy. They may be for the rest of the team, with much of the World Cup team still first choice, or close to it, and in good form, but goalkeeper wasn’t so clear cut.
Ochoa joined Málaga after the World Cup, and he’s barely played. The 29-year-old, who was linked to big clubs like Arsenal after his sterling performances in Brazil, ended up on a middling La Liga team instead, and a second choice at that. He’s been upset, but that hasn’t changed the situation – Ochoa rarely sees any action. He’s sure as hell not first choice for Mexico anymore, and there’s nothing in the last 10 months that indicates he should be on the national team. The idea of him starting for El Tri with the confederation championship on the line is ridiculous.
That is especially true considering Mexico isn’t short on choices in goal. Corona has been fantastic, and Toluca’s Alfredo Talavera is a veteran, dependable option who won them the Gold Cup four years ago. Moises Muñoz continues to man the goal for one of Liga MX’s best teams, Club América, and Orozco continues to be a solid option for Monterrey.
Ochoa isn’t just getting call-ups because he was good a year ago. He is getting them, and reportedly set to start, instead of a slew of good goalkeepers. But Ochoa isn’t just a talented backstop who played well on the biggest stage in Brazil. He has long been dubbed Mexico’s golden boy, featured in commercials from a young age and touted was as the team’s next great player as a teenager. He has long been a featured player for El Tri despite recent his performances, or a lack thereof, going against him. He has a pedestal in Mexican soccer, one that not even a season on the bench can knock him off.
Mexico is prioritizing the Gold Cup, and it’s still turning to Ochoa. It’s still turning to a man who has been relegated to a bench warmer for months. It seems insane, and to a degree, it is, but insanity and Mexican soccer go hand-in-hand, especially when it comes to Ochoa.
But Ochoa is also phenomenally talented, whose pedestal wasn’t build on thin air. It was built on considerable potential, which he has put on display more than once. He’s done it in Liga MX and Ligue Un. He’s done it in friendlies and he’s done it at the World Cup. And now, Mexico will be hoping that he can do it at the Gold Cup, the last year be damned.