David Ochoa on 'smack talk' & his pantomime villain role in Real Salt Lake's Cinderella story
By Chris Smith
Every pantomime needs a villain. In Real Salt Lake's Cinderella story, it's David Ochoa.
The 20-year-old goalkeeper has infuriated the opposition enough during these MLS Cup Playoffs with his saves, command of his box, and penalty shootout prowess. But Ochoa is always looking to stir the pot to gain competitive advantage.
"Smack talk", time-wasting, and hushing the crowd are all on the menu as he tries to get under your skin.
"That's just the personality that I have, I've been like that ever since I was a kid," Ochoa told 90min in an exclusive interview. "You know, I like to smack talk and I like to win. Even though I was taught as a kid that you have to know how to lose, I definitely like to win and smack talk."
Ochoa credits Cristiano Ronaldo and the late Kobe Bryant as the main influencers of his on-field antics. But while it looks great for the cameras and is a goldmine for headline writers, his ultimate aim is to make sure his teammates know they can place their trust in him.
"As far as it goes for the team, it should bring some confidence to my defenders, knowing that they have a guy who is confident in himself behind them," Ochoa explained. "With the sport that we're in, you have to be confident. So I think it should give them some type of security back there."
What is perhaps most admirable about Ochoa's antics is the fact that he's not just satisfied getting into the head of opposing players. Supporters and coaches are also in the firing line, as well as referees; anything to take their focus off the task at hand, making them more susceptible to an RSL sucker-punch.
"Both," Ochoa bluntly replies when asked if he's more focused on winding up opposing players or supporters.
He elaborates: "I definitely want to get into the opposing team's head. When I take my time on goal-kicks and when I waste time, it's to get into their heads and not let them get into a rhythm. And when I shush the fans, it's also to get the crowd buzzing. I like when they're talking smack behind me, I think it makes me play better."
The treatment Ochoa received from the Sporting Kansas City supporters during the Western Conference semi-final was particularly rough, with the booing and jeering hitting fever-pitch every time he touched the ball. Given the close confines of Children's Mercy Park, the feeling of animosity was ramped up even further.
This is understandable given the rivalry between the two teams, but it would still have been enough to make some players run for cover. Not Ochoa.
"Half the stadium was already full during warm-ups, so they're booing me as soon as I go out," he said. "Of course, I warm up on the side where there are the most people.
"I love that, the fact that their fans are paying attention to me, booing me, and trying to make me play bad, because it does the complete opposite. It makes me play better and feel good about myself."
Prior to Sunday afternoon's success, Ochoa made the bold claim that RSL had already overcome the "top dog" in the West by beating Seattle, and that SKC would be a slightly less challenging test.
The young goalkeeper was proved right. Where RSL failed to attempt a single shot against the Sounders, they managed 11, hitting the target with five. They also restricted SKC to just five attempted shots.
So, what does Ochoa think of this weekend's trip to Portland? Well, RSL lost the MLS regular-season series 3-0 by a 12-4 aggregate scoreline, the Timbers will be weakened by the absences of Sebastian Blanco and Dairon Asprilla. Ochoa has a gut feeling.
"Portland is a really good team and we haven't had the best of luck against them this season, all three games have gone their way," he said.
"But at the same time, they have no Sebastian Blanco and no [Dairon] Asprilla. I would say they're their two best players. So I feel like that gives us the upper hand, especially with the result we got in Kansas City and the momentum that we have.
"I really do think that we're going to go in on Saturday and get a result."