For this third installment of a casual conversation, a segment where I freely talk to current or former professional players from the Inland Empire, I reached out to Juan Ocegueda. Back in December, Juan made an Instagram story post hinting his playing time is done. He later clarified that he is only 5 months away from finishing school and decided to finish while he is close. I thought that would be an excellent opportunity to do an interview with him, and he agreed. The difference between this casual conversation compared to others is that we couldn’t do it over Instagram live. His only free time was his travel back home to work. We agreed an interview over the phone would be the safest option for his busy commute.
A left-back who originally grew up in Orange County, Juan only had two years living in the IE before his first contract to play with Tigers in Mexico. Ocegueda has spent most of his youth playing south of the border with Tigers and Guadalajara. During his time down there, he would also start for the USMNT U-18, U-20, & U-23, including the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey. In his adult career, Juan had playing time with Oaxaca and Orange County SC before going to Cal United Strikers (before NISA) and ending with the strikers in the recent NISA spring & fall season in 2020. He currently lives in Riverside, attends CBU, and studying sports management.
What is your soccer story?
Well, I have credit to my dad for my love of playing. He would take me to every soccer game from the age of four since I could walk. That’s when I started playing like down here Sunday leagues, and then from there, that’s when everything just took off at the age of 15. That’s when I signed my first contract. I just picked it up at a young age because of my dad.
So, what position did you play back then? Did you play more than one position?
I was a forward back then when I started playing for the Sunday Leagues or play Club, just anywhere on the offensive side. One day there was a scout down here, and I was like, is he going to end up putting me in defense? He said you’d be a left-back. There are better possibilities of making it further as a left-back because there are not that many left-backs. I mean, I didn’t know much about the position, but I said we could go ahead and do that. The thing is that I had a mindset that was “every time I get the ball I’d always go forward.” That’s what they liked about me. That’s what attracted them, and that’s how I got my first contract.
So why did you decide to play soccer? Did you play other sports when you were growing up?
As I said, it was always in my life. I love watching my dad play, and I do enjoy playing as well, and it is just amazing. Being able to play professionally would mean a lot to him. We have that bond. When that first contract came, we were excited, but still, in the process, he always told me what I did wrong or what I should improve. It meant a lot when my family would watch me on TV and play a world cup with the US national team. It brought tears to my eyes that I played in the world cup, knowing that my dad and family were watching.
So have you grown up here in the Inland Empire? How long have you been here? Do you like living in the Inland Empire?
I grew up in Santa Ana and Orange County. Around the age of 12 or 13, I moved to the IE. I was only here for about two years. And from there. I left for Mexico, and I started playing down in Monterrey. I was there for about five years. I was down in Guadalajara for three years and Oaxaca for another two years and a half, then returned and lived in Irvine for another year. And then, after that, I came back here to the IE.
So you’ve played professionally and in the United States as well as in Mexico. Can you name some differences in the playing style between the United States and Mexico?
The biggest difference is that you see more technical styles in Mexico than in the US, where it’s more physical and athletic. Playing in Mexico, you move the ball around. I played the Mexican style and touched the ball a lot. Then I go to the national team, and it becomes more straightforward every game, gotta find the moment. Not moving the ball around and became more athletic. You have to be fast and strong to be able to fit in. I felt that I didn’t fit in that much, but I could add what I learned in Mexico to the national team.
That was one of the reasons I could stay at the national team for a while. When I came to Orange County, it was a great thing that some Hispanic kids liked to play the ball around, and that was my take away from understanding both styles.
You recently announced your retirement from the game and planning on finishing school; what’s next in your life? Would you return to soccer in any capacity?
I’m not really hanging up my boots 100%. If a chance comes up, I’ll take it. I’ve been doing this all my life. Certain things have changed, like my mindset. I see things differently within the sport as a career. I’m getting old, I’m not that young anymore, turning 28 this year, but if something shows up, I’ll consider it.
It is most likely the end of my professional soccer career and trying to finish school but still stick to the same sport and finish sports management. I want to stay in the same line and help other players, help kids who want to go pro, and give them maybe something my side is ignoring.
Some agents obviously come to you with the truth or look at you as just a part of the business and do not like to help. They should be able to really tell them how things are. The agents should ask if they keep their options open? Do they have another plan just in case? I just want to help players going through the same thing and help them achieve their goals.
Final question, say tomorrow you go to a time machine. You go back to the moment before you became a pro, knowing what you know from your career from the good and the bad, what advice would you give your younger self?
Really take care of myself a lot better in soccer to prevent injuries, the people that I meet, the things that I do, something that I need outside of soccer. As I said, right now, I’m about to finish college, but I could have done that a long time ago and finished it while I was playing. Just take care of myself on and off the field.