Real Salt Lake’s 2019 campaign is officially over. So is the career of the long-standing starting goalkeeper for Real Salt Lake, Nick Rimando.
At some point, the club is going to have to find a replacement for Rimando, if that’s even possible. But what if we already have a guy?
That person? David Ochoa.
I know. It sounds crazy. Hear me out.
Ochoa, who is just 18 years old, grew up playing for the RSL Academy. He’s the pinnacle of an academy kid. Ochoa has worked his way up from the U15’s to the first team.
Although almost entirely sitting the bench behind Connor Sparrow in 2018, by 2019, the starting spot with RMSLC was all but Ochoa’s. He signed a professional contract with RSL on November 28, 2018.
In 16 appearances for RMSLC, he had four clean sheets, 54 saves, and stopped a PK, all at 18 years old. Although he missed a large chunk of the season for the U-20 World Cup, Ochoa has done well for the Monarchs.
Ochoa saved 54 shots in his 16 appearances for RMSLC, which has him averaging over three saves per game. For context, Rimando had 75 saves in 29 games in 2019, averaging about 2.5 saves per game. The USL Championship goalkeeper with the most shutouts in 2019, Matt Pickens, has a 79.7% save rate. Ochoa has 71.1%.
Going from a legend like Rimando to a kid who’s just starting is going to be an adjustment, but Ochoa is a really attractive way to fill the hole Rimando left in his retirement.
Ochoa has been a mainstay on Tab Ramos’s U20 National Team as well as made the jump recently to Jason Kreis’s U-23 National Team. In addition to the US call-ups, Ochoa was honored by the USL as the no. 3 player in the USL Championship under the age of 20. He was one of just three goalkeepers on the list.
The idea of Ochoa being the starter has been thrown around by fans for the last few months. Even RSL’s head scout Andy Williams has insinuated that the spot is filled already with this tweet.
Although it could be insinuating either Ochoa or current backup Andrew Putna, this is encouraging for RSL fans. RSL sits in a favorable position with two promising and very capable replacements for Rimando.
Where Ochoa seems like the better investment, though, is he is still very young. If Real Salt Lake is looking to find another legacy goalkeeper like Rimando, Ochoa is the best option to build as a homegrown.
Putna is an entirely capable replacement, but Ochoa is seven years younger than Putna and just as capable. If RSL takes the time and gives Ochoa minutes to prove himself in a period of forced growth, the long term payoff would be huge.
One thing we don’t want to see for sure is Ochoa leaving the RSL family. In the last few years, RSL has let homegrown talents like Richard Ledezma and Sebastian Soto get away. The club should do everything it can to make sure this doesn’t happen with Ochoa. Whether he continues to start for the Monarchs for one more season and then goes to the first team, or makes the first team jump next year, RSL needs to keep him around.
It makes a lot of people nervous to have an 18-year-old goalkeeper as a starter in MLS. It would have growing pains, but Ochoa needs minutes to continue to succeed.
No matter what happens, the transition is not going to be perfect. Whether he stays in the lower level for one more season and then goes up to the first team or makes that jump in 2020, there will be growing pains. That will be the case with whoever becomes the starting goalkeeper.
This is where Ochoa has a benefit to him. He knows the team in front of him. Having trained with RSL for most of the 2019 season, Ochoa’s comfortable with the players on the first team already. He even trained with a handful of them at the most recent U23 camp where Justen Glad, Aaron Herrera, and Bofo Saucedo were all present.
If RSL takes Rimando’s retirement and brings in a new goalkeeper from an outside team, you lose that natural chemistry that Ochoa will already have developed with a lot of the team.
Ochoa should be given a shot to prove what he can do in MLS. He’s shown he can be successful at a very young age in the USL. The next step should be in first-team MLS action. It’s not going to be perfect, and it may take a little while to see the payoff, but for a young kid like him to get first-team minutes could be the key to developing the next Nick Rimando for Real Salt Lake.