The legend of Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa, and replacing USA’s Jozy Altidore

(Published on June 17 by The Oregonian, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Newark Star-Ledger, Cleveland Plain-Dealer, and other Advance publications)

For those people who bemoan soccer’s perceived lack of scoring, we bring you the new legend of Guillermo Ochoa.

The Fortress of Fortaleza, the Great Wall of Mexico, the Six-Fingered Man — call him what you will. He just put in one of the best goalkeeping performances in World Cup history.

Ochoa, 28, stonewalled World Cup favorites Brazil on Tuesday in Fortaleza and made a 0-0 draw seem as exciting as a 10-goal match. He made six saves against the offensive juggernaut, the most of a Mexican goalkeeper in the World Cup since 1966, and they weren’t easy. If you’re not marveling at Ochoa’s performance in a city whose name means “fortress” in Portuguese, the rest of the world is.




Ochoa’s heroics allowed Mexico, a massive underdog, to hold scoreless one of the world’s best attacking squads.

To get a sense of how poorly Mexico was regarded coming into the tournament, consider this: They were the fourth of four North and Central American teams to qualify for the World Cup, and they needed major help to get there. Many felt they didn’t even deserve to be in the tournament.

Now, Mexico just needs a draw or win against Croatia in their next game to make it to the tourney’s second round.

They owe it to Ochoa, a free agent whose stock and myth rose so much Tuesday that some felt obligated to debunk the claims that Ochoa has six fingers on his right hand.


Or maybe to Brazil, it looked like this:

Or perhaps just this:

Tuesday’s World Cup scores

Belgium 2, Algeria 1

Brazil 0, Mexico 0

Russia 1, South Korea 1

Here’s a complete recap of Day 6.

Forget the president, bring on the supermodel!

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff had been set to present the World Cup winner with the trophy after the final, but there was a problem: She’s terribly unpopular.

So what’s a nation full of supermodels to do?

Oh yeah.

Enter Gisele Bundchen, superstar model and wife of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

The Boston Globe reports that Bundchen will replace Rousseff at the final ceremony and present the trophy to the winning team — barring any riots.

Who will replace Altidore for the United States? 

Doctors are evaluating how bad the injury to U.S. striker Jozy Altidore actually is. The New Jersey native suffered a hamstring injury in the first half of Monday’s 2-1 win over Ghana and had to leave the game.

Altidore’s prospects for a return don’t look good, and that’s a huge blow to U.S. hopes against Portugal and then Germany. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann brought no backup with a style similar to Altdore, which means Klinsmann will have to change his game plan significantly upon inserting replacements. Substitute Aron Johannsson was invisible in the role Monday.

Once thing is certain: Altidore’s replacement won’t be Landon Donovan, the all-time leading scorer for both the U.S. national team and Major League Soccer. Klinsmann controversially left Donovan off the team’s final 23-man roster, and now he may regret it.

It’s not that Donovan, 32, would be the perfect man-for-man replacement for Altidore. They are two very different types of players. Altidore is a big, strong target forward, akin to a basketball power forward in the Karl Malone or Tim Duncan model. He uses his strength to establish position, maintain possession and free himself up for shots. Meanwhile, Donovan is a much smaller player who finds openings with excellent vision, instinct and shooting accuracy, and he still maintains the quick-twitch speed to get past defenders.

Rather, Donovan’s versatility to play both wide midfielder and forward could have freed up a roster spot for a backup target forward. Donovan could have replaced midfielder Brad Davis, giving Klinsmann a proven option on the wings or at striker. That could have allowed Klinsmann to leave home one of his smaller, quick reserve strikers — Johannsson or Chris Wondolowski — and bring a backup target forward like Eddie Johnson or Terence Boyd.

Instead, Donovan is doing commentary for ESPN, Johnson and Boyd are at home, and Klinsmann is searching for answers.