Ohio State junior defender Joe Ortiz (6) squares up against Mount Vernon Nazarene sophomore forward Rene Diaz (10) on Aug. 20. Ohio State won 7-1. Credit: Courtesy of Ohio State Athletics

When close friend and club teammate Sergio Rivas got selected to Rush Real Madrid, 16-year-old Joe Ortiz was driven to capture the same glory.

“I wanted that. I wanted that more than anything else in the world,” Ortiz said.

Real Madrid is one of the best soccer teams on the planet, and offers “Rush” youth academies to young up-and-coming players from across the world. Rivas’ experience there catapulted him to an eventual Major League Soccer selection this past year.

Before Ortiz knew it, the now-junior defender and Air Force transfer’s club soccer coach Justin Sells pulled him aside to tell him he’d be spending a few weeks in Spain at one of the academies.

Ortiz said it’s the best experience he’s had in sports, chiefly witnessing a match at the highest level between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in the Madrid Derby. 

The Spanish culture also inspired Ortiz — in particular, the city of Toledo, Spain.

“It’s one of the oldest cities there,” Ortiz said. “I’m a big history buff, so going there was really cool, seeing all the old architecture and getting to spend that time with my teammates, the coaches and my dad.”

Ohio State is coming off a one-win season in men’s soccer, and second-year coach Brian Maisonneuve scoured the transfer market for players who could improve the team’s fortunes during the offseason.

At the same time, Ortiz said he was beginning to look toward a career path separate from the required eight-year service that accompanies graduation from the Air Force and go to a place that could lead him to soccer’s next level.

Ohio State was that place, Ortiz found out on an official visit. He said he fell in love with the coaching staff, his future teammates and the competition provided by the Big Ten.

“It was something that I couldn’t turn down,” Ortiz said. “Everyone knows about Ohio State, and everyone’s heard of the school and the team.”

Ortiz’s resume is impressive, even outside the stint with Rush Real Madrid. He started all of 2018 with a top 10 national program in Air Force. In high school, he played on five state championship teams and earned first-team All-New Mexico twice.

Interviewing coaches and reviewing film, Maisonneuve was blown away.

“In terms of covering ground, hard work, ball-winning midfielder, with the ability to still attack, and go forward, and connect the dots, it was what we were looking for,” Maisonneuve said.

What stands out most to the former Crew SC member is his transfer’s work ethic.

“He’s a tremendously hard worker,” Maisonneuve said. “When you watch him play, he does a lot of the dirty work.”

Teammates have taken notice, too, with fellow defenders thoroughly enjoying the energy he brings to the backfield.

“Joe, man, he battles,” senior defender CC Uche said. “We were missing that last year.”

That battling includes winning crosses and getting the ball forward to help with attacks, Uche said.

Both players have stated a willingness to lay their body on the line if it means getting an extra loose ball to help the team. Uche said he has fun playing with a player who shares a similar mindset while he’s on defense, and it sparks the remaining backfield.

“It gives us courage to do [the same],” Uche said. “The game of soccer is about winning the firsts and seconds, especially the seconds, and having more guys that are willing to win those second balls is very important.”

A favorite phrase of his father, Paul Ortiz, “Control the things that you can control,” is what Ortiz said drives his mindset.

“There’s gonna be missed passes throughout the game. There’s gonna be missed hits. You’re gonna miss a couple opportunities in front of goal,” Ortiz said. “Sometimes those are uncontrollable, but you can always control how hard you’re willing to work.”

One thing Air Force changed about Ortiz was his career path.

At a younger age, the New Mexico product found an interest in psychology and social work, but Air Force didn’t offer those programs. Instead he chose to start working toward a business degree.

“One of my biggest things is, I love working with people,” Ortiz said. “With social work and some of that, you can still work with people. Managing a business, you work with people as well.” 

That love for working with people benefits Ortiz as a teammate. Where he grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, remains over 1,400 miles away, but he feels at home in Columbus, Ohio.

“Being able to work with other people and know that, at the end of the day, I also have to put my trust in someone else, I kind of like that, because it builds a family environment,” Ortiz said. “I leave my brother and sister back home, but I step onto the field with 25 more brothers that I’ve gained out here.”