Wednesday, March 16, 2011 |
- Jason Davis
Chad Ochocinco, star wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals and a man without a team-run training program while the NFL remains mired in labor struggles, will "try out" with Sporting Kansas City. Ochocinco is an avid soccer fan, and claims to have played at a relatively high level into his teens. He has flirted with the "switch to soccer" on several occasions in the past, most notably on Soccer Talk Live last year.
With time on his hands and a club in search of some buzz willing to pull the trigger, we'll finally get to see if Chad is the soccer player he claims to be. Even if he's not, Sporting KC will wring some serious attention out of the trial. For the time being, the club is playing it straight, up to and including head coach Peter Vermes.
Mostly, bringing in Ochocinco is harmless. If he's good enough to make the team (as unlikely as that sounds) there might some uncomfortable questions about how a 33 year-old who hasn't played the sport competitively in 17 years is able to walk into an MLS team and earn a contract, but there really no reason to believe it will be a problem.
Anything is possible, so I can't say with 100 percent certainty that Ochocinco won't get a contract offer. I suppose it's even possible he'd accept if he was, just to say he was a pro footballer for a time. It wouldn't quite be Bo Jackson territory, but it would be might impressive.
Provided we could take SKC at their word, should they sign him, that it's for real and not a continuation of the stunt.
There's no getting around the fact that this is a stunt. While I've softened on the stance I took in September of last year, I'm still somewhat uncomfortable with the whole thing. It does MLS no favors if Ochocinco "makes" the team, added attention on the game or not. The league's perception problem with knowledgeable soccer fans will only grow; even if Ochocinco never steps off the bench or makes a game day roster, his presence will shine a light on MLS for the wrong reason. How else could we (fans of the league) explain a soccer novice taking a job in what is supposed to be a serious, and improving, league?
Fifteen years ago, MLS had an actor and mediocre soccer player in its ranks. That was okay because the league was new, and nothing had been established. There were no soccer specific stadiums. Shootouts and countdown clocks were the way of the league. A TV star playing for the LA team was hardly the oddest thing we had going. An NFL player who like soccer a lot but whose resume consists of little more than kicking the ball around and hanging out with Cristiano Ronaldo is something different. It doesn't even really matter that Chad is a world class athlete.
At least we know Chad won't embarrass himself from an athletic standpoint. He's an amazingly gifted athlete, and he genuinely loves the sport. Kicking the ball around, and having played into his teens should give him a solid skill base that we won't have video of him awkwardly stumbling his way through practice. He'll certainly be giving it his best, something you can't usually say about athletes when they try another sport. He might not be good enough (strike that - he won't be) but he won't make a mockery of it either.
Mostly harmless then, and worth the squeeze for Sporting KC. I hope the trial generates serious buzz in the city, and that Chad has a good time pretending to be a professional footballer. Chad like attention. If he's getting for reasons that have to do with soccer, there's no real way to color that but as a positive.