Sounders' Fucito, Ochoa battle for playoff starting spot

TUKWILA, Wash. — With two goals off the bench in his past two substitute appearances, Sammy Ochoa has some people wondering if he's done enough to earn a starting nod for the Seattle Sounders. The late-season acquisition has been pushing incumbent Mike Fucito all the way for the second starting forward spot alongside Fredy Montero.

With the opening playoff game against RSL just a few days away (Saturday, 10 pm ET, FOX Soccer), maybe only head coach Sigi Schmid knows who will start.

“It makes [RSL] think about who’s going to start, they don’t know who’s going to start,” Ochoa said.

Despite their different skill sets, Fucito and Ochoa both make strong cases to be in the starting XI. Fucito can harry an opponent’s back line with his tremendous speed, wearing them down and creating looks for teammates. The team as a whole has played well with Fucito in the starting lineup, posting an 8-2-3 record in league play.

Ochoa’s more of a classic back-to-the-goal target player, but can be dangerous as well. He ranks second in the league in goals per 90 minutes with 1.80 (after SKC’s Soony Saad, 2.31) and bounced a ball of the post in Vancouver before breaking through in consecutive weeks against San Jose and Chivas USA. How much of Ochoa’s recent success piggybacks on Fucito’s prior efforts is up for debate.

In the end, the starting decision may come down to matchups. RSL’s backline boasts two physically imposing players in Nat Borchers and Jámison Olave. However, Fucito’s quickness and low center of gravity gave RSL fits during the teams’ meeting in May, culminating in a straight red card for Olave.

The flip side of that argument? RSL's players don’t know what to expect from Ochoa.

No matter who starts, both players are leaving the decision in the hands of the coaching staff. It seems likely that the two players will split 90 minutes – it’s just a matter of how those minutes are split.

“I think Sammy’s done very well and he deserves time,” Fucito said. “If he’s the one starting, I’m fully confident that he’ll be able to come in and continue to do well. ... Either way, it’s going to be good.”

Echoed Ochoa, “Me and Mike talk, wishing good luck to whoever starts and whoever comes off the bench. Really, I don’t mind if I stay on the bench, as long as the team gets the win. Whoever gets a chance to play this weekend, they’re going to do a good job. Whoever comes off the bench is going to have to do a good job as well.”

Andrew Winner covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com.