Schmid: Fitness of White, Ochoa led to Johnson deal
If O’Brian White were healthy and Sammy Ochoa had come to camp fit, the Sounders might never have traded for Eddie Johnson, Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid revealed on Monday.
"I think certainly if O'Brian White was healthy and wasn't injured and hadn't gone through what he went through last year, maybe we're not talking about this trade,” Schmid told reporters in a teleconference. “Sammy Ochoa is a player who I thought came on very well for us at the end of last year and can still do some good things, but he's a player that needs to continue to work and work on the physical side of his game as well.
“So he's probably left the door open a little bit, per se, and that's the way it is in professional sports,” Schmid added. “We've got to make sure that we've got our bases covered and we've got possibilities.”
White’s uncertain future after blood clots sidelined him has been well-documented, and there is still no timetable for the Jamaican striker's return. However, Ochoa’s lack of fitness is somewhat disappointing.
The former US youth international (above), who started the first leg Seattle’s Western Conference Semifinal series against Real Salt Lake last fall, hasn’t impressed the Seattle technical staff with his fitness level during preseason camp. After the team's training camp in Arizona earlier this month, he was made to spend the two off days doing fitness work at the team’s training complex in Tukwila, Wash.
Many considered Ochoa a possible starter for Seattle’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg against Santos Laguna on March 7. However, even with Mike Fucito’s departure and Johnson’s recent hamstring injury, this news could put that position might be in doubt. Ochoa’s experience in the Mexican league – five seasons with Primera División side Estudiantes Tecos – had been considered an advantage to starting the 25-year-old.
Christian Sivebaek and David Estrada have also been training at the striker position, while players such as Mauro Rosales could also potentially fill the role on an interim basis. Schmid believes Johnson will play a key role in the Santos series, but believes that his late start with the Sounders might preclude him from a starting role.
Schmid downplayed the seriousness of the hamstring injury Johnson suffered in a training match against Florida Gulf Coast University on Sunday. The striker will still travel with the team for Wednesday night’s friendly match in Cancun against Atlante FC, but Schmid said he's not certain how much the newly acquired US international will play.
Johnson scored a goal against FGCU, executing a series of stepovers before cutting left and finishing with his left foot. He was also involved in the buildup for two more goals as Seattle held a 3-0 lead after the first 30-minute period.
Schmid believes Johnson is showing his teammates that he’s more than just a speed player.
“His technique is clean and his first touch is very good," Schmid said.