Hard-charging Ochoa back in Sounders' sights

TUKWILA, Wash. – Once important enough to be among the 11 players the Seattle Sounders protected in the most recent Expansion Draft, Sammy Ochoa has been mostly an afterthought this season.

The 25-year-old forward (above, in 2011) has appeared in just two of the Sounders’ five matches and played 52 minutes. But boosted by a two-goal performance in the Sounders’ Reserve League game on Monday, that may be changing.

“Like we’ve done this year and last year as well, when guys play well with the reserve team and have good performances,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said, “that opens up the door and gives them opportunities to move up.”

At least part of what’s been holding back Ochoa to this point was fitness. The former US youth international came into training camp a bit out of shape and has been playing catch-up ever since. 

“I think he’s gotten over that,” Schmid said. “It’s just a matter of sometimes players get into a situation where they maybe relax a little bit and don’t push as hard. We need to get back into pushing, and we’ve talked about that. He’s been pushing a lot harder in the last 10 days.”

That the Sounders might be itching to get Ochoa contributing again shouldn’t be a huge surprise. During his relatively brief time with the Sounders in 2011, he scored two goals in just 100 minutes. 

Just as importantly, the 6-foot, 190-pound forward provides a bigger body and the kind of hold-up play the Sounders have lacked since they parted ways with Blaise Nkufo at the start of the 2011 season.

But an offseason trade for Eddie Johnson, combined with those fitness concerns and the hot start of David Estrada, left Ochoa as the odd man out.

“You always want to be out there playing and be with the starting 11,” Ochoa said. “You just have to keep working. I’ve been doing better at practice, and hopefully I’ll get more chances.”

Ochoa said at least part of the reason for his lack of fitness was becoming a new father during the offseason. That made for some restless nights as he did his part to care for the newborn.

“It’s better when they’re older because you get that rest,” Ochoa said. “On the trips you get to sleep in and I definitely take advantage of that.”

Rested, fit and with the Sounders approaching a stretch of games in which they’ll play five times in 15 days, now may be Ochoa’s chance. 

“We need goals and it doesn’t matter what kind of player you are, you are going to get onto the pitch if you can put the ball in the back of the net,” Sounders assistant coach Ezra Hendrickson said. “That’s what we expect from him.”

Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.