It's all happening a little faster than defender Ryan Cochrane had expected in his rookie season with the San Jose Earthquakes.
Because of a rash of injuries to the Quakes back line, the club's 2004 first-round draft choice (fifth overall) out of Santa Clara University made his first appearance and went the distance in a 4-1 win over Sporting Club of Portugal in a May 12 exhibition match at Spartan Stadium.
The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Cochrane has been a fixture ever since as a central defender, filling in for injured Troy Dayak (upper back strain) with 90-minute performances during wins over Dallas 2-1 and Los Angeles 4-2 and a disappointing 1-0 loss Saturday at Columbus in a match the Quakes dominated everywhere but the scoreboard.
Prior to Dayak's unavailability, the Quakes lost central defender Eddie Robinson for the season with a ruptured hamstring tendon suffered in the third game of the year at Colorado. Second-year defender Todd Dunivant, who started 31 games as a rookie at left back, has yet to play a minute this season because of a lingering quadriceps strain.
"The team was pretty solid with a lot of experience in the back, and I really didn't expect to play much this season," Cochrane said this week. "But you never know. I trained hard everyday, and my opportunity came. I think I've been up to the challenge."
Cochrane, who earned All-American honors as a junior last season at Santa Clara and started all five games for the U.S. under-20 national team in the 2003 FIFA World Youth Championship, knows he has to be consistent to hold onto his starting spot.
"There's going to be a lot of competition when everyone gets healthy," Cochrane said. "I feel I've been consistent on the field, in games as well as training. I'm going to do my best to remain a starter."
Quakes coach Dominic Kinnear said he had his eye on Cochrane since watching him play as a freshman at SCU.
"I went out to watch some of the older players at Santa Clara, and Ryan was the player who caught my eye," Kinnear said. "He was very aware of his surroundings, knowing when to play tight and when to back off. He was good in the air and as a marking defender.
"We didn't know coming into the season how much playing time he would get, and now he's starting. He is making some mistakes, something that happens to a rookie, and he doesn't have much meat on his bones. But he's strong; he doesn't get pushed off the ball. I'm very pleased overall with the way he's playing."
Cochrane, born and raised in Portland, Ore., said he wanted to play for the Quakes, but thought he was going to be taken by Kansas City as the fourth overall pick.
"Kansas City was showing interest in me and when they moved up to the fourth spot in the draft, I thought that's where I might be headed,'' Cochrane said. "They didn't take me and the Earthquakes did on the next pick. San Jose is a great fit for me, because I have a lot of friends in the area, and I'm a lot closer to Portland than I would be in Kansas City or any other MLS city."
KINNEAR'S DAY(S) OFF: Had a chance to talk to Kinnear the dad via cell phone Tuesday, the second of consecutive days off for the Quakes' coach and his players.
Dom was in his car, and there was a lot of noise in the background as he was driving his 3-year-old daughter, Sophia Katherine, and niece, Hannah, to nursery school in Fremont, with 5-year-old son David Gareth tagging along for the ride. He had already served cereal to his son and provided 8-month-old daughter Grace Frances with her bottle and took her for a walk down the block in a stroller.
"How my days off start usually depends on how well the kids are sleeping," Dom said. "Our little one and son are terrible sleepers."
He periodically interrupted the conversation, politely asking Sophia and Hannah to contain their enthusiasm.
"I mowed the lawn on Monday, and did some housework," Dom said. "We're getting ready for a visit from my brother, David, and his family, who will be coming from Sweden to spend between two and three weeks."
AWAITING A FRIEND: Kinnear, 36, who says he communicates with his predecessor, Frank Yallop, at least once a week and sometimes two or three times weekly by phone, is looking forward to seeing the Canadian national team coach when the Quakes and Canada meet in a 7 p.m. exhibition match Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
Yallop, with Kinnear as his assistant, coached the Quakes to MLS Cup titles in 2001 and '03 while compiling a 41-25-18 record in three seasons in San Jose. Yallop, 39, who resides in Vancouver, B.C., left the Quakes after last season to coach Canada. He earned 52 caps as a Canadian national through 1997.
"We talk mostly soccer, but also about our families," Kinnear said. "His 5-year-old son (Jack Walter) and my son are buddies. I miss him as a colleague, but more as a friend. It's going to be great to spend some time with him this week."
The Canadian team, whose roster will include Quakes goalkeeper Pat Onstad and forward Dwayne De Rosario, are scheduled to arrive in San Jose on Wednesday evening. Canada is coming off a 1-0 exhibition loss Sunday to Wales in Wrexham. Onstad played the entire game and De Rosario went 80 minutes, starting at forward before moving to left wing.
Canada begins World Cup qualifying with a pair of games against Belize on June 13 and 16.
Dave Payne is a freelance soccer writer. He previously covered soccer for 33 years for the San Jose Mercury News. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not represent those of Major League Soccer or its teams.