FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Not many of the MLS prospects at the 2014 adidas MLS Player Combine can say that they trained alongside Landon Donovan.
But it happened to Generation adidas center back A.J. Cochran and his Wisconsin teammates in early 2013, when the World Cup veteran showed up to train for a few days with the men’s soccer team as he prepared for his return to competitive MLS action following his much-debated hiatus from the game.
“It was a pretty cool experience to have someone like him, one of the best players to ever come out of our country, training with us at Wisconsin with me and my teammates," Cochran told MLSsoccer.com on Monday. "It was awesome.
“He was just kind of the connector, taking it easy. But his ‘easy’ was obviously at a very high level. We were kind of letting him do what he does and we kind of just fed off of that.”
U.S. Soccer fans tracking Donovan’s every move at the time – from Cambodia to the impromptu USC student Q&A – did a double-take at the site of Donovan in a Wisconsin T-shirt. But Cochran said Donovan has family in Wisconsin and he also has a close connection to former MLS coach John Trask, who heads up the Badgers program.
It was an experience that has stayed with Cochran all these months later. Donovan won’t know it, but he imparted a key teaching that Cochran is taking to heart.
“To be a competitor,” Cochran said. “When you get at that level every single day. Every single day is a competition whether it’s on the training field or in a game. And he really takes that to heart in his training sessions. You can just tell that every time he steps on the field he turns into a different person which I think is very important at that level.
"Off the field, it’s fine to be a really good friend of your teammates and a best friend. But when you do cross those lines it’s your job on the line and he definitely brought that intensity to our training sessions and it was very cool to be part of.”
Not that Cochran needs much coaxing to ratchet up the intensity on the soccer field.
The 6-foot-3, left-footed center back is considered the most dominant player in the air in all of college soccer. NCAA coaches compare him to his on-field role model, Chelsea defender John Terry. And while he may not have the best pace and he isn't the quickest on the turn, the St. Louis native makes up for it with good range in his passing.
It’s a package that is drawing interest from MLS teams. MLSsoccer.com’s Mock Draft projected Cochran as a No. 4 pick to Columbus, before the Crew traded away the pick to acquire USMNT center back Michael Parkhurst. Don’t expect Cochran to fall below No. 10.
There’s a reason he was signed to the Generation adidas deal reserved for special underclassmen: He’s physically ready for MLS. So much so, that he’s already eyeing a battle with a certain World Cup forward. This one isn’t named Donovan.
“I’d love to go up against someone like Eddie Johnson, who’s very athletic,” Cochran said of the D.C. United forward. “Against a big guy like him, it’d be a fun battle to go after.”