TUKWILA, Wash. — When the Seattle Sounders gave up a third-round MLS SuperDraft pick to acquire Sammy Ochoa, it looked to be a move for the future.
But the 25-year-old striker may have moved the timeline up considerably after a recent Reserve League performance.
On Monday, Ochoa earned his first start since joining the club, playing from the first whistle in the Sounders reserves’ 3-1 win over their San Jose counterparts. In 76 minutes against a center back pairing of MLS veteran Chris Leitch and reservist Taylor Mueller, Ochoa tallied his second goal in Reserve League play and his first assist, which caught the eye of Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid.
“The reserve game was the first time we were able to push him and get some time,” Schmid said. “I think his effectiveness probably went down about the 60-minute mark or so. ... It’s definitely coming along for Sammy."
According to Schmid, Ochoa’s lack of starts was due to fitness concerns. The forward had only amassed 92 minutes in competitive games – including two league and two Champions League appearances – entering Monday’s Reserve League match.
“They take it more seriously [here than in Mexico],” Ochoa explained. “The training days, every day is 100 percent. I wasn’t used to that. It’s good to get the training sessions at 100 percent and that extra push from the coaches.”
But after his performance against the Quakes reserves, Ochoa hopes to play a bigger role for Seattle down the home stretch of the regular season and in the playoffs. He’s confident that, given the chance, he can be a real threat off the bench.
It’s not a role with which he’s unfamiliar. Ochoa spent five years in Mexico, all with Estudiantes Tecos – the current home of another American striker, Herculez Gomez – doing just that.
The potential that fans see wasn’t highlighted his 30th minute goal on Monday – a nice but routine finish off a Mike Seamon assist – but rather from a play that happened 14 minutes later.
Nate Jaqua lobbed the ball over to Ochoa, who was about 16 yards out in the center of the pitch. Ochoa nodded the ball down to his right side, popped it over his head to get rid of a tight marker and create some space, and sent a left-footed volley towards the upper left 90 that whizzed just wide of the goal. It was a miss, but his piece of skill left the crowd stunned.
It was all just natural instinct.
“I think if I hit it a little softer I would have got a better shot off,” said Ochoa of the play. “It’s not one of those plays you think about, but it’s in the moment of the game.”