TUKWILA, Wash. — Whenever Sammy Ochoa scores a goal, he flashes a smile that stretches from ear to ear.
Despite just 458 minutes of playing time spread across three different competitions, the Seattle Sounders forward has been smiling with alarming regularity. His goal in last Saturday’s rout of Chivas USA was his fifth overall, but his first in MLS play.
Ochoa with an unstoppable header
“He’s obviously playing better, his confidence is up right now,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said about Ochoa. “That’s a very good goal he scored. For Sammy right now, this is a good time.”
Ochoa’s recent form has likely earned him another chance as the Sounders visit Caledonia on Thursday (8 pm ET, FOX Soccer) for their second of four group stage games in the CONCACAF Champions League. In the first meeting between the two teams, Ochoa scored the opening goal of what was eventually a 3-1 victory.
“You have to take every chance you play as a big opportunity and you have to take advantage of it,” Ochoa said. “Whether it’s US Open Cup, CONCACAF or reserve games, coaches look at everything you do when you play those games.”
Early in the season, those chances weren’t coming as frequently. After a strong finish in 2011 that saw him score goals in each of his final two regular-season appearances, Ochoa came to training camp out of shape. His fitness fell further behind after his son was born just before the start of the season.
In the meantime, the Sounders traded for Eddie Johnson and David Estrada got off to a blazing start, knocking Ochoa further down the depth chart.
Ochoa has clearly played himself back into the rotation and seems determined not to take any of this for granted. That may also help explain the way he celebrates goals.
“Not everyone gets a chance to score, so you have to celebrate like it was your first,” Ochoa said. “Every time I score, I don’t care if it’s reserves, I put on a big smile because it’s a good feeling. Not a lot of people get to know what that feels like.”
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.