KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Switching from football to soccer won’t be easy for Chad Ochocinco, if it happens at all.
Locked out of his day job, Ochocinco opened a four-day tryout with Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday and by the end of his first day with the Major League Soccer team the star receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals was panting for breath.
“Exactly what I expected,” the six-time Pro Bowler explained. “I would be a little winded being that I haven’t ran at this pace or this level since the end of our season of football. It was fun. I didn’t expect to come in here and be Superman.”
Ochocinco plans to go through with the tryout, and, if possible, join the MLS team. The famously spotlight-hungry player insisted he was motivated by love for a sport that was actually his first choice until his grandmother persuaded him to focus on football after the 10th grade.
“I would play for free,” he said.
Wearing No. 85, of course, Ochocinco worked out with more than 40 media representatives lining the practice field, roughly 10 times the number that normally show up for a midweek workout. He moved fluidly on the cold, blustery day and was taller than almost all the professional soccer players on the field.
His athleticism was obvious and so was his soccer rust after so many years away from the game.
“The time I’ve had off from the game of this football has been a very long time,” he said. “There’s no way I can make up that ground, the years I’ve been away from the game. But I do have a love for it.”
With the NFL in a lockout and a court fight looming, Ochocinco has said now is a good time to check into another sport. Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes said he tried to use the practice to help Ochocinco get acclimated to something new.
For much of the day, he had individual instruction from assistant coach Zoran Savic.
“He was a little bit hesitant early on, a little bit tentative,” said Vermes. “But I think now he’s got a good feel for what a day goes like for us. You can see he’s very coachable. I wouldn’t try to make any determinations at this point.”
Vermes knows many people will view the tryout as a publicity stunt, either by Ochocinco or the team.
“I’ve said this before — I’ve always considered it from the very beginning to be a long shot. But I can tell you this, we bring trialists in all the time,” Vermes said. “To be frank, they’re always long shots. But we also bring guys in with much lesser physical tools than he has and they get trials with us as well. It’s very normal in our sport to do this. It’s just different because it’s a guy who’s coming from the NFL.
“I did not want it to be a media thing for him. He said it wasn’t.”
Ochocinco insisted he would have stayed with soccer and given up football if it had been practical.
“I had that talk with grandma. We talked about what do you want to do for your career,” he said. “In that time in 1994, soccer was not the thing in the states, especially in high school. Football was the route I had to go and I put all my energy into that. With the lockout here, this is something I always wanted to do. It was her choice for me not to play soccer and now I have the opp ortunity to do it. It was always my No. 1 sport, my No. 1 love.”
He also said he encountered no resentment from the established players when he showed up.
“I don’t think I’m going to take anybody’s job. It’s not going to happen,” he said. “These guys have been playing this game for years and I’m trying to make the transition from football to football. To come in here and take someone’s job is pretty farfetched.”
Knowing he’ll eventually return to the Bengals when the players and owners settle their differences, Ochocinco said he would be content to just be a squad man and practice with Sporting Kansas City
“That would be fun,” he said. “When the lockout, when it does happen, or we’re able to go back and play, I’ll be in better shape than everyone else because I might be the only one training at this level.”