KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Turns out the Ochocinco experiment will go on for a few more days at least.
Chad Ochocinco’s trial with Sporting Kansas City was scheduled to end on Saturday, technically the final day of his original four-day stint. But the club announced Friday that the Bengals' wide receiver will play in a reserve game against the Kansas City Brass on Monday.
“We felt he earned that right,” assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin said in a phone interview as Sporting prepared to board a plane to Chicago for Saturday's match against the Fire (4 pm ET, TeleFutura). “We’re not expecting the world or that he will come in and make a huge impact right off the bat, but he warranted that at the least.”
Zavagnin said expectations for Ochocinco were low when he arrived in Kansas City, but he proved to be a quick learner on the training field and impressed the staff and players with his professionalism, dedication to improvement, and ability to fit in with the team quickly and seamlessly.
[inline_node:332005]“We understood there was going to be a learning curve,” Zavagnin said. “However, when he came in, his approach to the game and integration within the group on the field and in the locker room with the guys has been fantastic.
"His commitment to come out and train everyday and work on his game we felt deserved a reward of at least a minimum of looking at him in a game.”
Ochocinco won’t play the full 90 minutes against the Brass since his match fitness remains a work in progress. Zavagnin said he would likely play somewhere between 20 and 45 minutes to get the true feel of an MLS trial and test himself and the progress he’s made in a competitive match.
But just because Ochocinco is getting a chance to show what he can do in a game situation doesn’t mean he is close to MLS ready or earning a contract with the team.
He certainly looked rusty on Wednesday, his first day with the club, but has made steady progress since then, playing mostly at right forward in the team’s 4-3-3 setup. He’s delivered some tantalizing crosses over the past few days while showing off his trademark speed and athleticism.
“I think he would admit that he’s a long way away from being able to be up to the standard of an MLS player,” Zavagnin said. “But that’s not to say he hasn’t brought positives to the group and the game.”
And, despite the “me first” reputation surrounding Ochocinco and his media savvy, Zavagnin said the coaching staff and players have seen no sign that the Pro Bowl wide receiver is in Kansas City on a lark.
He’s brought the same mindset to soccer as he does to football, leaving all involved with the sense that Ochocinco just may have been able to achieve his boyhood soccer dreams given different circumstances.
“I think there’s an image that’s projected throughout the NFL and by people that follow him in the game,” Zavagnin said. “It’s amazing to see his work ethic, the way he processes information and the detail in which he goes about his life both on and off the field. Those things make it no surprise to myself or the rest of the staff that he is an absolutely world-class athlete.”