Sporting Kansas City was less than a week removed from a huge 3-2 road victory over Chivas USA in the 2011 MLS opener—the club’s inaugural match as rebranded Sporting—when an unforeseen development garnered sports news coverage from across the nation.
Chad Johnson—the longtime Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver of NFL fame who was known as “Chad Ochocinco” from 2008-2012—had arrived in Kansas City for a trial with Sporting Kansas City.
Johnson’s famous training stint with Sporting began nine years ago today, giving the then 33-year-old a truly unique opportunity and the chance to stay fit as the National Football League worked toward resolving labor unrest.
It would come as no shock that Johnson failed to earn a spot on the MLS roster, but his attitude and endearment throughout his stay in Kansas City prompted Sporting to make him an honorary member of the club at the end of the month.
“It’s awesome,” Johnson told the Kansas City Star before one of his final training sessions. “Basically, I can stay here and train as I please, which is really cool. Words can’t describe how thankful I am to be able to be here.”
Though he was often portrayed as an outlandish, attention-hungry product of the NFL media climate, Johnson displayed humility and appreciation for soccer during his time in Kansas City.
“We told him we would not be offering him a contract with the team,” Manager Peter Vermes told the Star. “But we feel his stay here has been so good in so many ways, we would offer him an opportunity to train with our reserves when they train in the afternoon on certain days of the week and continue to work on his fitness while he’s waiting for the lockout to finish.”
Johnson played 40 minutes against the Kansas City Brass, a local Professional Development League side, to wrap up his six-day trial with Sporting, but he was clearly off the pace of the game and admitted as much.
“Playing with these guys on this type of level, people don’t understand," Johnson said at the time. "I understand because I understand the game, but I’ve been away from it so long, how good these guys really are. To be able to stay out here and practice with them until the lockout gets resolved, I’ll be in ridiculous shape.”