I'll admit, I was sketchy about Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco when he decided to accept an invitation to join Sporting Kansas City on trial.
Then again, because I never liked his on camera antics, I never took Ochocinco seriously as a real player in the NFL. I just thought of him as a guy who loved the camera and loved the checks.
It's amazing what a couple of days can do.
Since Tuesday, my respect level for Ochocinco has skyrocketed.
I always knew of Chad's love for the game of soccer, or as I call it, real football. He played in his youth and was an exceptional player.
Family influence and the uncertainty of a stable career in the brand new and financially strained Major League Soccer caused him to choose a career in the NFL. He is a big fan of the game in general.
In fact, he is currently struggling with who to root for when he goes to the Real Madrid-Barcelona derby on April 16. He has friends on both teams. His friends in the world football community include Barcelona star Lionel Messi, Real Madrid winger Cristiano Ronaldo and New York Red Bulls forward Thierry Henry.
In fact, the only player in a major professional sports league in the US that even comes close as a soccer fan is Kobe Bryant, the diehard AC Milan fan who—at one point—dreamed of playing for the Rossoneri.
With the NFL currently in a lockout, Ochocinco has the opportunity to revive his chances of a career in professional soccer.
MLS has never been more popular in the US and the competition has never been as strong.
Money is flowing in, as are the stars. In the last few years, Juan Pablo Angel, David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez and several other well-known players have left Europe to play in America.
Landon Donovan even snubbed the likes of Everton, Manchester City and Liverpool to remain at Los Angeles.
It was a rough start for Ochocinco. His touches were weak. His passes were not crisp. He struggled to shoot on target. You could see he was getting frustrated, but he never quit. He kept working and working.
The improvement from Tuesday to now is incredible! He was playing in full-sided scrimmages, showing strong wing play and a couple of dangerous crosses, one which connected with Teal Bunbury and found the net.
He certainly respects how difficult this task is. Of course, failure is something he must have thought about. He certainly understands the work and dedication and skill this will take.
As he tweeted to Barcelona star Gerard Pique: "I understand the skill it takes it to play at this level,I just love the beautiful game n have much respect for it."
He is asking his teammates for help, especially the likes of fellow forwards Kei Kamara and Bunbury.
What struck me the most besides his work ethic was his attitude in general. This is not, "I'm Ochocinco. I'm above you all."
It is more like, "I'm here to work. I'm here to live my dream but I know that it is going to take a long time for me to ever be near the level of the rest of you."
Again, respecting the difficulty of the game, he tweeted to his followers: "I wish you all can see the skill it takes to play FUTBOL,even with my speed these guys still make me look like shit on the pitch."
On day two, he met one-on-one with manager Peter Vermes. When the coach asked him his personal evaluation, Chad admitted to knowing he was nowhere near the level of the other players and had a long road ahead. Good for him owning up to that and realizing he has to work if he wants to have a chance at one day going after the ball against Beckham or trying to take Rafa Marquez one-on-one.
I loved the smile on Chad's face when Vermes told him he wanted him to play "20, 30, 45 minutes" in the reserves game this Monday. It showed just exactly how much this means to him.
I'm sure he wants to play a full 90, but he is being given a chance, which is the most important thing.
It has been a successful trial so far for Chad and I hope he gets a contract. It's still a long road, as he has to climb the ranks a bit before he can see first-team time. Once he gets near that level, he has to deal with a few rather talented forwards.
Kamara, Omar Bravo, Birahim Diop and C.J. Sapong are all quality strikers. He has to get to the level of these players if he wants to line up with a certain Bunbury, the Yank on the rise.
All in all, Chad Ochocinco has earned my respect and the respect of many others this week. His work ethic and motivation are incredible and his improvement is very encouraging.
All I can say is that Chad, I am no longer a doubter or a hater of yours. I have the utmost respect for you and best of luck as you try to make the squad at Sporting Kansas City.