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The Ochocinco Ploy: Why US Pro Soccer Is Desperate

Eric WeintraubContributor IMarch 29, 2011

Ocho has the soccer skills of someone who hasnt played since 10th grade
Ocho has the soccer skills of someone who hasnt played since 10th gradeJamie Squire/Getty Images

In an NFL off-season that has been dominated by grim headlines concerning the labor situation and the current lockout, Cincinnati Bengals' wide receiver Chad Ochocinco's attempt to play [barely] professional soccer for MLS franchise Sporting Kansas City has provided some needed comic relief. But that's all it should have been. Just a innocent, funny story about the NFL's preeminent touchdown-dancer, tweeter, and entertainer trying out an old childhood sport during his current work stoppage. Cute.

But it doesn't end there. On Tuesday, after 4 days of practice with the team and a scrimmage, Ocho was offered a spot on the reserve squad. Pulease.

All the initial reaction by mainstream media focused on how its a great deal for both sides. Ochocinco can stay in shape by participating in the bi-weekly soccer practices in lieu of all the Bengals' mini-camps that the NFL lockout will almost definitely cancel.

And soccer can benefit as a whole, according to coach Peter Vermes, "because I think there’s a lot of people out there who question how hard it is to play this game and it’s very, very difficult.”

Okay, that's all very nice, but I don't know if you and I were watching the same footage of Ochocinco on the pitch, but what I saw was a lot of pussyfooting, turnovers, and errant kicks from #85. It's very well-documented that he hasn't played soccer since the 10th grade, and that he's still shaking off the rust, but does Sporting KC actually think that he has a chance to crack the roster at any point in the season? I dont think so.

Rather, the courtship of Ochocinco by Sporting KC can only be classified as one thing; a big, fat plea for attention.

We all know the attitude towards soccer in America, general apathy for the better part of a four year cycle, followed by a crescendo in soccer fanship just in time for the World Cup, followed by another dramatic decline in concern for the "beautiful game" in America. You can almost hear a pin drop at most MLS venues. Thus, Sporting KC's interest in Ochocinco can only be seen, at least from the perspective of the apathetic American soccer fan, as a desperate call for media coverage.

Still though, it does seem to be working. At Ochocinco's first team practice last week, there were about 40 people from the media present, reportedly around ten times the usual amount. So kudos to Sporting KC, smallest market in one of the least popular major sports in America, for landing one of the the biggest media magnets in all of American sports. I bet they're laughing with each KC #85 jersey sold, all the way to the bank.

But, here's hoping that we see Ochocinco in a more familiar uniform sooner, rather than later. Until then, enjoy an athlete that makes his living with his great hands, clunk about in a sport that doesn't allow the use of them.

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