They say any publicity is good publicity, so it's hard to blame Sporting Kansas City (formerly the Wizards) for granting a tryout to flamboyant Chad Ochocinco , the Cincinnati Bengals' six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver.
The K.C. club is making national sports headlines, getting airtime on ESPN, and that's a good thing for the sport. An NFL player's presence at an MLS camp legitimizes the league with skeptic American sports fans. If a wide receiver believes soccer is cool and grueling, then maybe it deserves a closer look.
For years, U.S. soccer fans have wondered how good our national team would be if it were made up athletes from the NFL and NBA. Now, we're getting a peek, though it's silly to think an athlete -- even one as gifted as Ochocinco -- could just pick up the sport at the highest level without years of training.
Ochocinco, 33, usually draws eye rolls with his publicity stunts, but this one makes some sense from his end. He wants to stay fit during the NFL lockout, has a genuine love for soccer, played it as a child and at Miami Beach High and said he only chose football because he figured he would have a better opportunity to make big money in pads.
He hasn't played competitive soccer since the 10th grade but follows the sport closely. He considers many of soccer's stars as friends, including New York Red Bulls star Thierry Henry , Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and two-time FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldinho . He visited the Real Madrid training grounds in January.
Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes said in a statement: "We're always searching for players who can help our team and bringing in new talent. We know that Chad is an exceptional athlete and that he loves the sport of soccer, and he did play a lot when he was younger. We're excited to see how his skills will translate."
The initial tryout was for four days, but Ochocinco did so well the club invited him to stay on a few more days and play Monday with the reserve team against a local club.
Vermes told The Kansas City Star that Ochocinco had the two best crosses of Thursday's practice. The first came during a full scrimmage. Ochocinco, playing forward, chased down the ball and crossed it to forward Birahim Diop , drawing an ovation from his teammates.
Upon his arrival at camp, Ochocinco said: "I'd play (soccer) for free. . . . There are a lot of people who question how serious I am about it. But for those who know me, who know my background, this is where it all started."
He said if he can stay on with Kansas City, even just as a practice player, "when we are able to go back and play (football), I'll be in better shape than everyone else because I might be the only one training at this level."
And soccer gets some much-needed publicity in this country. It's a win-win.