Sammy Ochoa hopes to get a lot out of playing with the Sounders FC.
An opportunity to play in a league that has grown dramatically since he turned pro out of high school five years ago was certainly attractive to him.
Ochoa, who turned 25 on Sunday, really stands to gain a lot of stability with the signing, though. He played five years with Estudiantes Tecos in Mexico, playing under 13 head coaches in that span. Since his contract expired in May, they have already fired two coaches.
In Seattle, though, it is the perfect marriage.
Ochoa had interest from other teams in MLS, but Seattle traded a third round pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft to grab the rights to the former US U-20 player.
“I really wanted to come to Seattle. The other teams that wanted me weren’t really contenders. I really like the city,” Ochoa said.
It wasn’t just Seattle’s on-field success that had his heart set on Seattle though. It also wasn’t just a familiarity with head coach Sigi Schmid or former U-20 teammates Brad Evans and Patrick Ianni. He had success in his trial, scoring for the reserve team in a 1-0 win over the LA Galaxy reserves during that time. But even that wasn’t what had his attention most.
“The fans are amazing. I’ve been to a few MLS games and it’s just not the same anywhere else,” Ochoa said. “If it was Seattle (that picked him up), it would be great, but if it wasn’t Seattle, I’d be ok with that. I thank God it was Seattle, though.”
Born in Mexico, Ochoa came to America at the age of two and grew up in Riverside, California. The middle between four brothers, he always played soccer growing up, often going with all of his brothers to play indoor soccer together.
Each of them insisted that they were the best of the five, but Sammy and older brother Jesus both would end up playing professionally.
Ochoa started his pro career in 2006, joining Estudiantes Tecos right out of high school. He impressed in his first year while splitting time with the first and second teams, but soon he would sour on the constant changes that left him unsure from one week to the next if he would be in favor with the coaches.
He originally wanted to come to MLS in 2008 because the instability at Tecos had already taken a toll. However Tecos was asking too much in a transfer fee, so he was left with no option but to stay. Once his contract expired in May, though, he was free to look elsewhere and went straight to Seattle to trial with the Sounders.
After finally agreeing to terms with the league last week, he was entered into the allocation process, where Seattle traded with the Chicago Fire to acquire Ochoa.
It wasn’t just his trial that convinced Schmid and the Sounders to bring on the forward. He had seen Ochoa play since he was 16 and Schmid coached Jesus Ochoa with the LA Galaxy. Sammy frequently trained with his older brother and the Galaxy under the watchful eye of Schmid. Sounders FC assistant coach Ezra Hendrickson also played on that team.
When Schmid took the US U20 National Team to the FIFA World Youth Championship in 2005, Ochoa was a regular starter on a team that also featured Evans and Ianni, along with current US regulars Freddy Adu, Benny Feilhaber and Jonathan Spector. In that tournament, the US famously topped a Lionel Messi led Argentina 1-0 in the first game of the group stage and went on to draw Germany and beat Egypt to win the group before falling to Italy in the knockout rounds.
That familiarity and success, he hopes, will help him transition to MLS.
Before he can make an impact on the field, though, he will work on his game fitness, getting back into shape after three months away from competitive soccer.
Now in full-training with the Sounders, he is looking forward to settling into a place to live with his wife and 20-month-old son Lucio when they join him in Seattle. He’s also looking forward to the first time he steps on the pitch at CenturyLink Field in front of 36,000 screaming fans.
“I like playing in front of a lot of people,” he smiled. “I’m not used to it, but when we played away in Mexico in full stadiums, it was so exciting.”