As of Monday afternoon after training, the smile had yet to leave the face of Sammy Ochoa.
“I’ve never had a moment like that,” he beamed.
That moment was a game-tying goal in the 82nd minute that brought the 64,140 fans at CenturyLink Field who were anxious to see Kasey Keller go out on top with a victory in his final regular season home match into frenzy.
Ochoa came off the bench for head coach Sigi Schmid in the 68th minute and made a quick impression, heading a shot just high in the 75th minute. He seemingly had a moment like that in each of his previous appearances for the club. Each time he narrowly missed though, he didn’t hang his head, but rather came back even harder the next opportunity he had.
On Saturday, that next opportunity came in the 82nd minute when Mauro Rosales led him into the box and he thumped a shot past Jon Busch for his first goal in Major League Soccer.
“He did well with the goal that he scored. The timing of his run was good, the timing of the pass was excellent,” Schmid said. “That’s the reason we brought Sammy was here. He’s getting fitter and he had an impact on the game. He helped change the game for us.”
That’s been the role of Ochoa since the 25-year-old forward joined the team on August 26 via the allocation process. He enters the match in the second half, holds up play, makes timely runs and gives the opposing defenders fits with his size, strength and ability to create with or without the ball.
His burst into the box and shot on Saturday did wonders to lift his spirits and he relished the moment when he ran to the corner and looked up to see the largest crowd he’d ever seen at a match.
“That was a lot of people. It was nice. I’m glad we got the win too,” he said. “It helps you out a lot. I’m really happy to finally get a goal. I’ve just got to keep working and hopefully more will go in.”
Schmid and the Sounders have looked to Ochoa for a physical presence late in matches. This week, they will also look him for scouting information about Monterrey, their opponent on Tuesday in the final match of the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Ochoa played five seasons with Estudiantes Tecos in the Mexican First Division and squared off with Monterrey each season.
“We will lean on him a little bit today, try and get a better feel for that. He’s obviously been in that league for a while,” Schmid said. “He’s seen that team through a number of seasons so he has a good feel for that flow and what their mentality is going to be like coming into this game.”
The match will go a long way in determining the top seed out of Group D into the Champions League quarterfinals. A Seattle win or draw would give the Sounders the top spot, while a loss would put Monterrey through with the No. 1 seed while Seattle would occupy the second spot.
The match kicks off at 7 pm at CenturyLink Field and can be seen live on Fox Soccer. The radio broadcast can be heard live on 97.3 KIRO FM. Tickets are available on SoundersFC.com.