With a throng of media members in attendance, Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes put his team through the paces Wednesday in preparation for the Chicago Fire on Saturday.
Of course the spotlight shone on Chad Ochocinco -- even when he was very literally a sideshow training on the side with assistant coach Zoran Savic.
My official take on the Chad Ochocinco/Ocho-sideshow: To steal a line from Mitch Hedberg, "All right, you're a good cook ... can you farm?"
Ochocinco is fast, that's not debatable. But on Wednesday he was betrayed by a rough first touch and seemed unsure of how to use his feet (not for kicking, but for placement when controlling and positioning his body). Which just so happen to be the two skills that separate football players and futbol players. (It would be like Kei Kamara showing up at Chiefs camp to try out for wide receiver but having stone oven mitts for hands.)
Poor footwork is coachable, the lack of touch is more troubling. On a scale of 1 to 10, Ochocinco's first touch was a 3. Robbie Findley is a 3 and Eddie Johnson a 4, to give you comparable players.
Ocho also got fairly lost during a full-field 11-v-11 scrimmage. He played right wing with Birahim Diop and Korede Aiyegbusi up top with him. (Behind him, possibly to assist and coach, was, assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin -- see what I did there? -- playing right back.) Ocho was part of four plays, three times he was dispossessed by first-team defender Roger Espionza.
After practice, I listened in on the press conference and he seemed not only humble but humbled. He really is taking this seriously. If it's all a publicity stunt then he's seems to have the entirely wrong mind-set.
Having said that, I'd still be surprised if he lasted beyond Friday.Non-Ocho news:
Forward Kei Kamara and defender Shavar Thomas were both still away on national team duty (Sierra Leone and Jamaica, respectively). Also missing entirely were Ryan Smith (knee rehab) and Scott Lorenz (stomach issue). I'm not a doctor, but I'd guess Smith is 3-to-4 weeks away from a comeback based on his current level of activity.
Defender/midfielder Luke Sassano participated for the first half, but was absent during an 11-v-11 scrimmage. I don't know why. Chance Myers played right back in his place.
The regular starter at rightback, Michael Harrington, didn't participate in drills or practice, instead working with the training staff on his agility. I would guess he won't feature this weekend.
For the second day in a row, French defender Aurelien Collin worked on running laps. (Vermes and his staff have a very specific fitness regiment that all players must complete. Collin, who is bound to make the team, is simply acclimating to the team's program. Also, since he can't play until June, there's no sense in working him into the game plan quite yet.)
Vermes, notoriously cagey about his formations and lineups, tinkered with a midfield of Milos Stojcev, Stephane Auvray and Davy Arnaud during the scrimmage. They were right behind a front line of Teal Bunbury, Omar Bravo and CJ Sapong. It's worth noting that Bunbury played with Bravo and Kamara last week, but Sapong got the start against Chivas. (In other words, what I report about certain players playing in certain spots is subject to change -- and usually does.)
There were two real stand-out players today: Bravo and Ellis.
The MLS Player of the Week is delightful on the ball even in small group drills. His touch is like 9 on the scale from above. He also pushes himself and others during the practice, leading by example.
Ellis just works his butt off each practice I've seen. For a while on Wednesday, he was working with Ochocinco on his footwork. Then he came out and provided service for the attackers; he joined that drill and scored a pretty perpendicular header. Then he played leftback (not his standard right) during the scrimmage, fighting Bravo toe-to-toe (and once coming to heated words).
For what it's worth, after the session, Ellis tweeted that he and Bravo went out for lunch together.