Football’s loss has become fútbol’s gain.
If former Ohio State men’s soccer standouts Roger Espinoza and Konrad Warzycha enjoyed of reuniting as teammates at Major League Soccer club Sporting Kansas City, imagine how they felt after learning they would be teaming with NFL star Chad Ochocinco.
With the NFL in the midst of a player lockout, Ochocinco, a six-time Pro Bowl selection and avid soccer fan, began a four-day trial with Sporting KC on March 23. The chances of Ochocinco being signed to a professional contract were remote and, ultimately, he wasn’t.
Regardless of the outcome of the star wide receiver’s tryout, Espinoza and Warzycha will still be able to say they were teammates with Ochocinco.
In fact, they will remain teammates with Ochocinco for the foreseeable future.
Espinoza, a defender on Sporting KC’s roster, said he enjoyed competing against the NFL superstar, who manned attacking positions during training scrimmages.
“I spoke to (Ochocinco) a little bit, and he was happy to be here,” Espinoza said. “He’s a world-class athlete.”
Espinoza, who helped lead OSU to the 2007 NCAA College Cup championship game his senior season, said he thought Ochocinco’s trial with Sporting KC might be a media ploy.
But the wide receiver demonstrated a work ethic that convinced Espinoza otherwise.
“He’s not just here for media stuff,” Espinoza said. “He actually wanted to be here. He talks to a lot of the guys. When you get to talk to him, you know that he knows a little bit about soccer.”
Warzycha, a rookie midfielder on Sporting KC’s roster, never got a chance to meet, or train with, Ochocinco.
After leading the Buckeyes to the third round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament in his senior season, Warzycha was selected by Sporting KC with the 43rd overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. After Warzycha signed his first professional contract on March 3, knee surgery forced the former Buckeye to return to Columbus for rehab.
Warzycha said missing the opportunity to meet Ochocinco was “definitely a disappointment.”
“When I heard he was coming,” Warzycha said, “I thought maybe I could do my rehab back in Kansas City.”
As a sign of appreciation from Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes, Ochocinco’s trial was extended so that he would have the opportunity to play in a reserve team scrimmage on Monday. Ochocinco’s efforts also lead to Vermes naming him an “honorary team member.”
Sporting KC spokesman Dave Borchardt said Ochocinco’s time as an honorary team member will last throughout the NFL lockout.
“It means that he can train with our reserve players a couple of days a week and do other fitness stuff with the team to stay in shape,” Borchardt said.
Borchardt added that he believes Ochocinco will return to Sporting KC training sessions this week.
So, for at least a short time, Espinoza and Warzycha will remain unlikely teammates with the Bengals receiver who has 751 receptions for 10,783 yards and 66 touchdowns in his career.
Warzycha received advice from his father and coach of the Columbus Crew, Robert, about life as a professional athlete, but he said nothing could have prepared him for being teammates with one of the NFL’s most recognizable figures.
“To have someone of his status is big for the organization,” Warzycha said. “I’ve never heard of anything like it in the world of soccer.”