Chad Ochocinco will never be the nation’s favorite American football player. It just won’t happen. His showmanship (or tomfoolery depending on who you ask) and his self-confidence (or ego-maniacal delusions) will always endear him to some and make him repulsive to others. Now, this is a European Football/ American Soccer (or Olde Worlde Sissy-ball depending on who you ask) blog and you could not be faulted for asking how much attention should be given to Ocho’s workouts with Sporting Kansas City. After all, this is just an overpaid prima donna seeking attention during a work stoppage of the NFL. It’s a publicity stunt. What good could possibly come from it?
The MLS has always struggled to carve out a spot for itself in the saturated American sports market. It pains me to say it, but the MLS ranks somewhere between professional eating and the WNBA (I won’t say in which order the three leagues are to be ranked) in terms of attention garnered by the average American. Despite the number of kids playing soccer in the suburbs, the U.S. has yet to churn out a true soccer superstar. Yeah, yeah, Landon is respected across the world and Clint Dempsey has played well for Fulham. But while we have any number of elite-level athletes in the NFL and NBA born, raised, and trained here in the U.S. but our best soccer players are generally regarded as “above-average” at best abroad.
So what does all of this have to do with our man 85? Is this five-day experiment going to change the course of American soccer? Will the NFL lockout single-handedly create the vehicle of its own demise in the form of the MLS?
In a word: Hell no. (Numbers were never my strong suit.) However, The Ochocinco Project does bring attention to the MLS. Even better, Chad has been genuine in his gratitude and excitement to make the most of his opportunity. Rather than turning this whole event into a circus or NBC reality show, both Ochocinco and Sporting KC have treated the experiment with a true sense of professionalism. This professionalism has given legitimacy to the league.
It also means something to have a premier athlete actually wanting to have a chance to playing in the MLS. Yes, he is currently locked out of his real job. Yes, he has not been incredibly successful. This won’t propel the MLS ahead of the MLB, NBA, or NFL. But you know what it might do? Expose a few more fans to the MLS, or even soccer in general. Maybe a few kids who would’ve given up on soccer early in their lives will stick with it. Wishful thinking? Absolutely! But take this experience for what it is, a rare publicity stunt worth getting behind.