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Love of the game: Ochocinco winded but thrilled in MLS tryout

Making the move from football to soccer won't be easy for Chad Ochocinco, if it happens at all.

Locked out of his day job, Ochocinco opened a four-day tryout with Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday, and by the end of his first day with the Major League Soccer team, the Cincinnati Bengals' star receiver was panting for breath.

"Exactly what I expected," the six-time Pro Bowl pick said. "I would be a little winded, being that I haven't ran at this pace or this level since the end of our season of football. It was fun. I didn't expect to come in here and be Superman ... or come in and just wow everybody."

Can Ochocinco be a pitch man?

Given his self-promoting ways, Chad Ochocinco's soccer tryout might appear little more than a publicity stunt. But his potential Sporting Kansas City teammates know what's in store on the pitch. **More ...**

Ochocinco, 33, grew up playing soccer, says the sport was his first love and called the opportunity to try out for Sporting "a dream I've always wanted to do, and that's play soccer at an elite level."

Ochocinco's hope is that this tryout leads to an offer to join the MLS team, which opened its 16th season last weekend. Sporting head coach Peter Vermes has called it a "long shot," but Ochocinco clearly relishes his chance and says he'd "play for free" if the club wants him.

"To be able to come out here and just be on the pitch with the guys and just have the opportunity to be out here is awesome," he said. "Whether I make it or not, for everybody in Kansas City and Sporting Kansas City to give me the opportunity to be on the pitch is enough for me."

Wearing No. 85, of course, Ochocinco worked out with more than 40 media representatives lining the practice field, roughly 10 times the number that normally show up for a midweek workout. His athleticism was obvious, and so was his soccer rust after so many years away from the game.

"The only thing I'm probably good at is just being fast as hell," Ochocinco said during a post-practice news conference. "That's about it right now. To play this game, there is an art to it, a skill to it. That skill takes a long time to perfect and master.

"Thats why they call it 'the beautiful game.' I've missed all that time, but I'll see what ways I can contribute."

Ochocinco struggled during the more intricate drills, observers noted, and exhibited few of the skills required to play at the professional level during a session that lasted about 90 minutes. He spent much of the practice receiving individual instruction from assistant coach Zoran Savic and finished up by playing on the right flank during an 11-on-11 scrimmage.

"He was a little bit hesitant early on, a little bit tentative," Vermes said. "But I think now he's got a good feel for what a day goes like for us. You can see he's very coachable. I wouldn't try to make any determinations at this point."

Ochocinco said practice was "just as difficult as I thought it would be. The transition from one sport to another, especially at such a high level, would be difficult for everybody. This is not just running around, this is hard work.

"It's been a long time since I played the game of soccer, and to be good at it takes a lot more than speed. So I tried to get as much of the touch and the art of it back. It's hard. Everything is going full speed. Because I'm here, they're not going to slow down."

Ochocinco traded tweets during the day with U.S. national team forward Jozy Altidore and Spanish star Gerard Pique -- "It was hard boss, speed is all I have right now, I've missed to much time to have a great touch and control, having fun though," he told Altidore -- and the receiver impressed teammates with his determination and passion.

"He's real dedicated, and I saw his workrate was great," forward Teal Bunbury, who welcomed Ochocinco to Kansas City with dinner Tuesday night at legendary barbecue joint Oklahoma Joe's, told Sporting's video team. "Just trying to give him a little bit of advice, as much as I could. ... It was something new for him, so it was a little bit of a surprise seeing his footwork, his technique and things like that. It's tough. He hasn't played (in so long). You can tell he's really trying and he's working hard, and I feel like he's doing well."

Ochocinco made little impact in the scrimmage, which wasn't unexpected.

"It wasn't necessarily planned out that way (for Ochocinco to play 11-on-11)," Vermes said. "One of our guys went down (with an injury), we had a spot open -- that's why we put him in. We were actually going to do that tomorrow.

"I think he got a few balls played to him. First one, I think he was a little bit surprised that it came -- again, not knowing the flow and the speed (of the game) -- and then the second ball was actually a tough ball that came in to him (that) he lost. And the third one he actually kept and made a pass with it. It's going to be more of him just getting a feel for it and getting indoctrinated into the kind of play we have and the level of play."

Said Ochocinco: "As time goes on, as in anything you do, I'll get better. I will not be able to make up the years that I've been away from the game in four or five days. But maybe I'll be able to show enough of what I used to be able to do to where we'll see what happens."

Vermes, a former forward-turned-defender who played in the 1990 World Cup and for clubs in Europe and MLS, knows many people will view the tryout as a publicity stunt, either by Ochocinco or Sporting.

"I've said this before: I've always considered it from the very beginning to be a long shot," Vermes said. "But I can tell you this: We bring trialists in all the time. To be frank, they're always long shots. But we also bring guys in with much lesser physical tools than he has, and they get trials with us as well. It's very normal in our sport to do this. It's just different because it's a guy who's coming from the NFL.

"I did not want it to be a media thing for him. He said it wasn't."

Ochocinco insists he would have stayed with soccer and given up football had that been practical.

"I had that talk with (my) grandma. We talked about what do you want to do for your career," he said. "In that time, in 1994, soccer was not the thing in the States, especially in high school. Football was the route I had to go, and I put all my energy into that. With the lockout here, this is something I always wanted to do.

"It was her choice for me not to play soccer, and now I have the opportunity to do it. It was always my No. 1 sport, my No. 1 love."

Ochocinco said he didn't encounter any resentment from Sporting's players, most of whom were excited that he's training with them -- and who, the receiver said, have no reason to worry about losing their positions.

"I don't think I'm going to take anybody's job. It's not going to happen," he said. "These guys have been playing this game for years, and I'm trying to make the transition from football to football. To come in here and take someone's job is pretty far-fetched."

What happens if Sporting, which has roster and salary-cap space to sign Ochocinco, decides after the tryout that they want to keep him and then the NFL's lockout ends?

"I think I would be back under contract (with the Bengals), I believe," he said. "With that said, I'd think I'd have to leave (Sporting). And I probably wouldn't leave any way, and I'd probably just piss off the Bengals."

The Bengals would win that battle in the end, he knows, so Ochocinco said he'd be content just to practice with Sporting.

"That would be fun," he said. "When the lockout, when it does happen, or we're able to go back and play, I'll be in better shape than everyone else because I might be the only one training at this level."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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