Chad Ochocinco took a big step forward in the second day of his tryout with Sporting Kansas City, but, as he says, he's "not delusional" and knows what's coming.
The Cincinnati Bengals receiver was far more impressive in Thursday's training session with the Major League Soccer club, showing a few ball skills, delivering a couple of pretty good crosses and continuing to win over the pros with his effervescent personality and seriousness of purpose on the field.
But with two days remaining in the tryout, he has shown nothing that suggests he's capable of playing what he calls his favorite sport at a professional level.
"First off, (the game at this level is) definitely above him," Sporting head coach Peter Vermes said in a telephone interview Thursday. "And it's something that's maybe a little surprising to him, how fast the game is and how athletic and technical the guys are with the speed of play. ... I won't say I didn't expect it. I knew this was going to be a little of a long shot for him. I haven't made all my conclusions -- he'll be back (Friday) and will train Saturday -- but these guys (on Sporting) have been doing it every day on a regular basis.
"It would be like if one of our guys jumped into an NFL game. It would be foreign to them in some respects: 'How do I get with the pace of the game?' But I know he's definitely enjoying himself, and I know the guys are enjoying their time with him."
Ochocinco, a six-time Pro Bowl receiver who grew up playing soccer in Miami and took advantage of the NFL's lockout to "live a dream I've always wanted to do," was clearly more at ease and capable in Thursday's practice, Sporting players and coaches said, but he's not good enough technically nor does he possess the tactical know-how to play at advanced levels, and he seems to understand that.
"I'm having fun, but by no means, I'm not delusional," Ochocinco said in a video posted on Sporting's Web site. "It takes extreme skill to play at this level. ... I have (enhanced) respect for the game and what they're able to do. I think people need to understand: An elite athlete like myself, it takes more than just being athletic to come play at a level like this. ...
"By no means did I think I was going to come in here and wow everybody, and in a way, it just lets you know how good these guys really are that I'm eating humble pie. Seriously."
Ochocinco fully participated in Thursday's training session, which included individual and small-sided drills, a full-field 11-on-11 scrimmage and 7-on-7 play.
"I think tactically and technically there wasn't drastic improvement, but I think he settled down and certainly was more relaxed, and it led to an improved performance," Sporting assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin said in a phone interview. "He had a couple of decent moments today, but there's still a long way to go."
Said goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen: "If he wants to make it on this level, he needs more practice. ... (He's going against) top professional players who have been practicing every day for many, many years. If I stepped on the NFL field, I'd look like an idiot. But you can see he's very athletic and, with some more practice, definitely could be a good player."
Ochocinco, again playing in an advanced position on the right flank, was far better in the full scrimmage than he had been Wednesday, when defender Roger Espinoza easily dispossessed him three of four times he had the ball.
"His touch was there -- it improved definitely from yesterday -- and he's more focused," Sporting forward Teal Bunbury said in the team website video. "He was beating people (on the dribble) and taking people on, crossing the ball well."
Vermes agreed -- "He sent in two unbelievable crosses, probably the two best crosses of the day," the coach said -- but Ochocinco wasn't so sure.
"The nice crosses I hit was damn near luck, just to be honest," he said. "I'm not going to say in one day I got crosses down pat. ... Honestly. I can't do it like they can 10 times out of 10 hit it in a certain area, so that one cross was lucky. If I'm able to do it on a consistent basis, then I would be like, yes, I can do it, but it was luck, that's what it is, and I'm just going to be honest."
Sporting's coaching staff has liked what Ochocinco brings to the field, even if, as Vermes said, "during the flow of the game, it's above him at the moment."
"I'm most impressed with his approach to the game," Zavagnin said. "He's had a professional approach. He comes out and works hard. He puts in an effort. It's not surprising he's ended up the successful player he is on the football field. His professionalism tends to get overlooked because of his (off-the-field antics), but he's absolutely a top-class worker, and certainly he understands the chemistry of a group, and he's integrated himself well within the group. The guys enjoy having him around."
Ochocinco has been a big hit with Sporting's players -- "He's a great guy, makes a lot of fun in the locker room," Nielsen reports -- and planned to take his teammates to dinner at a Brazilian barbecue Thursday night. He'll likely work with Sporting's reserves the next two days; the first team will finish preparations for its game Saturday in Chicago, then travel.
Word on what comes next will follow Saturday's practice, but if that's it for Ochocinco's dream -- and it probably is -- he's OK with that.
"This was just a dream of mine," he said. "Just to be able to grace the pitch with (players like these), it's ... I mean, not much more I can say."