Fitness Concerns Over Sammy Ochoa, O'Brian White Motivated Sounders To Make Trade

Sammy Ochoa (Photo Courtesy of Seattle Sounders FC)

With each passing day, it seems we learn a little more about the Eddie Johnson trade. On Monday, Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid seemed to indicate that health and fitness concerns with Sammy Ochoa and O'Brian White were motivating factors behind the deal.

"I think certainly if O’Brian White wasn’t injured and hadn’t gone through what he went through last year, maybe we’re not talking about this trade," Schmid said during a teleconference. "But that wasn’t the situation, that wasn’t where we were at, and we have a concern certainly as to when O’Brian is going to be able to play again or come back. That’s something that we’re still in the final stages of trying to draw some conclusions on.

"Sammy Ochoa is a player that I thought came on very well for us at the end of last year and can still do some good things. But he’s a player that needs to continue to work and work on the physical side of his game as well. So he’s probably left the door open a little bit, per se, and that’s the way it is in professional sports and we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got our bases covered and we’ve got possibilities. I think O’Brian being out injured and Sammy maybe not being quite as sharp as we had hoped at this point, yeah, had an impact on us a little bit. "

There has long been speculation that White's condition could be serious enough to keep him off the field forever and that Ochoa was one of the players Schmid was talking about when he said spoke of fitness concerns earlier in camp. White still hasn't been able to train with the team and it's starting to look more and more likely that he may not even be close enough to justify a spot on the injury list. In the case of Ochoa, it at least brings up the issue of whether or not he'll be able to start on March 7.

If Ochoa isn't deemed worth of starting against Santos Laguna, the next players in line would seem to be David Estrada and Christian Sivebaek. Both players have been among the bright spots during training camp and although neither has much pro experience at forward, they have been getting time there recently.

Either Sivebaek or Estrada could form an interesting partnership with Montero. Sivebaek is the kind of big body that Schmid has shown a clear preference for, but his lack of time at forward suggests he'd be far more comfortable running at defenders than having his back to them. Estrada, who stands just 5-foot-8, enjoyed some of his best collegiate success at forward. Like Montero, he would probably be more comfortable as a withdrawn forward, but he has the kind of speed and motor that could play well in more of a Fucito-esque role.

Whether or not they see time forward, it seems clear that their emergence -- as well as that of Cordell Cato -- helped make Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle more expendable.

"David Estrada now has an opportunity to maybe get more minutes," Schmid said. "A guy like Sivebaek obviously can get some minutes out there wide, as well. Cordell Cato is somebody who’s going to come along. We’re confident in his abilities. It’s a different set of names, but there’s still some people who can play there."

Left unsaid by Schmid, or really anyone else, is that at least part of the reasoning behind this trade seems to be a certain lack of faith in Mike Fucito being the longterm answer as Montero's partner. While Fucito's efforts could never be questioned, it is worth noting that a majority of his production came when he was playing in more of a withdrawn position. Even if we include his non-MLS goals, just five of his 11 career goals came with Montero on the pitch.

Schmid did have praise for both Fucito and Neagle, though.

"I think it’s a tremendous tribute to Lamar [Neagle] and to Mike Fucito," Schmid said. "One was basically an undrafted player and the other was a player that got picked fairly low, and both those guys have made themselves valuable commodities in this league. They’ve worked very hard and they grew and developed in the system in Seattle, and that was good. Unfortunately, to get something you have to give something up and that means now the door’s open for some other people."

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