MLS Soccer

Jimmy Ockford is Seattle Sounders’ first-choice fill-in at centerback

Seattle Sounders defender Jimmy Ockford, who was loaned to the NASL’s New York Cosmos during his first MLS season, stood out when filling in for an injured Brad Evans at centerback in a training match Wednesday.
Seattle Sounders defender Jimmy Ockford, who was loaned to the NASL’s New York Cosmos during his first MLS season, stood out when filling in for an injured Brad Evans at centerback in a training match Wednesday. Seattle Sounders

Pele wore a New York Cosmos crest. So did Giorgio Chinaglia. So did Franz Beckenbauer.

And so did Seattle Sounders centerback Jimmy Ockford.

And just because Ockford wore it in a different era, far from the bright lights and big crowds of the 1970s Cosmos and original North American Soccer League, doesn’t mean it wasn’t a thrill for him to slip on that iconic crest.

“Some of the players that went through that organization, it was an honor,” Ockford said Thursday. “Great organization. Great coaches. Great people. It was an awesome experience.”

Ockford was born in Yardley, Pennsylvania, in 1992 — seven years after the demise of the original Cosmos. He played at Louisville, was drafted by the Sounders with the 21st overall selection of the 2014 SuperDraft and then was loaned to the current Cosmos, who play in the second-division NASL.

He made 13 regular-season and U.S. Open Cup appearances there, scoring three goals. Last season he returned to Seattle, appearing in one MLS match.

However, he began this season in coach Sigi Schmid’s first lineup, filling in for the injured Brad Evans at centerback in the friendly with the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday.

“It felt great,” Ockford said. “It felt great playing with some veterans, and I learned a lot from them. Hopefully I can keep getting the call with the first team. It was a lot of fun. … I thought I did well. There’s always something I can do better, but I mean, I thought I was pretty consistent in there.”

Schmid said he wanted to give young centerbacks Ockford and Damion Lowe similar chances, so he let Ockford start the game alongside incumbent starter Chad Marshall and then let Lowe start the second half alongside veteran Zach Scott.

Ockford directly contributed to the first-half shutout, sweeping one Vancouver shot on goal off the line. Lowe, on the other hand, was involved in both of the Whitecaps’ second-half goals: a foul in the box that led to Vancouver’s first score on a penalty kick, and then a failed clearance that led to the decisive goal in Seattle’s 2-1 loss.

Playing time is likely to become rare for both players as Evans said he is almost fully recovered from the hamstring tightness that sent him back from U.S. national team camp.

“I give myself probably four or five more days,” Evans said after Thursday’s training session at Kino Sports Complex. “But very, very minor. More precautionary than anything. Doing ball work today, did the full warmup with the team. It was a positive step. Getting to that 95-100 percent range will now be the next test.”

Meanwhile, Panamanian defender Roman Torres is progressing in his rehab from a knee injury, which has him on target for a midseason return.

“Torres is jogging on the field,” Schmid said. “It’s more now morning sessions are out on field, a little bit of gym work in the afternoon.”

Ockford also was limited Thursday after getting a severe bruise in the Vancouver match. However, he is expected to be available again at 6 p.m. Saturday when the Sounders play their next friendly in the desert, against the Portland Timbers.

“I would like to be a consistent starter,” Ockford said. “Right now they’re looking for young centerbacks. Hopefully I can be that guy to step in. Right now I’ve just got to stay consistent, and hopefully my time will come. … (Marshall) knows a lot, he’s very smart. I can learn a lot from him. I just have to take it all in.”

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