May 21, 2004
By Dwight Chapin, Senior Writer
San Francisco Chronicle
The kid has entered the building.
Twenty-year-old Ryan Cochrane, who left after his junior season at Santa Clara University to join Major League Soccer as the Earthquakes' No. 1 draft choice, made his professional debut last weekend and played creditably as a central defender in a 2-1 road win over Dallas.
"It felt really good to finally get in there," Cochrane said, "and I think I held my own, although I know I'm still going to be learning for a while."
Because the Quakes' defense has been gutted by injuries, it's likely that Cochrane will continue to learn on the job Saturday night, when the Quakes host the Los Angeles Galaxy at Spartan Stadium.
His inexperience showed, at times, in Dallas.
Midway through the second half, he didn't mark Burn forward Eddie Johnson long or strong enough and Johnson scored Dallas' only goal. But, not long after that, Cochrane redeemed himself by making a goal-saving play, a nifty, sliding clearance in front of the Quakes' goal.
"The thing I've noticed is that the pro game is a lot faster than the college game," Cochrane said, "especially on a big field like the Cotton Bowl (in Dallas). I definitely felt a little winded at times. And the players around me are much better skilled in keeping possession of the ball."
Cochrane was operating with a bit of a road map in his first MLS start, though.
One of his teammates is Todd Dunivant, who started on defense most of last season as a rookie out of Stanford.
"Todd set the bar pretty high for rookies, but he and everybody on the team have been very supportive of me," Cochrane said. "I asked Todd if he was nervous before his first game and he said he was. That helped me."
Cochrane also has found opportunity in the fact that so many Quakes defenders are hurt. Dunivant has been sidelined by a quadriceps injury that has been very slow to heal. Chris Roner and Eddie Robinson are out for the season after surgeries. Troy Dayak and Craig Waibel missed the Dallas game because of groin and back strains.
So Cochrane could well be in the starting lineup again, this time against a potent Galaxy team that leads the Western Conference. Los Angeles has its share of injuries, too, and scoring stars Carlos Ruiz and Jovan Kirovski are out, but Alejandro Moreno and rookie Joseph Ngwenya have filled in very nicely at forward. Moreno had three goals and Ngwenya one in a 4-2 win over D.C. United on Wednesday.
Whoever he goes up against, it's a different caliber of competition than Cochrane was accustomed to seeing with the Broncos, or with the U.S. under-20 national team he played on last year.
Cochrane said that leaving college early "was a huge decision for me. I actually thought about coming out after my sophomore year, but I decided to go back for another year. I talked to my parents a lot, and they were very supportive."
Cochrane will return to Santa Clara on June 1 to take a couple of courses. A business management major, he'd like to own his own business one day.
"But not until I take soccer as far as I can," he said.
He said he'd love to get a shot at making a U.S. World Cup squad down the road, and his aggressive approach to the game would seem to make him a potential candidate for that.
"I'm not the strongest guy," the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Cochrane said, "but I definitely feel like I'm a hard-nosed player. I take a lot of pride in doing the little intangibles, the things that more skillful guys don't like to do. I feel my biggest asset is I'm kind of a cerebral player. I read the game very well, and I'm not afraid to get dirty."