AJ Cochran’s MLS debut could not have come under tougher circumstances. Cochran played his first half-hour for the Houston Dynamo in last weekend's 4-1 loss to FC Dallas, entering the game with the Orange down a goal and a man after David Horst was issued a red card.
With Horst suspended, Cochran is looking to use his baptism by fire as a jumping-off point. He is prepared to answer the call – if it comes – as starting center back for Saturday's road match against the New England Revolution (4 p.m. CT, CSN Houston).
“It was unfortunate to get the red card by David, but I was just fortunate to get the opportunity,” Cochran said. “I was a little nervous at the beginning, but I went out there and tried to make sure my first couple of touches were short. To go out there in an atmosphere like that in front of that many people, I was definitely happy I got to do that. It was very helpful.”
With Eric Brunner out up to eight weeks after ankle surgery, Cochran is one of several options at center back for head coach Dominic Kinnear. In addition to the rookie out of the University of Wisconsin, Kinnear could elect to move midfielder Ricardo Clark to the back, where he played several times for Houston in a pinch last season. Kinnear could also recall second-year man Anthony Arena from the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, where he was named to the USL PRO Team of the Week after his first game.
If Cochran gets the call, he will have his supporters. He says he has gained confidence after training alongside Horst, fellow starter Jermaine Taylor and goalkeeper Tally Hall, but he has also earned the confidence of his teammates in return.
“I’m excited about what he’s able to bring to the team right now,” said Hall. “Looking ahead, I think he’s going to be scary good when he really finds his form. He’s a big, strong defender, and he is very good in the air and is comfortable with his feet and can make a dangerous pass. Mentally he’s there, physically he’s got it and it’s a fun guy to have in front of you battling it out and doing good things.”
Impressive in training, Cochran says he wants to work on his communication, an area where rookies on veteran teams tend to struggle. To be successful, he knows he will have to overcome any age-based angst and be a vocal presence as Houston try to get back on track following two straight losses.
In that regard as well, he will have the full support of the veterans around him, particularly Taylor, who has 70 MLS appearances under his belt.
“That’s going to calm him down a lot,” said forward Will Bruin, who experienced a similar situation as a rookie in 2011. “I’m sure he’ll look to Jermaine and look to play off Jermaine. As long as he keeps the ball moving and doesn’t try to do anything too crazy with it, he’ll do alright.”
Given his physical presence and ample potential, some of which Cochran showed in his debut on a rough night for the entire team, the rookie could be in line for his first start much earlier than expected.
“He’s had a good preseason, and we had confidence in him,” Kinnear said. “It was an easy substitution, and hopefully he gained some confidence and experience from that.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.