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Originally published Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 8:06 PM

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Sounders' Sammy Ochoa might be hitting his stride

Sammy Ochoa has made little impact with the Sounders this season, but with fitness and effort improved after a disappointing start, the 25-year-old forward could see his role grow during an upcoming busy stretch.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Sammy Ochoa file

Position: Forward

Age: 25 Height/weight: 6-0, 190

Birthplace: Morelia, Mexico

Hometown: Riverside, Calif.

Citizenship: USA/Mexico

How acquired: Through allocation process (signed Aug. 26, 2011) Previous teams: Estudiantes Tecos (Mexico), 2006-11 Int'l experience: Played for U.S. in 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup and for U-23 team in friendlies before 2008 Olympics.

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TUKWILA — First, it was poor fitness. Then, it was poor effort.

For Sounders FC's Sammy Ochoa, those early season issues had consequences, and they came in the form of playing time. Even as Seattle has struggled to get production from its forwards the past few weeks, the 25-year-old Ochoa has seen just 52 minutes in two substitute appearances.

It's hardly the role anyone would have envisioned six months ago.

Last year, Ochoa scored goals in each of the final two games of the regular season and earned a place in the starting lineup when the playoffs began. In the offseason, he was one of 11 Sounders protected in the expansion draft, which signified the team's hopes for his future.

"You want to be out there and playing and with the starting 11," said Ochoa of a slow start to 2012, "but you've got to keep working. (Coach Sigi Schmid) is the one that decides who plays and he's the one who decides who's doing better in practice. You've just got to keep working and hopefully I get more chances."

Those chances could be coming soon as Ochoa has worked his way into shape and into form.

Evidence of that came in Seattle's MLS Reserve League game on Monday, when Ochoa scored twice, including a winner in the 70th minute, to lead the Sounders to a 4-3 win against Chivas USA.

Schmid noticed.

"What we've done last year and this year, as well, is when guys play well with the reserve team and have good performances, then that opens up the door and gives them opportunities as they move up," the coach said. "Him getting goals was very important."

A full slate of games coming up also presents an opportunity for Ochoa. The team faces five MLS matches in 15 days starting Saturday in Chicago and depth will be a key factor.

Forward Eddie Johnson, for one, is unlikely to start all five, according to Schmid.

Ochoa, who was acquired through the allocation process last August, has put himself in position to take advantage — though that might not have been the case a couple of weeks ago.

Schmid said the Riverside, Calif., native had been in a funk where he wasn't putting forth maximum effort. That came after Ochoa had struggled with getting in shape — something he said was partially affected by a lack of sleep after the birth of his second child in February.

A preseason trade for Johnson and the emergence of David Estrada also worked against Ochoa getting playing time at forward.

And now?

"I think he's gotten over (the fitness issues) ... and he's been pushing a lot harder in the last 10 days," Schmid said.

After Wednesday's practice, Ochoa checked in with the fitness staff to make sure he was working as hard as he could based on information gathered by the team's GPS tracking system.

So are there more rewards to come from that effort?

"I think after the first goal (in the reserve game), the rest will come," said Ochoa, who played for the U-23 and U-20 U.S. youth national teams. "And I got two, so hopefully I can keep scoring."

Notes

• The Sounders Women have sold out the 4,500 capacity at Starfire Stadium for their May 4 exhibition against the University of Washington, but additional bleacher seats will be installed. Those tickets go on sale at 3 p.m. Thursday at SoundersWomen.com.

• The Sounders FC U-23s, the PDL affiliate of Seattle's MLS team, has signed three more players for the 2012 season: midfielder Fernando Monge, midfielder Chase Hanson and goalkeeper Doug Herrick. Each played locally in high school.

Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or jmayers@seattletimes.com

On Twitter: @joshuamayers

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