A calming presence

Veteran defender Ryan Cochrane aims to mentor a young and talented backfield

The following story was published in the Revolution’s “Match Day” program for the August 6 game against Chivas USA

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Although Ryan Cochrane is in the middle of only his first season in New England, he is certainly no stranger to the club. The 27-year-old defender was a member of the Houston Dynamo team that defeated the Revolution to win back-to-back MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007.

Now in his eighth professional season in Major League Soccer, Cochrane is one of the most experienced players on the New England side, and possesses valuable knowledge of what it takes to make deep runs in the playoffs and, most importantly, what it takes to win.

“I hope guys can look at me and pull different experiences out of that because I’ve been around the block many times and know basically every team inside and out,” Cochrane said of the value his experience can bring to a very young soccer club.

“I’ve played against basically everyone in the league so I know what to expect. Hopefully we can get close to making a playoff run and hopefully some of that experience will help a little bit more as well,” he continued.

Playing mostly at central defense, Cochrane has helped to shore up a New England defense that was near the bottom in MLS last season. Now, with Cochrane leading the way for a revamped Revs’ backline that includes All-Star defender Kevin Alston, Wellesley, Mass., native Chris Tierney and rookie A.J. Soares playing in front of veteran goalkeeper Matt Reis – who has the second most saves in MLS this season – defense has become a point of pride for the Foxborough faithful.

Despite not being “old” by any means, at 27 and with eight seasons under his belt, Cochrane is by far one of the most experienced players on the Revolution this year. His ability to play an active role on the team’s backline while adding much needed stability and leadership has proven to be invaluable for a New England squad that has been searching for its identity as a group.

“I’m kind of one of those guys who leads by example and I’m not a particularly huge voice in the locker room,” Cochrane said of his leadership style on the field of play. “I’ve enjoyed being around a younger group and Shalrie [Joseph] and Matt [Reis], who are really the oldest guys on the team and have been around the league the longest [have taught me a lot as well].”

Cochrane went on to say that he has enjoyed working with the younger defenders on the team, and especially Soares, whom he pairs with in central defense and shares a room with while the team is traveling on the road.

“Being around those young guys, especially my roommate A.J., [has been great],” Cochrane said. “We’re both West Coast guys, so we kind of have that connection. When I found out we picked him up in the SuperDraft, I sent him an email that just said welcome to the team, and if you need anything let me know.”

Cochrane also stressed the importance of this off-the-field connection with Soares and the ways that it can lead to improvement for both sides of the relationship.

“We’re good buddies off the field,” he said. “It’s good to be roommates with a guy who plays a similar position because after games we talk about what happened, what to expect for the next game, what’s going on with the team and what we can do better as a pair in the back.”

Despite being uncertain of what his role would be when he signed with the Revs, Cochrane has found that mentoring young players like Soares is one of the most important jobs he has undertaken during his stay in New England. Although the team has struggled at times this year, many of the younger athletes like Soares have not experienced rough patches like this during their times spent with their youth and college teams. Cochrane said he hopes to help keep everything in perspective for guys like Soares as they adjust to playing in MLS.

“Helping him along the way has been one of my main focuses,” Cochrane said. “He’s done great this season and for a rookie coming in and starting basically every game is great, but he’s one of those guys who’s going to need a little extra direction in tough times like what we’re going through right now.”

While the focus is constantly on improving their on-field performance from game to game and teaching younger players how to find the path to success in MLS, Cochrane admits that his friendship with Soares has made him a better player on the field.

“In terms of a center back pairing, A.J. and I have really good communication and good chemistry on and off the field,” he said. “So playing next to each other is not only a bit easier, but it’s fun.

“I’ve played with a couple other center backs, good center backs in the league, and to be honest, A.J. is probably my favorite to play next to just because we have that camaraderie next to each other,” Cochrane continued.

Cochrane added that their close relationship allows for in-game adjustment, something that is not always prevalent in MLS backfields.

“We try to [adjust and] pick each other up when we do something good on the field and you know when you do something where they mess up or there’s a mistake, you try and lift them too and say, ‘Come on, we’ll get the next one,’” Cochrane said.

With much of Cochrane’s leadership deriving from his presence on the field and his close relationships with his teammates, one would not be too far assuming the intangibles he brings to his club could be diminished if he were to be injured and have to miss time away from the team.

However, this is not always the case, says Cochrane.

“No, I stayed the course,” the defender said when asked if he was forced to change his leadership role during the times he was either injured or required to miss a game this year because of suspension. “It’s tough and it kills you when you have to sit out a game for an injury or something like that but you don’t want to come in and disrupt the dynamic of the squad, especially when you’re a guy that’s not playing in the game that day.

“Everybody comes in on game days and they have their routines and they’re used to a certain thing,” he continued. “If I come in and I was very outspoken in the locker room, it would seem a little odd and a little false for my personality, so I pretty much stayed the course.”

Just as Cochrane has the maturity to understand the dynamic of a leader within a professional soccer locker room, therein lies the beauty of his unique perspective on the sport. By understanding his role so well, the distinguished defender is able to view his world objectively.

Nothing was a better indicator of this refreshing outlook than his postgame reaction after netting an own goal in the 31st minute a tightly contested match against the New York Red Bulls which ended with a 2-1 win for New York.

Cochrane was also marking Red Bulls’ star forward Thierry Henry when the Frenchman cut back on him suddenly, and slotted home New York’s second goal of the game in the 50th minute.

After the game, Cochrane tweeted, “This ones on me. Worst feeling knowing you cost your team a result. Thanks to the fans for the great support and the boys for battling back …but anyway you shake it it's on me. Takin my lumps like a man and movin forward.”

Cochrane maintained that attitude after he had time to further reflect on the play.

“To kind of own up to it, I think that’s good for young guys as well to see that there’s nothing wrong with making a mistake,” he said in retrospect. “If you can man up and say you’ll do better next time and this one is on me, then a lot of guys will have respect for that.

“It’s just what I’m accustomed to,” he said, when asked if taking responsibilities for his mistakes was difficult.

“Everybody is going to make a mistake, and honestly I was little less upset about the first goal than I was the second goal,” Cochrane continued. “I’ve watched Thierry Henry since I was a little kid do that stupid cut every game and the fact that he did it on me really [made me mad].”

Despite a few disappointments during the season, Cochrane has been able to see the big picture. He enjoys being able to focus on bettering the team as a whole in his role as a leader instead of putting pressure on his individual accomplishments.

Allowing himself to concentrate on helping his teammates to grow and mature as the Revolution endure a rebuilding year is something he has been able to commit to fully, bringing a calming presence into Gillette Stadium, both on and off the field.