By THOMAS FLOYD
ARLINGTON, VA. — For the past four days, soccer has been the last thing on Alain Rochat’s mind.
Change the cellphone plan. Sell the home. Explain to his pregnant wife he’s moving 3,000 miles away. Set up residency in a new country. The list goes on.
It’s a situation the 30-year-old Swiss international never could have fathomed throughout his decade on the European soccer circuit. But as he’s learned following his trade from the Vancouver Whitecaps to D.C. United, it’s the harsh reality of North American sports.
“If you ask my opinion, I’d say it’s terrible,” Rochat said Monday after his first training session with United. “This trade thing could be OK in the offseason. You can sit down and talk to the guys. ‘OK, it will be better for you to be traded.’ You know, like something human instead of, ‘OK, we don’t need you anymore.’”
Acquired for a second-round selection in the 2015 SuperDraft and a conditional pick in 2016, the defender-midfielder was deemed expendable by the Whitecaps, who appear set with Jordan Harvey at left back and the duo of Jun Marques Davidson and Nigel Reo-Coker in holding midfield.
While this would probably mean an offseason transfer in Europe, in MLS it set the stage for a trade that blindsided Rochat, even if he had sensed the possibility of change looming over the Vancouver roster.
“Even before being traded,” Rochat said, “I’ve seen guys struggling in the locker room because of thinking too much of, ‘If I don’t play too many minutes, I can be traded the next day.’”
It’s a concept Rochat came to fully understand last July. During a road trip to face the Chicago Fire, his roommate Sebastien Le Toux stepped into the hotel hallway a Whitecaps player, then returned moments later as a New York Red Bull.
“I didn’t understand what that meant,” Rochat recalled. “And he said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to New York.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, but when?’ ‘I’m leaving, my flight is at 5 p.m.’
“The guy Dane Richards came from New York in my room to play against Chicago the day after. I was like, ‘OK, now we’re teammates? What’s your name again?’ That’s weird. You can’t really build a chemistry by doing those trades.”
But that is the challenge now faced by Rochat, whose paperwork has been cleared, deeming him eligible to make his MLS debut for United against Toronto FC on Saturday.
With the swap, Rochat also experiences a considerable drop in the standings, from the 4-5-4 Whitecaps to a 1-10-3 United side that hasn’t won since March 9.
“We’ll see how he deals with the transition,” United coach Ben Olsen said. “He helps us out offensively and defensively, been around a lot, brings us some experience, and his versatility will help us as well.”
Whether he’s playing left back, defensive midfield or even centerback (the three positions Olsen listed), the veteran with UEFA Champions League experience on his resume is simply looking forward to getting his focus back on the field.
“I guess if they call me, they need me to help them,” Rochat said. “I’m ready — I want to play. I just want to go looking forward and having pleasure playing soccer.”
NOTES: Forward Carlos Ruiz did not travel back to Washington after United’s 0-0 draw at New England on Saturday. He will miss this Saturday’s game after coming out of international retirement for Guatemala’s friendly against Argentina on Friday. … Defender Dejan Jakovic (groin) and forward Lionard Pajoy (hip flexor) participated in full training Monday and appear ready for Wednesday’s match. … Olsen said captain Dwayne De Rosario’s benching at New England was a combination of “managing minutes” and “trying new things” as United play three games in eight days.