PORTLAND, Ore. – George Fochive's MLS moment has been a long time coming.
After a 2014 rookie season in which the Portland Timbers midfielder made no first team appearances, Fochive now has made three starts in central midfield against Real Salt Lake, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, and FC Dallas.
"It just takes a try or two to see you can match with those guys," Fochive said of his first starts. "You get more comfortable and you start playing your game. Little by little, I feel like it's coming for me that I can start playing my game; my teammates notice it and the coaches notice it."
In those three matches, Fochive has completed 87 of his 111 pass attempts, for a pass completion rate of 79 percent. In Portland's 3-1 win over FC Dallas on Saturday, Fochive added two key passes in the match and helped force the turnover in midfield that led to the Timbers' game-winning second goal by Maximiliano Urruti.
But Fochive's path to professional soccer was far from conventional.
While Fochive was born in Washington, D.C., he and his mother moved to France when he was only eight years-old. There, Fochive spent his formative years learning and playing the game at school and in the streets.
One afternoon, while he was playing with friends at school, one of his classmates asked him what club he played for. When Fochive replied that he didn't play for any club, the classmate went home, spoke with his father, and together the two of them secured a spot on their own club for the young Fochive.
Like many talented young players, Fochive faced a critical choice after leaving secondary school. Would he return to the States for a university education or would he take one of the offers that he had started to receive from professional clubs in France?
For the cerebral Fochive, the choice was easy.
"A lot of times you see a lot of young guys like me back there that they take that professional opportunity sometimes because that's all they have," he said. "I had the opportunity to go to college and maybe earn a scholarship and get a degree and still play at a collegiate level. I thought that was a better idea for me."
It wasn't long before Hawaii Pacific University came calling and the attraction of a tropical locale and an athletic scholarship lured Fochive to the Aloha State.
"I went there with soccer as a priority, because it was a scholarship I was going on, but it wasn't academy soccer or Division I college soccer," Fochive said. "Still, I went there with the mindset of trying to work hard."
Yet as dedicated as Fochive was to his work in the classroom and on the pitch at Hawaii Pacific, Division I soccer remained his top priority.
His performances in Division II, and during the offseason with Real Maryland Monarchs of the USL Premier Development League (PDL), earned Fochive the attention of several top collegiate programs and, in 2012, he transferred from Hawaii Pacific to the University of Connecticut.
In 2013, Fochive's performances in midfield anchoring a stout Huskies defense earned him NSCAA All-Northeast First-Team honors and the attention of coaches around MLS.
After getting drafted by the Timbers in the third round of the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, Fochive found himself in a talented and crowded Timbers midfield. Adapting to this new reality was difficult at times for the young player.
"Coming here out of college, you think you're a good player—they pick you. Then you come here and there's better players than you," he said.
"I think the risk is that you might forget you're a good player because there's so many good players around you and that are in front of you in the lineup and you don't really get to play [right away]."
Last April, though, Fochive got the opportunity to play competitive matches when the Timbers loaned him to USL club Sacramento Republic FC.
"Going there leveled me up a little bit and showed me I could play in competition, which is important to develop. I played a few games and it all started coming together.”
In total, Fochive played seven games in Sacramento as the club went on to win the 2014 USL Championship. The midfielder also picked up Timbers minutes in the U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League play as well.
This season, injuries in the Timbers midfield have given Fochive the opportunity to get first team MLS minutes for the first time in his career with the club. And so far he's seized the chance.
"It was amazing to just get the opportunity for coach and my teammates to trust me on that day," Fochive said of his first start against Real Salt Lake that resulted in a 0-0 draw. "They really brought me in like a little brother, where they're expecting you to do well. All I wanted to do was play well that day."
After the Salt Lake match, Fochive's partner in central midfield, veteran Jack Jewsbury, praised the second-year player.
"Kudos to him for being prepared and ready for when his opportunity came; he made the most of it."
But Fochive had always been ready for that moment.
He just needed the opportunity.