Timbers' Fochive feels at home
The first time George Fochive was a member of the Portland Timbers, he was more an observer than contributor for a Portland team that won the 2015 MLS Cup championship.
Since his return to Portland in June, Fochive (pronounced fo-SHEE-vay) has proven to be a valuable resource for coach Giovanni Savarese at a position of need. Signed for midfield depth because of Andy Polo's season-ending injury, Fochive's role became significant when Eryk Williamson also was lost for the season.
Sharing time alongside Diego Chara in midfield with Cristhian Paredes, the 29-year-old midfieder has appeared in 17 matches (10 starts) and scored two goals entering an Oct. 16 match in Los Angeles against the Galaxy.
Fochive's two goals were attention-grabbers — particularly his Sept. 19 game-winner against LAFC. But it's Fochive's consistent work in the middle of the park that has helped the Timbers find a nice stride as the season hits the homestretch.
Chara said Fochive has become an effective two-way midfielder who can recover possession and be a threat going forward.
"George now is a different player. Now, he has a different experience playing in Europe, and he gives the team that balance," Chara said.
Balance describes Fochive on the field and off, where his inquisitive and creative sides shine.
Selected in the third round of the 2014 MLS SuperDraft out of Connecticut, Fochive showed promise while playing for T2 and in 11 MLS matches in 2015. Just before the start of the 2016, Fochive transferred to Denmark's Virborg FF, where he played four seasons. From there, he moved to the Israeli Premier League for three seasons with three different club.
The experience in Denmark and Israel was challenging and educational for a guy who's naturally curious.
On the field, he had to learn his place in leagues with different styles.
In Denmark, tactics take center stage over creativity. Fochive said there were weeks when the whole plan for Virborg was to play for a tie. By contrast, in Israel, individual flair is more celebrated.
He said the styles of soccer in each country reflect the culture.
"Here, we like fast, strong and real entertainment. In Denmark, they're more conservative and they like to plan things out and build plans over the course of the season," Fochive said, adding that in Israel, "they're very free, very creative, very, very skillful."
Back with the Timbers, Fochive found MLS has evolved over six years.
"The game is much faster, more fluid," Fochive said. "The infrastructure, I mean the new stadiums I've seen are surreal. Ours is still a top stadium, but the new ones that I've seen are very impressive, not in size but really in infrastructure, design."
Getting settled back into the Timbers is an ongoing process, he said.
"It's not easy, but it's easier when you have more tools to navigate," Fochive said. "To adapt to a different environment and all these (new) things, it just requires tools like any job. And I've had the opportunity to build some, and to use them now to establish myself in this team."
Of course, adjusting on the field is only part of the challenge of playing in a new country. In Denmark, Fochive quickly learned everything closes by 7 p.m.
"I remember taking a nap and waking up at 7:30 and I couldn't get food. That's hard. And you're alone and every little thing seems harder. You feel like you're experiencing these things alone," he said.
In Denmark, Fochive said the language was a challenge, but that once he put his mind to it, he learned to communicate.
His inquisitiveness served him well on his soccer journey.
"I love culture. I love history. I love studying, you know, things that are around us, whether it's people languages, animals, the way our world works and everything is kind of interesting to me," he said.
Among the interests he's acquired since his first stint with the Timbers is interior design.
"I really love putting together this blend of cultures and in different feels of what's comfort into a home," he said.
He put that interest to work while in Denmark, a country where he noted people work only six hours a day and spend more time at home with family than at an office or at school.
"In Denmark, they spend a lot of time with their families at home, and home is like the most important place for them. In America, whether we're at school or at the office, we almost have like a second home at the office. It's not like that there. They go to work from 9 to 3, and then they go home and home is so cozy, and they make their home their everything."
Fochive said he had diverse interests from a young age.
"I think in sports, I was more of a character guy. But in the classroom I was very creative with everything —Â creating essays or drawings, music, projects in arts and crafts. Whatever it was, I was very, very creative," he said.
On the field for the Timbers, Fochive is not asked to be creative. Alongside Chara, his first task is to make simple plays that win possession and transition the Timbers to attack mode. Understanding his role is one area Fochive has grown in since he first played in Portland.
"I think I just read the game better," he said. "I've been through ups and downs over the past few years, physically, mentally, injuries. Psychologically, the most important thing is to be comfortable and confident in who you are."
Even during his time overseas, Fochive kept an eye on the Timbers, especially Diego Chara.
"I've learned a lot from him over the years," Fochive said. "Even when I was not here, I kind of looked around and wished these teams had a player like Diego."
Back in 2015, Fochive did contribute to that title run. With the outcome in the balance, he converted as the 10th kicker for Portland in the memorable 11-round shootout with Sporting Kansas City in the first round of the 2015 playoffs. He's back, enjoying the energy of matches at Providence Park, ready to play a more prominent role in a playoff run.
"It's been fun. And it's been challenging, because we haven't only had good moments," Fochive said. "I'm still learning the guys. I'm still learning some details about how we operate exactly. It's a challenge, for sure."
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