13 December 2013

Aloha, mahalo to Chingy

Checking out BBVA Compass Stadium in progress.(photo by Nigel Brooks)
Brian Ching was one of my favorite players before the San Jose Earthquakes moved to Houston and before I began working for the Dynamo, so instead of writing a long, emotional column about his retirement, I'm going to tell a few anecdotes and post some videos paying tribute to a guy for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect.

I think my favorite Brian Ching story comes from my first year working for the Dynamo in 2008. I was new to the team and the players, and Brian was a very intimidating presence to me. Before one game, I was assigned to tell Brian about a pre-game interview with a television partner and coordinate it. In this case, that meant getting him from the locker room and walking him across the field to the interview location. So I made some awkward small chat as we walked, me in khakis and dress shoes, he in shorts and flip-flops. When we got to the camera, a starter from the opposing team (a guy who had been in the league for a couple of years) was still doing his interview, so Brian sat on the Houston bench to wait. After a few minutes of looking around and watching the interview, he turned to me and said, "Who is that?" I responded with the player's name. He looked at me with a blank expression. We were about to play this team in maybe 90 minutes, and he did not know one of their starting midfielders!

It's not that he was unprepared or disrespectful, but something about his intense focus on his role, his game, and his team. Ching scored that night, and Houston won the game.

I also love reminding people that Ching was, to my knowledge, the first North American athlete to be fined for using Twitter. Ching is not usually a particularly outspoken quote or a lightning rod for controversy, but he was the first. It happened in 2009, while he was with the U.S. national team for the Gold Cup, and Seattle tied the game against Houston on a controversial goal-line call. Ching Tweeted "ref is a cheat," I think referring to the far-side linesman who signaled for the goal, and later paid the price.

Watching Ching deal with his exclusion from the 2010 World Cup squad was one of the hardest things I've ever seen somebody go through, but he handled it amazingly well. It made me proud every time he answered a question about it, candidly admitting his disappointment, and every time he scored or made a big play that summer, sticking it to opposing fans who needled him with the "U.S. reject" chant.

I respect and like Ching, on the field and off, and watching him lift the Eastern Conference championship trophy as Houston's captain in 2011 was one of my favorite moments with the team. I'll miss watching him play, but I'm glad he still plans to be a part of MLS, and I hope I get the chance to work with him in the future.

In addition to the great work from HoustonDynamo.com and the strong interview by CSN Houston's Sebastian Salazar looking back at his career, here are two additional videos worth watching, one from MLSsoccer.com and one from yours truly. Thanks, Brian.


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