Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
CARSON, Calif. – A lot of the talk surrounding this year’s MLS Cup final has been focused on the departure of David Beckham and the possible retirement of Landon Donovan. But they are not the only ones who could be playing in their last MLS game on Saturday.
Houston Dynamo forward Brian Ching could be suiting up for the final time in his illustrious career when the Dynamo visit the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Center on Saturday afternoon. Like Donovan, Ching has not yet made up his mind on whether he wants to continue playing beyond this season but winning his fourth MLS title could be a good way to go out considering he almost spent the year with the Montreal Impact.
Left exposed by Houston in the 2011 MLS Expansion Draft, the Impact selected the veteran forward with the hopes that his veteran savvy would help them achieve success on the field or force the Dynamo to trade valuable assets for him. The Impact got neither, settling for a conditional draft pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft from the Dynamo in exchange for Ching in February.
What Ching has done in Houston since that deal was made is continue to provide quality leadership, albeit in more of a reserve role.
“He’s cemented his name in Houston soccer, without a doubt,” Dynamo head coach Dom Kinnear said. “Brian’s attitude is absolutely selfless and it can be difficult for a lot of guys to make that change from being a starter week-in and week-out to coming off the bench. But I think he’s done an absolutely amazing job, still staying involved in the locker room and being a leader.
“If you look at a lot of the games, every game he came into and still brought us a spark and did a wonderful job. … We’re excited to play with him every time he steps on the field. He always brings that boost of confidence for the group of guys, so you can’t say enough about his attitude and what he’s done for our club over the years.”
The 34-year-old Ching has apparently transitioned into his new role with no problem. He has come off the bench and provided a spark with his strong build-up play when needed, scoring five goals and assisting on five others this season, while also helping bring along the next generation of Dynamo players like forward Will Bruin.
“One of the most important things I’ve learned from Brian is just his work ethic,” said Bruin, who has scored four goals in the MLS playoffs. “Just day in and day out, he’s one of the hardest working guys on the field at training. Whether it’s an easier day or a more intense day, he’s always a hard worker.
“Little things like making little runs in the final third and trying to read off defenders is something that he’s been working on me with. I’ve been trying to implement it more.”
Ching, who was a integral part of the 2006 and 2007 Dynamo teams that won the MLS Cup, knows he will not be starting against the Galaxy on Saturday. But that does not mean his role as a substitute is any less important, especially if Kinnear needs to insert him in the second half of Saturday’s championship game.
“I’m prepared to watch the guys go out there and kick some butt,” said Ching. “If I get an opportunity to go in the game, I’d definitely love to make a difference. It’s the same role I’ve had all year and I’m looking forward it.”
Win or lose on Saturday, Ching will not attract the type of media attention that Beckham and Donovan are likely to receive. But that’s fine, as his successful 14-year career speaks for itself.
Besides, flying under the radar is representative of this Dynamo team.
“We’ve always been overlooked as a team, but that’s our mentality. We don’t care,” said Ching. “We’re not out for accolades, awards or press. We just want to win games.”
Winning one more might just be enough to put a successful end to one of the more productive careers in MLS history and that would be as good a fairy tale ending as any, even if it is being overshadowed by the departures of others.