The Houston pro looks forward to this year's tournament in Germany
World Cup soccer team features first Hawaii player
The Haleiwa native is among 23 players selected to compete
Brian Ching, a Kamehameha graduate from Haleiwa, said he is proud to be the first soccer player from Hawaii to be named to the U.S. World Cup team.
"It's an honor," Ching said yesterday in a phone interview from Houston, where he plays for the Dynamo of Major League Soccer. "I love the fact I was born and raised in Hawaii and am associated with Hawaii. It brings a smile to my face, thinking about coming from Hawaii."
Ching was grinning all day after learning he was one of 23 players selected by coach Bruce Arena to go to Germany in June to play against the world's best teams in the world's favorite team sport.
"I was definitely really excited. I knew I had a chance going in," Ching said. "I was pretty nervous."
Ching and his Dynamo teammates were at the Denver airport watching ESPN when they found out he made the team. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound forward is 28, just about the average age of his World Cup teammates.
After graduation from Kamehameha in 1996, Ching went to Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. He was a two-time conference all-star and led Gonzaga to two league championships.
He became the first soccer player from Hawaii to be chosen in the MLS draft in 2001, when he was picked by the Los Angeles Galaxy.
In 2003, he made it to the top pro league, debuting with the San Jose Earthquakes. He also made his first national team appearance that year.
He enjoyed a breakout season in 2004, leading the Earthquakes in scoring and making the league's Best XI All-Star team and was also recognized as the MLS Comeback Player of the Year.
Ching was out most of the 2005 MLS season, but he still scored seven goals in just 17 shots in 16 games despite a recurring right hamstring injury.
The move of the San Jose franchise to Houston this year seems to agree with Ching. He has six goals in five games.
"Brian has had a good start in the MLS season," Arena said.
Ching said he will miss the next two months of the MLS season.
"Starting next week we all go to camp (in Cary, N.C.)," said Ching, who added that he has played with all of his teammates before as a national team member.
He knows the competition will be tough, and there will be pressure on him to score against some of the world's best defenders and goalkeepers.
"I think getting out of the first round will definitely be difficult," he said. "We're in the hardest group of the tournament. Ghana's the best team in Africa, Italy's always a World Cup favorite and the Czechs are always good, too."
The team leaves for Germany on June 1.
Three exhibitions are scheduled before the squad leaves for Europe. The U.S. plays Morocco in Nashville, Tenn., on May 23, Venezuela in Cleveland on May 26 and Latvia in Hartford, Conn., on May 28.
Each player gets $37,500 for making the roster and earns $3,750 for each game played by the team during the tournament. The player pool would receive $150,000 for each point earned in the first round and $2,775,000 if the Americans advance to the second round.
Twelve holdovers were chosen from the 2002 team, which advanced to the quarterfinals in the best showing by the United States since 1930: forwards Brian McBride and Josh Wolff; midfielders Claudio Reyna, Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, John O'Brien and Pablo Mastroeni; defenders Steve Cherundolo, Frankie Hejduk, Eddie Lewis and Eddie Pope; and goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
The other newcomers are forward Eddie Johnson; midfielders Bobby Convey, Clint Dempsey and Ben Olsen; defenders Carlos Bocanegra, Jimmy Conrad, Cory Gibbs and Oguchi Onyewu; and goalkeepers Marcus Hahnemann and Tim Howard.
The 1998 U.S. team finished last among the 32 entrants.
Ching hopes he can be part of a continued improvement.
"If you look at the quality of soccer players the U.S. is producing, it's been getting better and better," Ching said.
He's come a long way since age 7, when he agreed to play on an AYSO team only if his mother, Stephanie Whalen, promised to be the coach.
"My mom wanted me to play organized sports and I took up soccer," he said. "I fell in love with the game."
Kahuku graduate Natasha Kai, a former University of Hawaii star, could become the first player from Hawaii to make the U.S. women's World Cup team, in 2007. She is training with the national team now.
The Associated Press contributed to this report