FIFA WORLD CUP
ASSOCIATED PRESS / JOHN TODD
San Jose Earthquakes' Brian Ching, right, is congratulated by teammate Landon Donovan, left, after scoring against the Colorado Rapids in this photo from 2004.
Ching gives Hawaii a place in the world
The Haleiwa resident is one of 23 players who will represent the U.S. at the World Cup
The idea of a player from Hawaii participating in the FIFA World Cup, soccer's supreme competition among national teams every four years, would have drawn nothing but laughs not long ago.
Brian Ching's accomplishments and those of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine striker Natasha Kai on the world level the last three years have turned the laughs into cheers.
The United States plays three exhibition soccer matches in six days at the end of this month in what is billed as the "Send-Off Series" for the Men's National Team prior to its departure for Germany and the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
Ching is one of 23 players, one of four strikers, coach Bruce Arena selected to represent the United States, the first soccer player from Hawaii to receive such an accolade.
However, Ching's career path to the MNT has been filled with disappointments and injuries, yet the Haleiwa resident keeps coming back to continue his soccer career. In reading his biography, it seems like every time he has been sidelined with a serious injury, he has returned as a better player.
The spate of injuries started his junior year at Gonzaga when he tore the meniscus in his right knee in the second match of the 1998 season and had to redshirt.
The following summer he collided with the knee of a goalkeeper while playing for the Spokane Shadow.
"The left side of my face was fractured pretty bad. I had four plates and 12 screws put in. There was the possibility I might lose partial sight in one eye. That was the most scary injury I ever had," said Ching, who waited 4 hours in the emergency room before it was decided he had more than a nose bleed.
It took the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder time to feel comfortable on the field again.
"I knew I wanted to play more soccer, but I was still intimidated going for head balls," said Ching, whose strength in the air is a big reason Arena named him to the U.S. team.
He persevered and finished his Gonzaga career with 34 goals, third best in school history. He holds the school record for assists (23) and is tied for second in points (91).
In 2001, the Los Angeles Galaxy made Ching the first Hawaii player ever chosen in Major League Soccer's Super Draft.
He saw limited action with the Galaxy. Loaned to the Seattle Sounders for a match that September, he collided with an opponent, fractured his right cheek bone and required more surgery.
After being let go by the Galaxy, Ching played for the Sounders in 2002, notching 16 goals and eight assists and was the A-League Player of the Week four times.
The MLS's San Jose Earthquakes drafted him in 2003. He scored six goals in the first 15 matches, then ruptured his right Achilles' tendon Aug. 16, had surgery and missed the rest of the season.
This time there was no contact with an opponent.
"All I did was take a step back to jump for a header and the tendon popped. I'm pretty good at injuring myself," Ching said.
He returned to San Jose in 2004, had an injury-free season, led the Earthquakes in scoring and tied Eddie Johnson for the MLS lead with 12 goals. Ching was named the MLS Comeback Player of the Year and was rewarded with a four-year contract.
This also was the year Arena first called Ching into action with the MNT. It was in a match at San Jose against Wales.
"I had only been back on the league for a month and a half. To get that call was pretty amazing," Ching said. "A lot of it had to do with us and D.C. United having a bye that week. Arena used five players from each team. It was a good opportunity for me at the time."
But 2005 saw Ching out again when he pulled his right hamstring, not once, but twice.
"The first time I was just back heeling the ball. I tried to rehab without surgery and was back in four weeks. But two weeks later, I pulled it again and needed surgery," said Ching, who celebrates his 28th birthday later this month.
"I told my wife, Charisse, after that surgery that if I have any more surgery, I'm done. I don't know if I will hold to that, but I do worry about how my body will be when my soccer career is done."
The thought of playing in the World Cup never really occurred to Ching until he rammed home a Landon Donovan pass in the closing minutes to give the United States a much-needed 1-1 tie in a match at Jamaica in the semifinal round of qualifying.
"After that match I started thinking that maybe I had a chance to make the team," Ching said.
"My approach is to go there (Germany), play well and compete well for the United States. I'm happy I'm on the team, but that is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to get better and do it on the biggest stage. That is the ultimate dream."
Ching has played with everyone Arena named to the team.
"I think that will be one of the strengths of the U.S. team, the camaraderie we have," he said.
Ching played his final match with the Houston Dynamo yesterday before reporting to the MNT camp in Cary, N.C., on Wednesday. He scored Houston's second goal in the 35th minute as the Dynamo beat FC Dallas 4-3.
Ching currently is the top MLS scorer with seven goals and one assist in six matches.