Brian Ching dove in front of Mexico's Jose Jonny Magallon during last year's Gold Cup final, won by the United States 2-1.
Ching excited to play in Hawaii
Since taking his soccer career on the road, Brian Ching has been a busy man.
After 12 long years, Ching's family and friends -- and the populace of Hawaii -- who never got to see the Kamehameha graduate play locally will at last have the chance to do so.
Ching and his Houston Dynamo teammates of Major League Soccer arrive today in Honolulu in preparation for the inaugural Pan-Pacific Championships, to be held Wednesday and Saturday at Aloha Stadium against some of the highest-profile competition ever played in Hawaii.
A fellow MLS franchise, the L.A. Galaxy, also arrive today, featuring all-world striker David Beckham and USA national team standout Landon Donovan, along with one of the top Australian League teams, Sydney FC. Japan League champion Gamba Osaka has already been practicing in Hawaii for a week, and rounds out the four-team exhibition field.
The Galaxy and Gamba Osaka kick off the opening round at 6 p.m. Wednesday, and the Dynamo complete the doubleheader against Sydney FC at 8:30 p.m. The winners and losers square off Saturday for the championship and third place game, respectively.
"I'm extremely excited," Ching said over the phone from San Jose. "It's always been a dream of mine to play back in Hawaii ever since I've become a professional. I finally get to realize that. I have a lot of friends and family that have never seen me play live, and are really excited about the tournament. To come back and play pretty meaningful competition, I think it's going to be exciting."
His last game in Hawaii was in his senior year at Kamehameha in 1996, played at Kapiolani Park -- Waipio Pensinsula Soccer Park wasn't built yet. After a standout career at Gonzaga, the Haleiwa native latched on with the San Jose Earthquakes in 2003. The team moved to Houston and he's since been the face of the franchise over the last few years.
In Ching's estimation, Hawaii has never seen soccer played at this level.
David Beckham will play for the L.A. Galaxy in this week's event.
"No," he said. "You know, I think this tournament's going to be a great tournament to watch, and the fact that you're going to have the best MLS team, the best team in Japan and one of the better teams coming out of Australia, and then you're going to have Beckham and Landon and the L.A. Galaxy ... I expect the level of play to be extremely high and something the people of Hawaii have never seen before."
It was no certainty that Ching would be able to return home for the PPC. That honor was to be awarded to the 2007 MLS champion in November (along with the star-studded Galaxy), and to make things worse, Ching was out for the title game with a strained calf.
"I caught wind of it a couple weeks before the championship," Ching said. "I heard there's a good possibility that the winner of the MLS Cup is gonna go to Hawaii. So, I was really rooting for the guys on the sidelines."
The Dynamo stunned the Revolution with a 2-1 comeback win without the injured Ching, and repeated as league champions. He intends to return the favor by hosting a barbecue at his house -- with some assistance from his mom -- for his teammates, and will guide any who dare to follow him out into the ocean.
Ching said he hasn't thought about the reception he'll receive from local fans upon introduction at Aloha Stadium for the first time; he's so far directed most of his energy toward making sure his family and friends can make it. His mom's already sold over 200 tickets.
Besides the opportunity to raise the profile of the sport locally, a good showing in the PPC would benefit Ching in his standing with the USA national team. Since recovering from his injury, he's one of many players in a pool that can be selected for future contests.
While he considers himself "in the mix" for the 2010 World Cup, Ching's immediate concern is putting on a good show.
"Anytime you get to go back to the islands, I love it," he said.
"I love the ocean and that's kind of where my heart is. To be able to get back there and play the sport I love, that's just icing on the cake."
Featuring the Houston Dynamos and L.A. Galaxy from Major League Soccer, Sydney FC, which is a top Australian team, and Japan League champion Gamba Osaka.
» When: Wednesday and Saturday, 6 and 8:30 p.m., both days
» Where: Aloha Stadium