Veteran Ching still has unfinished business for the US

Disappointment of 2006 drives the 31-year-old in 2010

PRINCETON, N.J. — Perhaps without us ever noticing, the moment inevitably comes when we suddenly realize we’re older than everyone else in the room.

Brian Ching’s realization came this week here at the US camp. Suddenly the Houston Dynamo forward—an MLS fixture since 2003—saw 20-year-old kids not just gawking from the quad, but also donning the US jersey and climbing aboard the team bus.

“It’s a lot younger than the last time I was here,” the 31-year-old Ching said. “I’m the oldest field player out here now. I just realized that the other day.”

It wasn’t always this way. When Ching made the 2006 World Cup squad, he was 27, and incredibly fresh-faced by the standards of a team much grayer at the temples. Claudio Reyna and Eddie Pope were in the twilights of their career, and Brian McBride was a father with sights on a leafy suburban life.

But Ching never saw a minute of the Americans’ ill-fated run in 2006 in Germany. He stayed firmly rooted to Bruce Arena’s bench in favor of McBride and Landon Donovan, and Eddie Johnson (then just 22 years old, now 26 and back in camp) earned the coach’s favor off the bench.

For his part, Ching was openly frustrated after Germany. The Dynamo won their first-ever MLS Cup that fall, but even during the middle of the team’s 2007 run to another league crown Ching still lamented Arena’s decision, and quietly set his calendar for 2010 and a redemption run in South Africa.

The media instinctively flocked this week to 20-year-old Jozy Altidore or the wide-eyed players of the moment like Edson Buddle or Herculez Gomez. Ching got off easy. No one’s talking to an MLS regular who had a bum hamstring two months ago and never cracked the lineup in Germany.

That’s almost beneficial for Ching, who has quietly amassed more caps than any other true forward on the team (44) and is trying to lay siege on the expected starting lineup.

“I don’t think anyone’s position is truly set,” Ching said. “You look at Jozy, yeah, but he hasn’t played in a while. I still think it’s all up for grabs, and it’s healthy competition. For me, I just try to stick to what I do best, and hopefully stick the ball in the back of the net.”

Ching asserted that despite a hamstring injury that buckled him to the turf during a match on April 1, he’s healthy and fit. It’s tough to predict if he’s earned his spot on the 23-man roster from US coach Bob Bradley for time already served, or if the team expects more from a veteran who’s traveled this route before.

But Bradley this week praised Ching during expected questioning about the stable of forwards, where style and speed clash and no one other than Altidore seems to be safe.

“Brian Ching’s been out injured, but still if you look at his impact over the last few years he’s a guy as a forward brings the kind of qualities of holding balls under pressure, drawing fouls and bringing guys into the game,” Bradley said. “We recognize that part of his game.”

Expect Ching to see valuable time in the team’s friendly against the Czech Republic on Tuesday in East Hartford, Conn., but don’t try to predict what it will mean. Like most players on this team, Ching is unsure of how many minutes he’ll see, how Bradley will position his side or when the call will come that either delivers a ticket to South Africa or a ticket home.

“I’ll get on the field at some point,” Ching said. “You get your opportunity, you gotta take advantage of it.”