Paul Dalglish on Brian Ching: "Definitely the biggest legend the Dynamo have ever had"
Paul Dalglish did some online research as he thought about making the leap from Scotland to Texas back in 2006. Googling the Dynamo he came across an in-form striker named Brian Ching.
Duly impressed, Dalglish left Hibernian and became Ching's teammate, roommate and close friend. Seven years after the duo led the Houston attack in the 2006 MLS Cup they will suit up in orange again one last time on Friday for Ching's testimonial match at BBVA Compass Stadium (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS).
The Hawaiian was in prime form when Dalglish signed in August 2006. He had scored four times in the club's inaugural match in Houston earlier that season and in total found the net on 14 occasions as the Dynamo went on to win MLS Cup—a feat they repeated the following year.
His deeds echoed through cyberspace. "You go online and you do your research and you try and get a feel for the club you could be potentially be going to. It was August and Ching had scored a bucketful of goals," Dalglish told HoustonDynamo.com.
"And I was thinking, he looks a real, real good player and you start thinking to yourself, 'I'm going to come over there and that's probably going to be my strike partner if I come over, how can we complement each other as a strike partnership?'"
In the flesh, Ching more than lived up to Dalglish's hopes and expectations. "When I got over there I was so impressed with Ching as a striker. He was typical British center forward, really in the Alan Shearer mould," he said.
"He held the ball up brilliantly and he was probably the best finisher of crosses that has ever played in MLS. He was the perfect penalty-box striker for the Houston Dynamo when I came over. At that time there was Brad Davis putting in great service from the left and Brian Mullan put great service in from the right. When Chingy was in the prime of his career, if you put crosses in the box there was nobody better in MLS to get on the end of them."
Now 36, Dalglish's opportunities to play alongside Ching were limited by injuries. He spent 15 months with the Dynamo before heading back to the U.K. But he married a Houstonian, returned to Texas and embarked on a coaching career. He is currently the head coach of the Austin Aztex and was named 2013 PDL coach of the year.
He recalls the Dynamo vintage of 2006-07 as an effective, cohesive unit. "The team had perfect role players. We had the perfect tools to play the way we wanted to play. There were no superstars, it was a really even locker room where no one really saw themselves as a star or an outsider. There was a real togetherness," he said.
Ching was one of the top players in MLS: a regular for the United States national side who had recently returned from the 2006 World Cup when Dalglish signed. But he played and behaved without any hint of arrogance or entitlement.
"He was strong, courageous, talented as well. He played very intense. People talk about his goals but he was also the first line of defense for us back then. He epitomized the team mentality where everybody defended, we didn't have any passengers," said Dalglish.
"We were mates, we roomed together on road trips in the early days. Ching's a quiet guy in the locker room, keeps himself to himself. But when I first came over I remember getting a call, I was just sitting on my own and he was one of the first ones to reach out to me and get me out of the hotel, invite me to hang out and show me around Houston and we struck up a really strong friendship ever since then."
So Dalglish is delighted to take part in Friday's charity testimonial match in Ching's honor alongside a host of current and former Dynamo stars and special guests, including Landon Donovan (who will play in goal) and Jimmy Conrad. He hopes testimonials become a North American tradition.
"With it being a new league, clubs haven't had many opportunities to do what the Dynamo are doing for Chingy," said Dalglish. "It's something that's been done in Europe for a long time and it's something that I think is fantastic for the future of MLS because it gives players a chance to give back as well. It's also a chance to give Chingy the adulation that he deserves for what he's done for the fans."
For Dalglish, Ching's talismanic presence in those pioneering early Dynamo sides helped the franchise flourish. That ultimately led to the club leaving Robertson Stadium and moving downtown to the smart, purpose-built BBVA Compass Stadium. So the striker's impact can be measured in bricks and mortar as well as goals and assists; in sightlines and facilities as well as play-offs and trophies. Future generations of Dynamo supporters will benefit from the arena that is in part his legacy.
"A big reason these new fans are sitting in the new stadium is because of what Ching did in unfashionable surroundings back in 2006-2007," said Dalglish. "I think it's important for the new supporters that weren't around then that they understand the legends of the past and Ching's definitely the biggest legend the Dynamo have ever had."
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.