SAN FRANCISCO — The symbolism here is delicious. A certain 6-foot-1, near 200-pound Hawaiian was spotted this morning boarding a plane at Hartford’s Bradley International Airport, on his way back to Houston.
Booted by Bob Bradley. Going home via an airport sporting his namesake. Perfect.
The early word out of USMNT camp is that Brian Ching was left off the final 23-man World Cup roster because of concerns over his fitness, combined with the allure of guys who have been scorching in club play.
“Throughout the camp, we emphasized fitness,” Bradley told reporters after the roster announcement at ESPN’s studios in Bristol, Conn. “We got a good read as to where guys are in the whole thing. And [Tuesday night’s game vs. the Czech Republic] helped us assess that in a game-like situation.
“As far as the experience, we recognize that we’ve made some choices, some younger guys—but we believe that they have qualities that can still help us and we felt that was the best way to go.”
While I applaud Bradley’s uncharacteristic willingness to take a chance on hot streaks—let’s hope Edson Buddle and Herculez Gomez repay his trust—it is of grave concern that he sent Ching home.
Experience? Check. There are only seven players on the final 23 with more USMNT caps than Ching’s 45. Beyond that, he’s one of only nine holdovers from the 2006 squad who made the final camp this time around. Ching didn’t play in Germany, but he knows the ropes and how to deal with the pressure.
Leadership? Check. The Dynamo have relied on Ching as captain this season, and despite his time off to recover from a hamstring strain, they’ve followed the Big Kahuna’s steady lead.
Teamwork? A resounding check. Ching is uniformly liked by his USMNT teammates, and respected just as much. Even when he’s not scoring goals—and granted, he has done little of that lately in a US kit—he does everything he can to put his team in position to win.
Take, for example, the pretty interplay with Gomez against the Czechs that should have produced an equalizing goal. Witness how much of a beating Ching took in the box from Czech defenders as well. That’s what Ching brings to the table.
When it came down to it, the 32-year-old Ching was apparently too old and too battered. And that’s a shame. Given where he likely would have been on the depth chart anyway, the guy almost deserves a spot for his contributions alone.
But this is my biggest worry. Without the size of Ching, the US is left without a single classic target man on its roster. Sure, I can see a scenario where Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan play up top, maybe even both. But Bradley is gambling that Jozy Altidore will be able to satisfy that physical role in the box.
Yes, Altidore is big—the 20-year-old man-child is near the same size as Ching. And his role with Hull City last season was primarily as the big man, where at times, he shone. But he’s coming off a horrible end to the season and it’s no sure thing that he’ll have the same confidence he did at last summer’s Confederations Cup.
You want to believe Altidore will be able to keep doing the things he did against Spain, like holding the ball up in the box, shucking Joan Capdevila off his back and turning around and firing in a goal. Yet you worry that, much like that amazing result, it’s an example of the US at its very best, a perfect aligning of planets.
Maybe Buddle can do some of that same work. Part of his amazing run with the LA Galaxy doesn’t just involve the nine goals in nine games—it’s been the pounding he has taken from defenders who key on him, the hold-up skills he has developed late in his career.
But as I’ve been screaming for weeks: What happens late in a game when the US is clinging to a result against a big, physical team like England? What happens when Bradley puts all 11 guys behind the ball so the Yanks withstand a furious, late charge by a capable team? Do Altidore or Buddle have the chops to outmuscle guys in the box?
Ching is a consummate professional. You know he’ll be sitting at home during the World Cup, cheering as loudly as any US fan.
As former Dynamo teammate Stuart Holden told reporters, “I know Brian’s disappointed, but he’s gonna be supportive of guys going over.”
Then again, you could hardly blame him if he just decides to head home to Hawaii and catch a few waves during his time off.
Additional reporting by Simon Borg and Nick Firchau in Bristol.