The foundation for a career highlighted by brilliance, awash with individual accolades and club success was for Brian Ching partially set by the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Of this he is certain.
Before crafting a legacy that required a dozen years to complete, a run that yielded three MLS Cup titles including consecutive championships with the Dynamo, for whom he is their all-time leading scorer, Ching burnished his reputation as an amateur with the Spokane Shadow of the Premier Development League in the U.S. Open Cup. The unique format of a single-elimination tournament open to any side with both the gumption and wherewithal to participate enabled Ching to showcase his skill against professionals simultaneous to his maturation at Gonzaga.
From the Seattle Sounders to the San Jose Earthquakes and, eventually, the Dynamo, Ching traced his ascent to his performance in the second-oldest team sports championship in American sports. On Wednesday, September 26, the Dynamo will participate as finalists in the U.S. Open Cup for the first time when they host the Philadelphia Union at BBVA Compass Stadium (TICKETS).
Ching not only harbors a personal attachment to the U.S. Open Cup. He fosters a desire to inform the uninitiated of its significance and what a victory would represent for the Dynamo.
“When you look at the history of this tournament in the country, it is amazing and should be a bigger thing,” Ching said. “From its long history to the opportunity for all the leagues to participate, it is truly a unique tournament that no other sport in our country has.”
Founded in 1914, the U.S. Open Cup featured more than seven dozen sides in its 105th installment, including 20 from MLS, 22 from the United States Soccer League, and a significant number representing amateur ranks. The tournament champion will lay claim to both the hardware while also qualifying for the group stage of the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League.
Such a reward could prove to be a boon for the Dynamo, who have scuffled against MLS competition this season. The Dynamo opened the tournament with a decisive fourth-round victory over an amateur side from Dallas, NTX Rayados, before clawing past three MLS clubs: Minnesota United FC, Sporting Kansas City (2017 U.S. Open Cup champion), and Los Angeles FC.
Presently out of postseason contention, a U.S. Open Cup title could set the stage for future success for a burgeoning Dynamo side seeking to build momentum heading into the offseason.
“Younger players on the Dynamo roster have gotten opportunity but in the more important games,” Dynamo broadcaster Glenn Davis said. “(Head coach) Wilmer Cabrera has prioritized winning this, which I think sends a great message. It has been a very tough season and a result here against the Philadelphia Union can bring positivity and excitement.
“With the playoffs a distant thought, winning this Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup would be a boost for the club and it would be club history no doubt.”
Doing so on home soil should generate added incentive. The Dynamo, back-to-back MLS Cup champions in 2006-07, and the reigning World Series champion Houston Astros raised their league trophies on the road. The last Houston franchise to celebrate a title in the Bayou City was the Comets of the WNBA, who capped their four-peat at the Compaq Center on Aug. 26, 2000.
“Winning any game in front of home fans is important, but winning a trophy in front of them is extra special,” said former Dynamo defender and three-time MLS Cup champion Eddie Robinson. “You give more people the ability to look back years from now and say, ‘I was there when ….’
“I think it will take some time, but my hope is that it becomes to American Soccer what the FA Cup is to the game in England.”
By reaching the U.S. Open Cup final, the Dynamo have set a new standard for achievement. But now that an opportunity to secure the ultimate prize is at hand, the stakes have been elevated.
A championship culture is permeating with Houston franchises. The Astros are in dogged pursuit of a second consecutive World Series pennant while the Rockets, back-to-back champs in 1994-95, surged to within a game of the 2018 NBA Finals and are poised to mount another thrust. For the Dynamo, hoisting the U.S. Open Cup is a chance to join their elite neighbors.
“This is an extremely important final for the Dynamo considering it has been a long time since our team has won a title,” Ching said. “Also, when you look at the expectation set by not only ourselves but our fans, there is a lot of desire to see another trophy in Houston.
“The team has achieved something no other team in our history has, and even though they are in the middle of a challenging season, it shows the type of championship qualities the team has. The franchise set the bar and expectations high in the beginning, so winning this will help and hopefully inspire more championship runs in the future.”