A version of this story appeared in the Oct. 20 gameday magazine. Click here to view the complete magazine.
The Dynamo entered Saturday's match against the Philadelphia Union with the chance to accomplish a rare feat. With a win or a draw, the Dynamo could become the the fourth team in the 17-year-history of Major League Soccer to complete an unbeaten home schedule. Houston completed the accomplishment with a 3-1 win over the Union.
Saturday was also the culmination of Ching’s Champions, an initiative led by Dynamo forward Brian Ching to reward “champions” in the community for extraordinary service. A “Ching’s Champion” is someone who has excelled in charity, community fundraising or volunteerism
The campaign’s name is fitting for the Dynamo original, who helped Houston win consecutive MLS Cups, beginning with an MLS Cup MVP performance in 2006 as he scored the game-tying goal in extra time before converting the Cup-winning penalty in the shootout. Ching, who was a finalist for Major League Soccer’s Humanitarian of the Year award in 2010 for his “The House that Ching Built” initiative, created Ching’s Champions to honor local fans who have performed outstanding service without much fanfare.
“The fans give us so much from the stands, it is our job to give back,” said Ching. “I felt it would be a great idea to honor people who are out there and actively helping people in the community and doing special things for others, because often times they are overlooked.”
Community involvement for Dynamo players is already a strong tradition. This year, seven current or former Dynamo players – Bobby Boswell, Will Bruin, Calen Carr, Brad Davis, Cam Weaver, Geoff Cameron and Ching – have led their own unique player initiative. Ching cites past Dynamo players for setting the standard for community service.
“It started in the beginning with Craig Waibel, Brian Mullan, Richard Mulrooney, Pat Onstad and Dwayne De Rosario,” the Dynamo’s all-time scoring leader said. “We started an environment in which everyone wants to give back, and new guys come in and they see the initiatives of their teammates and they want to get involved, and I think it’s a great thing. It is not something that we require guys to do, it is something they see and want to do.”
Ching turned 34 in May, 12 days after the Dynamo opened BBVA Compass Stadium with a 1-0 win over D.C. United, and has a lot to be proud of in his 11th MLS season. Ching has set a career-high with 30 regular season games played this season, five more than his previous high. He has also surpassed his minutes total from 2011 and equaled his goal total from a year ago (5), while earning five assists to equal his career-high. The Hawaiian has also, while dealing with the aches and pains of a long season, remained injury free after several ailments (hamstring, foot and groin) limited him to 20 games a season ago.
The Dynamo’s all-time leading scorer has adjusted to a new role as substitute after starting the majority of games in his first ten seasons. For a player with 82 career goals and a long list of accomplishments for his club and national team, the move out of the starting lineup was challenging at first, but one he has now accepted with a team-first mentality.
“At first, it was difficult to get used to, to be honest,” recalls Ching, of his move to the bench following Houston’s switch to the 4-3-3 formation in July. “It wasn’t an easy transition mentally, but at this point I have accepted it and embraced it, and I now enjoy it. Every time I get on the field, I just want to help the team out.”
Ching has scored three of his five goals this season as a substitute and brings a palpable injection of energy to his team when he enters the game in the second half.
“Whenever he comes into a game, he gives us an emotional lift,” Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear said. “He gives us experience when he steps on the field. He is looking to score a goal and make a run on either side of the ball, to help his team win.”
The emotional lift is even greater at home, where the crowds at BBVA Compass Stadium rise in unison and give Ching a loud standing ovation when his name is announced as he runs onto the field. For all of the talented players on the Dynamo roster, to many casual fans, and even diehard fans, Ching is the player they came to see.
“The fans love him,” said Kinnear. “The first game the Dynamo ever played he scored four goals, so he was an instant hero. He scored a game-tying goal in an MLS Cup and a game-winning penalty in another MLS Cup. He’s done it all for this team, on and off the field, and I think the fans appreciate him and they give him a standing ovation because he deserves it.”
Said Ching of the crowd’s support: “I can’t thank our fans enough. They’ve given me so much over the years. It is pretty cool, because they make me feel special, even walking out of the locker room at the beginning of games. There are fans out there that give me tons of encouragement and get me excited to get out there and play.”
Ching’s impact as a substitute has been significant in several games this year. On June 30, Ching entered a 1-1 home game against the Union in the 74th minute and drew a penalty kick, which he converted for a 2-1 win that launched an eight-game unbeaten streak. On Sept. 29 against New England, Ching entered a scoreless game in the 65th minute and helped set up both Dynamo goals for a 2-0 win, including combining with Brad Davis and Ricardo Clark for a goal featuring three original Dynamo players.
Ching's influence off the bench continued in Saturday's 3-1 win over the Union. The veteran entered in the 67th minute with the score 1-1, and just four minutes later, led a brilliant counter attack off a Union set piece, carrying the ball over 30 yards before feeding Boniek Garcia, who fired home the go-ahead goal. Another four minutes hence, Ching struck again, serving a savvy, first-tough pass in behind the Union defense for Will Bruin, who drew a penalty kick, which Brad Davis converted to seal the win and a berth in the playoffs.
“I always feel like I can make a difference,” the veteran forward said. “It is my role now to give the team a lift and I feel like I’ve done that well and I can continue doing that.”
Ching scored his 82nd career regular season goal at Chicago on Sept. 2. He moved into a tie for 11th on the Major League Soccer all-time scoring list with Raul Diaz Arce.
“I’ve always said he is one of the most underappreciated, unselfish forwards I’ve seen in Major League Soccer,” said Kinnear. “I think when you look at his goal scoring total, it would have been much more if not for a lot of injuries that hurt his career.”
Ching has scored 82 goals on 192 career shots on goal to remain one of the most efficient strikers in league history. Ching’s .427 goals-per-shots-on-goal ratio is the second best in league history for players with 100 shots or more (only Conor Casey has a better ratio, .442). Simply put, 42.7 percent of Ching’s shot on goal have resulted in goals.
“Yeah, it is pretty neat to know,” remarked Ching, when told of his efficiency. “It just tells me I need to shoot more,” he continued, with a laugh.
In 2010, Ching was amazingly efficient in front of the net, scoring seven goals on just nine shots on goal for the season.
“From the time he came into MLS to now, he’s become a much better finisher and I think he does understand he is not a guy who is going to shoot from 25 yards,” said Kinnear . “His chances are going to come as one-touch finishes from inside the box. When he is given the chance, he is very strong, he puts himself in good positions and he has good technique.”
With one game remaining in the regular season, Ching is confident in his club’s talent, but aware of the ingredient they need to reach their goals.
“I’ve said this entire year, this team has the talent to go all the way,” Ching declared. “But sometimes we lack that killer instinct, and hopefully that is something that we are learning as a team. I think we could use a little more meanness, and be harder to play against.”
Many have speculated if 2012 will be Ching’s final season as a player. To Ching, a return in 2013 remains a possibility.
“Seeing how things have gone and progressed this year, and talking with Dom about my role next year, there is a chance that I’ll be back next year. I know stuff has been written in the paper that I’m 95 percent done, but I’m definitely going to have to reassess things at the end of the year.”