Of course he scored. For twelve years in MLS, it was simply what Brian Ching did, more often than almost anyone.
The striker claimed four goals in the Houston Dynamo’s first-ever game in 2006 and he scored five in his final appearance on Friday night as the curtain closed on his illustrious career with a goal-drenched testimonial in his honor at BBVA Compass Stadium.
The tone was less than serious: Landon Donovan went in goal, 46-year-old Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear made a cameo and in the second half a fan masquerading as Craig Waibel even had a few touches down the right wing. But the desire of the players and 6,528 fans to pay a heartfelt tribute to the retiring club legend ran deep.
The rosters for the first testimonial in MLS history were a mix of Dynamo past and present, with more than a dozen franchise originals in attendance alongside members of the current side and a sprinkling of special guests, among them Donovan, Davy Arnaud and Jimmy Conrad.
Before kick-off the teams—one wearing orange, one white—lined up along an orange carpet to form an honor guard as Ching emerged last from the tunnel and headed towards the center circle, which was painted with his jersey number, 25.
Houston have a lot to thank the 35-year-old for. He won MLS Cup in 2006 and 2007, as well as with the San Jose Earthquakes in 2003. His long MLS stint began in 2001 with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Ching was a six-time MLS All-Star and scored 82 regular-season MLS goals, with 69 in all competitions for the Dynamo. He also found the net eleven times in 45 appearances for the United States and was on the 2006 World Cup roster.
Beyond the impressive statistics, Ching’s personality endeared him to fans as much as his predatory instincts. He embodied the determination, work-rate and winning mentality that have come to define the team under Kinnear’s management. Ching embraced the city and it loved him back.
The Hawaiian, who made 14 substitute appearances for the Dynamo in MLS this season, will move into an as-yet-undetermined front office role with the club. And with help from the proceeds of this match, it’s planned that a local family will one day move into a new home. Income will go towards Ching’s charitable initiative, The House That Ching Built, which benefits Habitat for Humanity.
The details of the match itself were far less important than the occasion, of course, but there were still plenty of stand-out plays to delight the crowd. Surprisingly impressive between the posts, Donovan made several smart stops to deny Ching, including one from a bicycle kick that sparking memories of his spectacular strike against D.C. United in 2006 that was named MLS Goal of the Year.
“It was a lot of fun, I was happy to be a part of it,” the Galaxy forward told reporters after the match. “I’ve known him for a long time, we’ve been very good friends on and off the field, I think Houston did a great job in doing something so special for him and I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.”
Long a tradition in Europe, Kinnear would like to see testimonials become established in MLS. “It’s good to celebrate a player that’s been with one team for so long and hopefully that can continue in the league. It’s hard to do because of turnover and expansion and all the rest of it but to be a part of it, not only myself and the coaching staff but all the players around the league to come in and say thanks to Brian for all he’s done for soccer and MLS is fantastic,” he said.
“We’ve all been lucky to have him. Of all the guys who came here he’s the one who really adopted Houston as his home and as his own, it started with that first game and it continued. You think of all the great goals he scored, they weren’t only great goals they were important goals, and if you look at the contributions he’s made off the field, he’s a superstar in Houston I think.”
Fittingly, Ching signed off with a late goal which secured a 6-4 win for his side. He was substituted moments later and the teams converged in midfield to offer hugs, handshakes and applause as the crowd chanted “Thank you, Brian”.
Ching paid a warm tribute to fans, teammates, Kinnear and his mother in an emotional ceremony on the field after the match. “It’s pretty awesome,” he told reporters afterwards.
“I never set out for anything individual and to be recognized in such a way, I have to thank the club, [the president] Chris [Canetti], the ownership group, for allowing me to have this moment and for making it such a special moment.
“And the fans for coming out and doing what they’ve always done, lending their voices and their spirit and their joy and sharing in that moment with me. That’s what I’m going to miss the most and that’s what I love the most about playing, making those memories, scoring those goals and seeing the excitement on people’s faces. I can’t thank the fans enough. They meant everything to me and they're the reason why I did the things I've done."
Ching also expressed his gratitude to the players. "For them to all show up means the world to me," he said. “Hopefully this sets the bar on testimonials, I’d love to see a lot more … I’ve been blessed with a great organization and great fans that pulled it off.”
Dwayne De Rosario partnered Ching in attack, just like the old days. “He’s a player who’s created so many great memories and a friend of mine I have so much time for,” he said. “Tireless effort—that’s one thing that made our team very special. That team-first mentality … It resonated through Ching into the rest of us, it created a legacy for the Dynamo.”
And it is the reason why Brian Ching is not only the face of the franchise, but also its heart and soul.
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.