CARSON, Calif. – When the United States begins the final round of World Cup qualifying, a former local standout will rank among the Americans’ leading scorers.
Brian Ching, who led Gonzaga to two West Coast Conference soccer championships, hopes to extend his breakout season on offense when the United States meets Mexico on Wednesday night in Columbus, Ohio.
Last year, Ching scored four times for the United States to finish tied for the team lead in goals. In five previous years with the national team, Ching converted just five goals.
Ching also achieved unparalleled personal success with the Houston Dynamo by scoring a career-high 13 goals and tying his personal best with five assists.
“Whether you’re scoring goals for the national team or your club team, I think they go hand in hand,” said Ricardo Clark, Ching’s teammate in Houston and with the national team. “That’s always going to give you confidence.”
Ching attributes last year’s success to increased playing time. The former Bulldog played seven games for the United States and made six starts, both career bests.
“That helps me get comfortable and when I get comfortable, I don’t put as much pressure on myself,” Ching said. “I think I’ve improved on my passing, my running off the ball and just in more overall connection with the team, setting up players.”
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound forward demonstrated those more refined aspects Jan. 24 in a 3-2 victory over Sweden.
While just outside the penalty area, Ching balanced a long ball from the back between two defenders with his right foot. Ching then shielded a defender from the ball, controlled it with his left foot and sent a well-timed pass to Sacha Kljestan for the goal that provided the winning margin.
“I’ve definitely come a long way,” Ching said. “If you asked me in my first year in (Major League Soccer) if I’d ever be a part of the national team, I’d say, ‘No chance.’ ”
Ching went to MLS from Gonzaga, the only college that offered a scholarship. He twice made the All-WCC first team, set the career record for assists (23) and refined his understanding of the game under coach Einar Thorarinsson.
“I can’t tell you how many times I was in his office just watching film,” Ching said. “Einar Thorarinsson really helped me channel that hard work into being a better player, a smarter player on the field.”
The Los Angeles Galaxy chose Ching in the 2001 MLS draft and started him in the season opener. But he played just seven more games, made no more starts and finished with one goal and one assist before being waived in February 2002.
Ching revived his career that year with the A-League’s Seattle Sounders. He made the all-league team and finished second in league scoring by amassing 16 goals and eight assists.
In 2003, Ching joined the San Jose Earthquakes and moved with the franchise to Houston two years later. Since returning to MLS, Ching has won three MLS Cups and made the league’s Best 11 in 2004.
Ching played his first game for the United States in 2003 and made the 2006 World Cup roster, though he saw no action. He has nine goals in 33 international appearances.
Now, Ching prepares for North America’s most intense soccer rivalry – one that has featured trash talk from both sides, Mexican stores providing voodoo dolls dressed in replicas of U.S. uniforms and physical, unsportsmanlike incidents.
After Landon Donovan scored a late goal during a 2-0 victory in 2007, goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez tried to spike Eddie Johnson as Johnson ran toward Donovan to celebrate.
“I still remember sitting in my living room watching it on TV,” Ching said of that incident.
In a more well-known episode, Mexico’s Rafael Marquez delivered a leaping head butt and a high kick to Cobi Jones during the Americans’ 2-0 victory in the 2002 World Cup.
“All the stuff that goes on in the past sticks with us,” Ching said. “Their not respecting us is a huge sticking point for us. It has always been a huge sticking point for us.”
It also has motivated the national team to keep Mexico winless in the United States in nine matches since 1999.
“Every time we play Mexico, we feel like we have a chip on our shoulder,” Ching said. “We have something to prove. All the trash talk just stokes the fire. It builds the excitement. It gives you the drive to say, ‘Hey, not in our country.’ ”
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