The scene in Spokane at Gonzaga’s practice field was not that much different than any other college soccer program across the country. As the team dispersed from a training session, two players remained, getting assistance from one of the goalkeepers.
The goalkeeper launched the ball high into the air in the direction of the two combatants, one a forward two years older than his defender competitor.
Those post-practice sessions drove Zach Scott to battle for every minute he could earn and never give up until his body couldn’t handle it anymore. His opponent was Brian Ching and he had done the same since turning pro in 2001. Now in his 14th season as a professional, Ching announced his retirement on Tuesday and it left Scott reminiscing about those regular competitions between the two.
“I don’t like hearing that stuff, first of all,” Scott said of Ching’s retirement. “That makes me feel a lot older than I normally feel.”
The two players have a lot in common.
They were both born in Hawaii – Ching on Oahu and Scott on Maui. In 1996, Ching went to Gonzaga to play soccer and two years later, Scott followed. Even at that point, they had no idea how far their careers would take them.
There are not many professional soccer players from Gonzaga and even fewer from Hawaii.
Yet they still scratched and clawed their ways into the professional ranks, Ching providing an aspirational figure for Scott.
“He’s a guy that as a pro, I aspire to be. Hopefully young guys, especially coming from Hawaii, see that, too,” Scott said. “He was one of the first guys that really pushed me to get better.”
After a brief stop in MLS with the LA Galaxy, Ching came to Seattle in 2001 on loan to the Sounders in the A-League. He came back in 2002 and rejoined Scott, who was playing his first professional season. Ching had 16 goals in 25 matches to earn A-League All-League honors.
That triggered a move back to MLS with the San Jose Earthquakes, where he played until the club was relocated to Houston in 2006. After establishing himself in the league with 25 goals in 55 matches with the Earthquakes, he solidified that legacy with the Dynamo, notching 56 goals and 22 assists in 169 matches.
A three-time MLS Cup winner and five-time MLS Cup finalist, Ching also had success on the international stage, scoring 11 times in 45 caps. He was on the 2006 World Cup roster, but did not make an appearance in the tournament.
“He’s one of those guys who is a pioneer in the league, in my opinion. He’s won so much and is such a good example for young guys,” Scott said.
At Starfire Sports in Tukwila, Scott keeps his engine revving through another training session. Always among the last players to leave the field, hoping to get one more repetition that may mean the difference in any given match, Scott sets a great example for young players coming through the organization.
Just like Ching did for him 15 years ago in Spokane.
“He’s older than me,” Scott said of his impressions of their early meetings. “He’s more established, but he’s willing to battle in practice because he knows that’s going to lead to good things during the game.”