Ten Questions with Brian Ching

Frank MacDonald talks with former Sounder and three-time MLS Champion Brian Ching.

This is a special week for Brian Ching as he returns to roots, playing in Hawaii for the first time since turning professional. Ching’s Houston Dynamo, having won back-to-back MLS Cups, make their 2008 debut in the Pan-Pacific Cup and will face representatives of both the Japanese and Australian leagues beginning Wednesday night In Honolulu. The Gonzaga graduate and ex-Sounders striker was interviewed prior to rejoining the Dynamo for preseason training.

You’re from Hawaii, went to college in Spokane and have played professionally in four different cities. Besides Seattle now being a future stop for the Dynamo, what are your ties to the Northwest?
I love my team and I love my coach and I like this city (Houston), but I loved Seattle when I was there. In the summer, when the sun’s out, it’s one of the most beautiful cities around. I have a half-sister and her family who live up there, and I still have a lot of friends who live at Gonzaga. 

For your club, it was a brief offseason. What did you do to make the most of it?
After MLS Cup, I sit around and do nothing for 2-3 weeks, then start jogging again. I go back to Hawaii and visit my family and surf as much as I can. I just try not think about soccer for month or two, and let the body relax and heal and gear-up for another season. The older you get, the more vacation you want.

This year’s Sounders players could form part of the Seattle MLS roster in 2009. Having played in the A-League, do you think those players could make a difference in that first season?
I’m a little bit curious as to why the MLS doesn’t look at A-League players more than they do, because there are good players. There’s been a bias against them for who knows what reason.

Did you feel you that yourself?
I was fortunate, but I’ve seen it happen. I consider myself lucky. I was offered a scholarship by only one college and being drafted by the Galaxy out of the blue, basically. I was just seen at the right times. I think having a little bit of history in the league helped me out as well.

You were nearly 25 when you finally won a starting spot in the MLS with San Jose, and some might describe you as a late bloomer. What were the keys to your eventual breakthrough?
The most important years for me, development wise. were first year out of college, going from Gonzaga to L.A. Galaxy. I really learned a lot that year. I started the first game of the season. We were down 3-0 and I got subbed out at halftime. As a result, I really lost my confidence, and throughout that first season, for me confidence was a big part of playing well. But slowly I learned to believe in myself. I started realizing I was just as good as the other guys there on the team and in the league. It was a matter of believing in myself and proving it. By end of the season it was too late for me. I got released, but I carried that confidence through with me when I got to the Sounders. Basically, I learned to believe in myself and my abilities, and progressively I’ve been going up from there.

Were there players whom you modeled your game after?
When I first started in the MLS, the person I watched most was Brian McBride. I learned a lot from watching Brian and playing with him as well. We are similar in the way we play. But now I just enjoy watching soccer and if I’m flipping channels I’ll stop for someone like Thierry Henry or Didier Drogba. I like to watch because I’m more interested in what they’re doing off the ball.

Who are the individuals who influenced your development?
A couple of youth coaches who affected my development were my high school coach, Chris Nied, who instilled a work ethic and drive in me that I keep to his day, and David Chattergy, a club coach who got me to think more about the game, movements away from the ball and got me to watch a lot more soccer. Einar Thorarison at Gonzaga definitely allowed me to mature in college and develop to where I needed to be. In MLS, I’d have to say Frank (Yallop) and Dom (Kinnear) have been huge for me in the sense that they instilled confidence in me and allowed me to develop as a player on the field.

How do you see the game differently than, say, college or that first year with the Sounders?
When I first got into the league, I saw the game as going a hundred miles an hour. Now I see it at more like 50 mile per hour. I adjusted to the speed of play, and that’s a big difference. I’ve learned to calm down my mind, and be a little more comfortable on the ball. I read other players and defenders and make better movements off the ball.

And a lot of what you contribute to your team is work off the ball.
Yeah, my strengths are not to dribble through 3-4 defenders or create chances for other players. My strengths are getting in the box and getting on the end of crosses; getting the ball wide and making good runs. I’ll try to get better in the other areas of the game, but I know what works for me. I stick to those things and they continue to be successful for me.

What has been your most difficult challenge?
I’ve been pretty fortunate to go to places where coaches have allowed me to grow as a player. I developed late. Part of it was coming from Hawaii, where soccer then wasn’t as big as it is now. So I think my development was slowed because, I would get to be one of the better players in Hawaii, but the level wasn’t perhaps as high as it was in some states on the mainland. Maybe I stalled out. Anyway, it took me awhile to become a key player when I went to college, and when I went to MLS, it took me a couple years to become a key player. The progress was slower than what I was capable of doing, but I’m happy to be where I’m at.