US SoccerUS Soccer

By Way of Hawaii

“Aloha, Brian Ching.”

In Hawaiian, aloha means hello or goodbye, but in the statement above it definitely stands for hello. As in,  “Hello again Brian Ching and welcome back to the U.S. Men’s National Team.”

Ching, the only player of Hawaiian ancestry to play for the MNT, was called into camp with the national team for their friendly against Poland in Chicago at Soldier Field on July 11. For the San Jose Earthquake forward, getting the call back to the national team was the highest up in what has been an up and down year. 

Ching became the first player of Hawaiian ancestry to play for the MNT when he came on as a substitute for his first cap and played 16 minutes in a friendly against Wales on May 26, 2003 at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, Calif. The 26-year-old forward had reached a high point in his young career, but a short time later it took a bit of a detour.

A little more than a year ago, Ching was tearing up MLS and sitting second in scoring and points with seven goals and two assists for 16 points in 13 games. But it all came to a screeching halt when he injured his right Achilles tendon, ending what had begun as a promising sophomore season in the league and closing any doors to the national team in the immediate future.

“It was definitely disheartening when I got injured,” said Ching after the U.S. MNT’s practice in Chicago on Friday. “I thought I was playing well and was ready to take my game to the next level.”

The next level could have included getting more call ups with the national team and being a part of San Jose’s remarkable run through the MLS playoffs that eventually saw them host their second championship trophy in three years. Instead, Ching was forced to sit on the sidelines and watch.

While he admits it was tough, he turned it into a positive and let the fact that he missed out on an extraordinary year fuel his fire.

“It gave me a little bit more edge, a little bit more desire to get back onto the field and get back to where I was,” said the six-foot-one, 195 pound forward.

A little more than a third through the MLS season, Ching has shown he’s back to where he left off. With seven goals and two assists in 14 games, Ching sits tied for second in the league with 16 points.

His comeback shouldn’t come as a surprise though, as Ching has been pulling off the unlikely for quite a while. Reaching the pinnacle in U.S. Soccer through way of the nation’s only island state is a feat in itself.

Ching said that while youth soccer in Hawaii is basically the same as every other state, there aren’t as many players and the competition isn’t as high as it might in the continental U.S.
“When I was growing up we didn’t really have coaches that played soccer,” said Ching. “My first coach was my mom, who coached me for a number of years and then my uncle coached me for awhile. They never had played the game and just got everything out of books. It wasn’t until high school that I had a coach who played in college and a little bit of indoor.”

During high school Ching began developing as a player and as a senior was named the 1996 Interscholastic League of Honolulu Player of the Year. Despite the accolades, he wasn’t highly recruited out of high school, but he did enough to grab the attention of the coaching staff at Gonzaga.

At Gonzaga, Ching says he “came a long ways in a short time,” and fine-tuned his goal scoring ability. In four years, he finished with 34 goals (third most in school history) and a school-record 23 assists to finish tied for second on Gonzaga’s all-time list with 91 points.

Ching then took his skills to the Seattle Sounders of the A-League before making his way to the MLS and eventually San Jose. And while he knows his path from the island to the top level of American soccer wasn’t an easy one, it’s one that he thinks other Hawaiians will make in the future.

“Soccer in Hawaii is definitely getting better now,” said Ching. “There are coaches out there that have played the game and know what they are doing. I look forward to seeing some kids from Hawaii make it to the national teams.” (Hawaiian native Natasha Kai is currently part of the U.S. Under-21 WNT)

After Friday’s practice, Ching had his shorts pulled high off his left thigh as he suffered a large scrape during a slide tackle, a common stinging abrasion usually referred to as a “raspberry.” Not a pleasant scuff, it probably was a welcomed cut as he received it playing in U.S. MNT team gear and maybe served as a reminder that he’s made it back.

“I definitely want to keep on improving and do well when I get the opportunities,” he said. “Like all the guys in the league I want to become a permanent fixture on the national team, but saying that I think I still have a way to go yet.

And who knows, if Ching can perform well this weekend and impress the coaching staff, we may be saying “aloha” to him many more times as the U.S. pushes through World Cup qualifying.