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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, July 7, 2004

The 'Night' belongs to Ching in San Jose

By Leila Wai
Advertiser Staff Writer

It will be a busy week for Brian Ching.

The 1996 Kamehameha Schools graduate will be featured at his Major League Soccer game tonight, then fly to Chicago tomorrow to meet up with the U.S. Men's National Team. Sunday, he's on the roster for an exhibition match against Poland at Chicago's Soldier Field.

"Things have been going well for me, I've been putting the ball in the back of the net," Ching said. "I still think I have a lot of room to improve. Hopefully, I can improve more as the season continues on."

The San Jose Earthquakes will be hosting "Hawaiian Night" tonight, complete with a pre-game luau.

Ching, the first player of Hawaiian ancestry in MLS history, will wear a lei on the field for pre-game introductions and the first 7,500 fans will receive lei.

"It will be a special night for him; if he wasn't here, I'm sure we wouldn't be doing it," Earthquakes coach Dominic Kinnear said. "He's very proud of being Hawaiian, he talks about his childhood and growing up in Hawai'i."

The 26-year-old Hale'iwa native is in his third year in MLS and earning respect from opposing teams, according to his teammate Brian Mullan.

"He is a big, strong, goal-scoring forward, and any time you put those things together, you have to respect him," said Mullan, who will also be joining the U.S. National Team in Chicago. "He's made good with all his attributes."

Ching, who is 6 feet 1 and 195 pounds, is second in MLS in scoring and points, with seven goals and two assists for 16 points in 13 games. It was about this time last year when he suffered a season-ending injury to his right Achilles tendon.

Before his injury, Ching was third on the team with six goals and had two assists for 14 points in his first season with the Earthquakes. He started 14 of the 15 games he played in.

"When he went down last year, he was having a great session, and to come back this year even stronger is incredible," Mullan said.

Mullan and Kinnear attribute the strong comeback to Ching's hard work and dedication, on and off the soccer field.

"I think we weren't expecting too much at the beginning because he was still coming off the injury," Kinnear said. "He was a good worker with the trainer; you could tell he wanted to get back."

Ching's dedication also helped him gain attention from national team coaches, who invited him back for his second stint with the team. Sunday's match will be televised live at 1 p.m., Hawai'i time, on ESPN2.

He earned his first cap — or international appearance — in May 2003 in a game against Wales, becoming the first from Hawai'i to play for the national team.

Being invited back is a good sign for Ching, who said it was "a start" for any aspirations he has to be a member of the 2006 World Cup team.

"If I play well, it only increases my chances," he said. "At the same time, there's a lot of good guys out there. Hopefully, it will carry over to qualifying games and I'll get called in consistently."

Ching, the 1996 Interscholastic League of Honolulu Player of the Year and an all-conference and all-region honoree for Gonzaga University, will fly to Chicago tomorrow, after tonight's game against the Chicago Fire.

"I think it's a good thing for the team," Mullan said of "Hawaiian Night." "Brian is a huge part of the team, to get people involved and get his name out there more is going to be good for the team and good for the league."

Ching's name — "He gets letters from a lot of people in his locker and we make fun of him," Mullan said — and his play are both gaining recognition.

His teammates have learned to focus on Ching, especially in the air.

"His ability to win balls in the air is a huge plus for our team," Kinnear said. "We work on corner kicks and free kicks near the goal, and we have a couple of targets, but you look for him."

Reach Leila Wai at lwai@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2457.