|Hear Brian Ching's advice to young soccer players|
By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Mike Gordon
Fame is funny when you're a professional soccer player in Houston. Brian Ching can tell you all about it.
The Hale'iwa native making good on the Mainland is a marquee player with the Houston Dynamo — reigning champions of Major League Soccer. He's a guy who signs autographs all over town. He poses for magazine fashion spreads. He has a blog.
And TV stations trumpet the Kamehameha alum as a popular player in a city that also hosts major-league football, baseball and basketball teams.
Still, even though Ching is in demand — and grateful for the attention — he can still find himself standing unnoticed in a crowd.
"You get recognized just enough where it is nice," he said. "People come up and they are friendly, but there is still that anonymity, to be able to go out and do things like everyone else and not be recognized. It's perfect."
With a new MLS season under way, it's fitting that the 28-year-old would admit life is good.
Ching has a new contract. He's earning $200,000 as a Dynamo forward — and for those who don't know soccer, a forward lurks near the goal itching to make a well-timed kick.
He has also been named to play on the prestigious U.S. men's national team this spring. It's the same team he was on last year when the U.S. competed in the FIFA World Cup.
And his adopted town of Houston has fallen in love with him.
"He is one of our most sought-after players," said Lester Gretsch, director of communications for the Dynamo. "The guy is requested all the time for photo shoots for publications."
Fans are drawn by Ching's athleticism. He scored 14 goals last year, a true accomplishment in a sport where a 1-0 victory can prompt a riot. But it's Ching's local boy charm that they remember best, Gretsch said.
"He is a very nice person, very charismatic," Gretsch said. "He's just someone who is willing to work with the community."
Ching has visited hospitals, grade schools and furniture stores. He and his teammates have been to many youth soccer tournaments, and they schedule regular autograph sessions once a month.
"One thing about soccer players in this country is I think we are probably the most accessible athletes," Ching said. "We are out in the community trying to grow the sport."
As the standard-bearer for aspiring Hawai'i soccer players, Ching is setting the bar pretty high, on and off the field. Of course his mother, who openly confesses her bias, isn't surprised.
Stephanie Whalen said the second of her three boys hasn't let success go to his head. In fact, he's so low-key that his only bling is the kukui nut lei he wears after games. "He has always been very humble," said Whalen, who lives in Hawai'i. "He is very good with his fans. If there are little kids there, he will get down on his knees and talk to them."
Ching wasn't that generous when he first started playing in American Youth Soccer Organization games as a boy, said Whalen, who coached him through those years. Her son was good but angry at the boys who didn't work as hard as he did.
"So I was always beating on him, saying you may be good but you can always be better," she said.
The end result was an athlete with a world-class work ethic and a slight inferiority complex. It surfaces when Ching meets players from high-profile soccer clubs, Whalen said.
"He has always felt a step behind, but it made him work harder," she said.
The MLS season began earlier this month for Ching and the Dynamo, which notched its first win Saturday when Ching used his head to slam home a goal.
But both Ching and the Dynamo had a full pre-season schedule. Just before the MLS opener, the Dynamo played in the CONCACAF Champions Cup and despite a late goal by Ching, was ousted by a Mexican team.
Ching had also played in March with the U.S. men's national team. Always aggressive, Ching nearly scored against Ecuador and took a cleated boot to the face. The blow was not enough to sideline him, and he finished the game with gauze in his nose.
It's a punishing schedule, though. Ching could end up playing nearly 50 games by the end of the year. That's a lot of time on the road, a lot of Celebrex and glucose supplements in the morning and a lot of practices in weather so hot, a player can lose 5 pounds in an hour.
Ching takes the routine seriously. He has to. He's been seriously injured often, including three times in the last four years. His face is held together by four steel plates and 12 screws — the result of a collision with a goalkeeper years ago that almost cost him the vision in his left eye.
"It is something you deal with," he said. "I will definitely have to monitor my body this year to be sure I don't wear myself out."
The downside to the new season is that he and his wife are still living in different cities. Charisse lives in Stockton, Calif., where she is earning a pharmacy degree at the University of the Pacific.
"Yeah, it's difficult but we have learned to deal with it," Ching said. "We use the Web cam every day. It's a wonderful invention. For us it is better than the phone. You can actually see expressions."
By the end of the season in Houston, Ching will have spent half his time on the road playing games or catching up with his wife.
"It's a pretty crazy life as far as travel goes, but it is fun," he said. "You get to see a lot of cities and I kick a ball around. How hard can it be?"
Reach Mike Gordon at email@example.com.