Soccer star Beckham to play at Hawaii stadium
By Kyle Sakamoto
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Kyle Sakamoto
Hawai'i soccer fans will score big come February.
Not only will Hale'iwa's Brian Ching play his first competitive match here in 12 years, but David Beckham, the world's most recognizable player, also will compete.
Ching's Houston Dynamo and Beckham's Los Angeles Galaxy will represent Major League Soccer in the PanPacific Championship at Aloha Stadium.
Teams from Japan (J.League champion Gamba Osaka) and Australia (a team from the Hyundai A-League) will complete the tournament lineup.
"We believe it will be the most significant soccer event to come to Hawai'i, and perhaps the greatest international event to come to Hawai'i in at least the last 25 years," said Nelson Rodriguez, an MLS senior vice president.
The tournament was announced yesterday at a news conference at the Hilton Hawaiian Village by Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, J.League chairman Kenji Onitake, Rodriguez and Ching.
On Feb. 20, Gamba Osaka will play the Galaxy at 6 p.m., and the Dynamo will face an A-League team at 8:30. On Feb. 23, the third-place game will be at 6 p.m. and the final at 8:30.
Ching, 29, is a 1996 Kamehameha Schools graduate and played collegiately at Gonzaga. His last game here was in 1995 with the Honolulu Bulls Soccer Club.
"Ever since I became a professional soccer player, I wanted to share it with my friends and family back here in the Islands," Ching said. "It's something I haven't been able to do up until this point."
Beckham, 32, is a two-time runner-up for FIFA World Player of the Year (1999 and 2000) and a member of England's national team. His looks and charisma have made him a fashion icon and hit with advertisers. His wife, Victoria, is a member of the Spice Girls pop music group.
Beckham has told tournament organizers he's looking forward to his first visit to Hawai'i.
"David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy have been a phenomenon this year," Rodriguez said. "He is a special individual and special athlete — one that transcends the sports pages."
Ching said he is looking forward to Beckham playing in Hawai'i.
"He's going to come and bring more fans to the stadium," Ching said. "To the fans that's great. That'll help grow soccer, and that's what I'm about."
Beckham likely already has a big following in Hawai'i.
"I think it's really great because he's a really famous player and really good," said Taylor Candelario, a 13-year-old student at Star of the Sea.
Asked if her family is going to attend the February matches, Taylor said: "I think we are. We might be able to get his autograph and meet him in person. Hopefully, he'll be really cool."
Freddy Adu, then a 14-year-old phenom with D.C. United, played an exhibition here in 2005 against the Galaxy. Back then, Taylor's mother, Sherri, didn't know who Adu was. But she's very familiar with Beckham.
"I'm totally stoked," Sherri said. "The L.A. Galaxy came here before and we made a family event of it and it was fun. I didn't know who Freddy Adu was when he came, but I know who David Beckham is."
Isabella Gigante, a 12-year-old student at Punahou, has seen Beckham play on TV and is looking forward to him playing here.
"I think it's really cool," she said. "It's exciting to get someone like David Beckham here."
JAPAN, AUSTRALIA ARE IN
Rodriguez expects the four teams to be at full strength because it's an "empty" space in the "global soccer calendar." (Players often leave their clubs for national team commitments.)
Houston is the two-time defending MLS champion. Los Angeles finished 9-14-7 and didn't qualify for the playoffs.
Onitake, through a translator, said: "Gamba Osaka is one of the major soccer teams in Japan. They win every year."
Rodriguez added: "Gamba Osaka is known for being a supportive, traveling group. We expect significant numbers to follow the team from Gamba to Hawai'i."
While it'll be the off-season for MLS and the J.League, the A-League will be in the midst of its playoffs in late February. The Isle tournament will feature the highest-ranking team that doesn't advance to the grand final series, according to Rodriguez.
Patrick Ching, 26, traveled to Houston hoping to see his brother play in three matches last month, but Brian Ching was unavailable because of a calf injury.
"I haven't seen him play for a pretty long time, so I feel pretty good about it," Patrick said. "It's exciting for my whole family. I hope I can get tickets.
"I'm very proud of him. He's actually living his dream. That was pretty much all our dreams (they have an older brother, Mike, 31) — to play soccer at the professional level."
Brian Ching also missed the MLS Cup on Nov. 18.
He said he was "crushed," but added: "I was my team's No. 1 fan on the day of the game."
Ching said he has never played at Aloha Stadium.
The field in February will be 69 to 70 yards wide and "more than functional," according to Rodriguez. He added that the preferred width is 75 yards.
The football lines on the FieldTurf will be erased and soccer markings will be painted in.
The teams will train at the Waipi'o Peninsula Soccer Complex prior to the tournament.
Rodriguez said he hopes the Pan-Pacific Championship will be "ongoing and annual."
Reach Kyle Sakamoto at email@example.com.