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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ching rode wave of future onto soccer field

Advertiser Staff

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Brian Ching

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WHEN/WHERE: Today and Saturday, Aloha Stadium

WHEN: Today, LA Galaxy vs. Gamba Osaka at 6 p.m.; Houston Dynamo vs. Sydney FC at 8:30; Saturday, third-place match at 6 p.m.; championship at 8:30

TICKETS: $10 to $60, at Aloha Stadium box office and Ticketmaster

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When Brian Ching originally dreamed about appearing before hometown crowds in Hawai'i as a professional athlete, he imagined doing it on a surfboard, not a soccer pitch.

He pictured himself riding waves off Hale'iwa, not making shots on goal in Halawa.

But as the Pan Pacific Championships debuts tonight at Aloha Stadium, Ching is getting his kicks as a forward for the Major League Soccer champion Houston Dynamo against Sydney FC of Australia in the 8:30 feature game of the two-night event. In his first soccer appearance here in 12 years, Ching will be the local boy made great in his second choice sport.

"I really didn't think about becoming a professional soccer player until maybe my junior year (in college)," Ching said.

His first pick first "love" as he puts it to this day was surfing. It was in his family and in his heart from a young age. "Growing up, we didn't have the (MLS) around; I wanted to be a professional surfer," Ching recalls. "I just kind of fell into (pro soccer). My mom wanted me to go away to college and the way to do that was get a scholarship. I liked soccer and really dedicated myself to it. I got a scholarship and saw how things developed from there."

Indeed, after starring for the Honolulu Bulls Soccer Club, Kamehameha Schools and Gonzaga University he was offered two weeks to train with the Los Angeles Galaxy. "After training with them, I was like, 'hey, I can do this. I want to do this,' " Ching recalls. "And, I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity when I was drafted in 2001."

Ching was the first player from Hawai'i to be drafted by the MLS (Los Angeles). He played a year for the Galaxy, then refined his skills in the United Soccer Leagues before finding a home with the San Jose Earthquake in 2003.

From there his career has blossomed. In 2004 he led the MLS in goals (12). In 2006, he was the MVP of the MLS Cup Final after scoring the tying goal in extra time and winning it with a penalty kick. Then, he became the first player from Hawai'i to make a FIFA World Cup roster.

"I don't think we could imagine any of this back then (as a youth player)," said his mother, Stephanie Whalen. "I was just trying to get him to practice and games."

Throughout his career, Ching said, he has sought a way to bring professional soccer back to Hawai'i with him. "That's something I've wanted to do since I got in the league," he said.

"I'm glad it is finally here and that I can enjoy it," Ching said. "There have been a lot of friends and family that haven't been able to see me play live and now it is finally happening. I just don't want to put too much pressure on myself. I want to play well and not disappoint them."

Ching's coach, Dominic Kinnear, said, "I know he's excited about about being back home, playing in front of his family and friends."

Small wonder, family members said there will be 220 of them on hand for Saturday's finale, not to mention the youth soccer players who look up to Ching.

"He's an ambassador for soccer here," Kinnear said.

Surfing already had plenty. But in soccer, Ching has found a prestigious niche.

Not to mention now that his Dynamo teammates need surfing lessons, they have the right guy to teach them.