Brian Ching made World Cup team but only got a front-row seat

Brian Ching made World Cup team but only got a front-row seat
U.S. national team forward Brian Ching, front, battles against Germany's Arne Friedrich during an international friendly match in 2006. Ching, who retired last year, says he isn't bitter that he never got a chance to play in a World Cup match. (Martin Meissner / Associated Press)

There are only zeroes next to Brian Ching's name in the match reports from the 2006 World Cup.

Zero goals, zero assists, zero minutes played. The former U.S. national team forward could have put up the same numbers sitting on his couch in Houston rather than flying to Germany for a World Cup trip that added up to nothing.


"I thought there was a role for me," Ching remembers. "But the coach at the time didn't put me in. He said after the whole World Cup was over that he wished he had.

"It sucks to hear."

That apology from Bruce Arena, then coach of the U.S. national team, was the closest Ching ever got to playing in a World Cup game. Four years later he was cut from the U.S. team by a different coach, Bob Bradley, just days before it left for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He hasn't played for the national team since.

In the last four World Cups only three other U.S. players, excluding goalkeepers, failed to get off the bench in their only tournament appearance. And though Ching's trial left him disheartened it didn't make him bitter.

"I had a great experience," he says. "Just being there and being a part of it was special to me. It was one of the highlights of my career.

"Obviously, I was extremely disappointed that I didn't get to play. But I moved on from that."

Well, sort of. Eight years later Ching, now 35, still looks back and wonders if he could have made a difference for a U.S. team that went winless in the 2006 World Cup, scoring just once in three games.

"It's difficult," says Ching, who retired last year after 12 Major League Soccer seasons as a high-scoring forward to become managing director of the Houston Dash of the fledgling National Women's Soccer League. "As a player you always want to be able to make a difference, make an impact. And by not being on the field, obviously you're not able to do that.

"But there's no way of actually knowing what would have happened."

As Arena remembers it, an opportunity to use Ching never presented itself. In the first and third games, Arena used Eddie Johnson off the bench. And in the second he had to discard his strategy two minutes into the second half after two players were sent off with red cards

"The reason he was on our roster is we thought he could play," Arena, who led the U.S. in two World Cups and now coaches the Galaxy, says of Ching. "All those games had different circumstances. You can never predict.

"You're talking about three games and they're all do or die. The last thing you think about is everyone playing."

Besides, Arena figured Ching, just 28 then, would be back at the World Cup in four years, probably as a starter. Ching thought so too, which is why his memories of 2010 are even more painful.

He played extensively on the U.S. team during qualifying for South Africa, scoring four times. And though he had been slowed by a strained hamstring in the run-up to the team's World Cup training camp, he felt he had already proven worthy of a place on the final 23-man roster.


Coach Bradley felt otherwise, calling Ching into a room at the team hotel just after midnight to tell him he wouldn't be going with the team to the White House the next day to meet President Obama. Or on to South Africa a couple of days after that.

He was going home instead, as one of the last players cut.

"I felt like I positioned myself well and did all the right things to be able to go to the 2010 World Cup. And it came kind of as a shock to me, kind of a blow, that they decided at the last minute to go in a different direction," Ching says. "That bothers me. A lot.

"But I try not to dwell on it."

A career like Ching's shouldn't be defined by the games he didn't play in. A six-time MLS All-Star, he retired as the Houston Dynamo's all-time leader in goals and played in three MLS Cup finals, winning two rings. He's so popular in Houston that last winter the team staged a "testimonial" match in his honor to raise money for his charity work with Habitat for Humanity.

That's more than Ching could have hoped when he came off the sands of Hawaii as a teenager to give soccer a try.

"From where I started to being on a World Cup team in '06, to me that's what I look back on and reflect on," says Ching, the first Hawaiian to play for the national team. "When I was growing up I was a beach boy. I wanted to be a professional surfer.

"To end up playing the world's game on its highest level in a country far away from home, it's not even something I dreamed of as a kid because I didn't even know that possibility existed."

Twitter: @kbaxter11