Payne's view: Star tracking
Brian Ching is having a banner year for the Earthquakes. Having achieved seven points on three goals and an assist in the last two games, the 6-foot, 195-pound forward is tied with the MetroStars' Amado Guevara for the Major League Soccer scoring lead with 23 points. He also is the co-leader with the Galaxy's Carlos Ruiz in goals scored with 10.
Not bad for someone who was playing in the A-League for the Seattle Sounders only two years ago, before then-coach Frank Yallop grabbed him in the 2003 MLS supplemental draft.
"Sharing the league lead in scoring is great," said Ching, who will join teammates Landon Donovan, Richard Mulrooney, Jeff Agoos and Pat Onstad as starters on the West squad in Saturday's MLS All-Star Game at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. (11 a.m. PT, ABC). "But it would mean more if we weren't sitting in last place."
Another way to look at it is that the Quakes (5-5-6, 21 points) would probably be buried in the five-team Western Conference if not for Ching. He has scored in each of the Quakes' five wins and in two of their ties.
With 13 matches remaining in their league season, the Quakes are only two points behind Dallas (6-6-5, 23 points) and Colorado (5-5-8, 23 points), tied for third place. They trail first-place Los Angeles (9-5-6, 33 points) by 12 points, but have played three fewer games than the Galaxy.
With nine games remaining against conference foes - two each against Colorado, Dallas and Los Angeles, and three against second-place Kansas City (9-4-5, 32 points) - the defending MLS champion Quakes definitely control their destiny.
"We're too good to be where we're sitting," Ching said. "We're playing well in spurts, but we're not putting together complete games. We need to be more consistent. Hopefully we can come together and put together a run after the All-Star break."
Ching said he is eagerly looking forward to his first MLS All-Star Game.
"This is something I never really expected," Ching said. "What makes it special is that the fans, players and coaches who selected me are rewarding me for having a good season. It's going to be fun playing with and against the league's best players."
The league's first Hawaiian-born player, Ching is in the running to become the fourth U.S.-born player to finish the season as MLS' leading scorer. Roy Lassiter was the first, with Tampa Bay during the inaugural MLS season in 1996. Jason Kreis (Dallas) followed in '99 and Taylor Twellman (New England) in '02.
But, as Ching would tell you, that wouldn't be as important as winning another MLS Cup. If he accomplishes both, it would be a first. A team with a scoring champion has never won an MLS Cup the same season. Twellman is the only player to win a scoring title and appear in an MLS final the same year. The Revolution lost to the Galaxy 1-0 in the '02 Cup.
NEVER GETS OLD: Agoos, the only player to be selected nine times as an MLS All-Star and will become the first to appear in an eighth MLS All-Star Game, said he is looking forward to the weekend festivities surrounding the game, but not the match itself.
"It's always an honor to be a part of the game because you were chosen by your peers, the coaches and fans," Agoos said. "I enjoy mixing with the league's top caliber players. As for the game, it's really no fun for the defenders. Most everyone is pushing up to score, and you suddenly find yourself with only three or four players back when the other team counters with anywhere from seven to 10 attackers. It's like a tidal wave coming at you."
Agoos said he never goes forward in an All-Star game because he doesn't want to leave his fellow defenders with the responsibility of covering for him. But that doesn't mean he has never been involved in the scoring. He had one assist in each of the '01 and '98 All-Star matches.
Two All-Star games that were a nightmare for Agoos and the rest of the West defense came during a 9-4 East win in 2000 in Columbus and the entertaining 6-6 tie in '01 at Spartan Stadium. A Quakes rookie by the name of Landon Donovan scored four goals for the West, earning him the Most Valuable Player nod.
While he was named an All-Star last season, he wasn't selected for the game between an MLS team and Chivas de Guadalajara from the Mexican first division.
"I hope the league continues to have East-West games instead of an MLS All-Star team against whomever," Agoos said. "I missed being at last year's game at The Home Depot Center, but it wasn't all that bad. It gave me a chance to spend four to five days with my wife-to-be."
DONOVAN EXCELS: Landon Donovan has showcased well in his previous three All-Star games. He has amassed five goals, and he had an assist on the first goal in last summer's 3-1 win against Chivas. In the 2002 All-Star Game between MLS and U.S. national team consisting of MLS players, Donovan scored the first goal and then Quakes defender Wade Barrett assisted on MLS' second goal in a 3-2 win for Frank Yallop and the MLS team.
In the 1999 All-Star Game at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Mauricio Wright and Ronald Cerritos of the Quakes combined for the winning goal, Wright scoring on a Cerritos assist for a 5-4 lead. Cerritos later added a goal, giving the West a 6-4 victory.
In 1998, the All-Star Game was played between teams made up of U.S. players against international players from MLS. Quakes president and general manager Alexi Lalas - representing the MetroStars - scored the second goal for the U.S. during a 6-1 win.
Dave Payne is a freelance soccer writer. He previously covered soccer for 33 years for the San Jose Mercury News. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not represent those of Major League Soccer or its teams.