View from the Booth: Killer combo
The numbers are almost ridiculous.
Quakes forwards Landon Donovan and Brian Ching have started together seven times in 2004, and the team is unbeaten at 4-0-3. In 2003, the two started together nine times, with the club going 6-0-3. So the Quakes have gone 10-0-6 in the last two seasons when Donovan and Ching open the game together.
The numbers get even gaudier: Donovan has scored 11 times and dished out 11 assists in those 16 games; Ching has ten goals and four assists.
"It's a great combination," says coach Dominic Kinnear. "You have strength and power, and you have speed. They both have awareness and they like playing with each other, which is even better."
"I love playing with him," Ching says of Donovan. "He just seems to always be in the right spots when I get the ball. Our styles compliment each other. It's just a joy."
"It's just fun to play with that guy," says Donovan of Ching.
This is a partnership that only three years ago would have seemed impossible. In 2001, Donovan was leading his Earthquakes to the first of their two MLS titles. In 2001, Ching was mostly sitting on the bench in Los Angeles. By the time 2002 rolled around, Landon was helping the USA to a top eight finish in the World Cup, and Ching had been sent to the A-League, where he became an All-Star, catching the eye of Quakes coach Frank Yallop.
From the first minute of his Quakes career (he scored 53 seconds into the 2003 season opener in Colorado), the 6-foot, 195 pound Ching has been wowing his teammates and opponents. He scores on about half of his shots on goal, and has gained a reputation as a tough-as-nails forward.
"Just like Carlos Ruiz (of the Galaxy)," says Ching, "He gives as much as he takes. I'd like to have that kind of reputation too, so if guys know they're going to give it to me, it's going to be a battle for the whole game."
The physical battles go from the first minute to the last, but Ching rarely loses his cool. "He channels his anger the right way," says Donovan. "If he gets mad, he just works harder. And he can give it back to you. He runs, he'll tackle and kick you and fight you. The refs have been good about letting him do it, because he takes a lot of punishment."
And he takes a lot of the pressure off Donovan, whose combination of vision, speed and finishing ability is unmatched in the American game.
"How could you not love playing with this guy," says Ching. "We have a good chemistry. We have fun on the field."
Astaire and Rogers. Abbott and Costello. Lewis and Martin. Batman and Robin.
Partnerships come in odd sizes and shapes, and sometimes out of nowhere. Donovan is hoping the genie doesn't find its way back in the bottle before it's time.
"That would be another sad thing if this team is moved," Donovan said. "There will be players who move on. That would be a sad thing, there are some good partnerships here."
The two figure to get more chances to play together in the red, white and blue. It was Ching's 89th minute goal, on an assist from Donovan, last week in Kingston, Jamaica that helped the USA escape with a 1-1 tie in their World Cup Qualifying game. "One of the highlights of my career so far," Ching said. "Hopefully there will be a lot more. It was a dream come true. I'll have to set higher goals, and am happy to do so."
Ching has been described as a Brian McBride-type player, a target man, the perfect compliment to the speedy and crafty Donovan. McBride now plies his trade in the English Premier League, and Donovan may be doing the same soon.
Who knows where Brian Ching's future lies, but certainly he'll be doing some eye-popping things, and for the next few months for sure, he'll do them alongside Landon Donovan.
Does Superman have a partner? Apparently.
John Shrader has been the voice of the Earthquakes since 1996 and has worked in television and radio in the Bay Area for the past 20 years.