A positive outcome from the Earthquakes' 1-1 tie Saturday against D.C. United at Spartan Stadium was the encouraging performance of Brian Ching in his first start since rupturing his right Achilles tendon in a mid-August match last season at New England.
Apparent in the game was the physical 6-foot, 195-pound forward's ability to complement skillful front-runner Landon Donovan in and around the box. Ching and Donovan didn't hookup for any goals, but they came close. (They did, however, combine for a goal in a 3-1 win at New England on April 17 when Ching finished off a Donovan assist shortly after entering as a substitute in the 70th minute.)
Ching can score in the air and on the ground. He notched six goals and added two assists in 15 games last season before suffering his injury. But he's the first to tell you his primary job is getting the ball to Donovan.
"I'm more of a post-up guy and Landon is a world-class player,'' said Ching, who will be 26 on May 24. "I try to make passes to him when I can. I think, because of our contrasting styles, that we work very well together."
When the opposition takes away Donovan as a target, however, Ching won't hesitate to fire on frame when he has space.
Ching had four excellent scoring chances Saturday, all in the first half. He ripped a goal-bound shot from 23 yards that goalkeeper Nick Rimando reached up and redirected off the crossbar in the 14th minute. Moments later, he laid a pass back to Donovan, whose shot was blocked by a defender. The ball deflected to Ching to the right of the goal, and he unloaded a shot that also was blocked.
"Yeah, I also probably should have slotted the ball back to Landon," Ching said. "I just got a little excited."
Ching had a point-blank shot blocked by Rimando in the 31st minute, and he missed an opportunity to give the Quakes a 2-0 lead 10 minutes later when he headed a Jeff Agoos corner over the bar.
"I probably should have done better on that one,'' Ching said. "But it was difficult because (defender Brandon) Prideaux was holding me pretty good. He made if difficult to adjust my body so I could get my head in the right position."
Ching all but disappeared in the second half, which was understandable. He had played a total of only 75 minutes as a second-half sub in the Quakes' first four games, and never more than 20 minutes an appearance.
"I went from being tired to becoming basically exhausted in the second half,'' said Ching, who was seconds shy of playing 80 minutes when he was replaced by Jamil Walker. "I didn't have the legs I had in the first half.
"It felt great to be back as a starter. I don't think I'll need more than one or two more games to be ready to play for 90 minutes."
Ching said he is still experiencing some discomfort in his Achilles.
"I'm not entirely over (the injury)," he said. "(The Achilles) doesn't really bother me while I'm playing; I feel an aching feeling at the half and after a game, and after training. But I'm OK with it; the pain isn't holding me back."
It had been nearly nine months between starts for Ching, who underwent surgery on Aug. 19. He had made his first appearance with the U.S. national team on May 26, 2003, in an exhibition match against Wales at Spartan Stadium as a second-half sub.
Any chance of him receiving another call from national team coach Bruce Arena was dashed by the injury, at least for the time being.
"That's the way it goes sometimes," Ching said. "But you can't dwell on the 'what ifs'. It would be nice to get another chance with the national team, but what's important now I is that I play well for [the Earthquakes] and do what I can to help this team win another MLS Cup."
Dayak Delivers: Troy Dayak's goal for a 1-0 lead in the 33rd minute against D.C. United was the veteran defender's first since his finish on Oct. 17, 2001 that gave the Quakes a historic 1-0 playoff win at Miami and propelled the team into MLS Cup. Saturday's goal was Dayak's ninth with the Earthquakes.
"I told the guys I was going to get a goal Saturday," said Dayak, 33. "I had three good chances. My first shot went wide and the second was over the top. The third try was the charm. Jeff (Agoos) made the perfect free kick to the near post, timing it perfectly with my run from the top of the box. Jeff and I work on those free kick situations in training."
Scoring goals is nothing new for Dayak.
"When I was playing under-10s in Dublin, I scored 128 goals in one season as a forward," he said. Asked why he was moved from forward to defense, Dayak replied, "When I was 14 and playing on the district team, the coach told me he was moving me to the back because I had too much of an attitude to play up front."
Dayak had a moment of truth in Saturday's game after he fouled Freddie Adu and referee Abbey Okulaja mistakenly issued a yellow card to Agoos.
"I went up to the guy and said it was my foul," Dayak said. "He replied, 'Really? You? Are you sure?' I said, 'Yeah, it's my foul' He said, 'OK. Thanks.' And he showed me the yellow card."
Dayak said it was the first time he could remember a referee changing his decision after giving a card.
"I wanted to be honest," Dayak said. "It wasn't Goose's card, it was mine. You have to be a man about these things."
It was Dayak's second yellow card of the season. He didn't feel he deserved the first, which he received in Colorado.
"I made a great tackle," Dayak said. "I asked the ref if I got the ball first. He said, 'Yeah, but if you didn't get the ball, it would have been a red card.' I couldn't believe his answer. Nowhere in the world outside of MLS would I have been carded on that play."
Brown Debuts: Not only did newcomer Chris Brown make his first appearance with the Earthquakes on Saturday since his acquisition from New England on April 8, coach Dominic Kinnear started him at left flank.
"I was surprised on Friday when Dominic told me I was going to start," said Brown, 27, a forward/midfielder who during 4 1/2 seasons with Kansas City amassed 16 goals and 13 assists before being swapped to the Revolution late last season.
"I haven't played on the left for awhile, but I felt good out there. I'm happy that Dominic feels comfortable that he can play me either wide or on top."
It was actually Brown's first game since suiting up for the Revs against Columbus on Sept. 28, 2003, before having his season ended with a fractured right foot.
"I'm happy to be in San Jose, not only because I'm on a good team, but also because I'm back on the West Coast and closer to my family," said Brown, who grew up in Portland, Ore., and played for the late Clive Charles at the University of Portland. "My dad, Chris Sr., who lives in Manhattan Beach, was at the game Saturday."
Dave Payne is a freelance soccer writer. He previously covered soccer for 33 years for the San Jose Mercury News.