CARSON, Calif. – Brad Davis has received a lion’s share of the credit for the Houston Dynamo’s return to prominence in 2011. But to the LA Galaxy, it's someone else on Houston’s roster that's the most important player.
“Brian [Ching] is the heart and soul of that team,” Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant said at training on Thursday. “He’s been there for years. He’s won two championships for them, and he’s a great player.”
Without Davis around – the midfielder won’t play a role in Sunday's MLS Cup final due to injury – Houston lose a player who is a finalist for the MLS Most Valuable Player award as well as the league leader in assists. But even without Davis to send crosses in towards Ching, the veteran forward will be a load for Galaxy defenders to deal with.
“He’s a very good competitor; he’s good in front of the goal,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said on Thursday. “He’s got physical qualities and scores a lot of goals with his head. He’s an experienced guy, knows how to move off the ball, can finish with both feet and obviously good in the air.”
Ching, 33, played in 20 games this season and has been slowed by injuries during the year. He scored just five goals this season, the second-lowest total in his career. His lowest came in 2001 when he scored one goal in eight games with the Galaxy.
However, the big Hawaiian has one of Houston’s five playoff goals this postseason and has been a strong part of the team’s resurgence.
“He’s a guy you can rely on week in and week out,” said Dunivant, who played alongside Ching in San Jose. “I don’t care what he says; I don't think he’s lost too many steps. He’s still a pain when it comes to getting in the box and getting on the end of service.”
At 6-foot-1, Ching stands above all of the Galaxy’s likely starting defenders save for 6-foot-5 Omar Gonzalez, who will likely get the bulk of the marking duties against Ching.
Not only does Ching have the physical attributes to keep Gonzalez on his toes, but he’s experienced enough to know how to get an upper hand in different situations.
“He can score goals from anywhere in the box," Gonzalez said. "We have to keep an eye on him and make sure he's not free in the box. He’s definitely a good player. He’s tough and a big guy, takes up a lot of space. It’s hard to get around, and you just have to make sure he doesn’t give you that big bump.”
When he takes the field against the Galaxy on Sunday, his age or his recent injury history won’t play a factor rather the name on the back of his shirt will say it all.
“He looks like [the] Brian Ching that we’ve seen in the past and he’s always a threat to get a goal,” Arena said. “He’s scored a lot of big goals in his career."
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.