The Cold War standoff between the Houston Dynamo and Montreal Impact has come to a resolution.
The clubs announced on Thursday that they have reached an agreement for the Dynamo to reacquire franchise hero Brian Ching in return for a conditional first-round pick in the 2013 SuperDraft, bringing the star striker back to the team that left the door wide open for his departure nearly four months ago.
Ching is expected to join the Dynamo at training on Thursday morning.
“I am very happy to have Brian back with the team,” Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear said in a statement. “This is a very important year for the Dynamo, and if anyone deserves to be involved with the team, it’s Brian.”
Ching will take a pay cut as part of the deal in order to help provide the Dynamo payroll flexibility this season, but the Houston Chronicle has reported that Ching has been guaranteed a front-office job with the club when he retires, perhaps as early as 2013.
Ching, an original Dynamo player and the club’s all-time leading goalscorer, was selected by the Impact in the 2011 MLS Expansion Draft in November. Ching returns to Houston among the leaders of several franchise records, including games played (fifth, 168), games started (fourth, 144), and assists (third, 24). His club-record 63 goals is nearly twice the amount of the second player on the all-time list (Dwayne De Rosario, 32 goals).
“It’s been a long and difficult process over the last few months, but we’re happy that ultimately we got the right result and Brian will be a part of the club again,” Dynamo president Chris Canetti told MLSsoccer.com.
Looking at the last three months, “difficult” is an understatement in regards to the process it took to bring Ching back to Houston.
Starting with the controversial decision to include Ching’s name among the unprotected and his ultimate selection in the Expansion Draft, the negotiations between the each side and raw emotions involved played out for all the public to see with all three sides commenting on the situation. Ching initially said he would never play for Montreal and then backtracked last month when he showed up for the club's first day of preseason workouts in Montreal.
Kinnear, for his part, admitted last week that the Dynamo were "a little bit rude" in how they handled the situation. Add in the peculiar sight of Ching with the Impact against the Dynamo during a recent preseason scrimmage, and there was drama at every turn in the league's biggest offseason soap opera.
"We have made this decision based on reasons that we felt were beneficial for both the desires and needs of our club and the wishes of Brian Ching," Impact head coach Jesse Marsch said in a statement. "We wish him luck on his return to Houston and thank him for his commitment and professionalism while a member of our organization."
According to Canetti, all the attention simply added to an already unique situation.
“I think everything about this deal was a challenge,” Canetti said. “Brian’s an iconic figure in our organization and there was a unique circumstance with the Expansion Draft and there were a lot of things like that were challenge, especially being in the spotlight. With who it is and what he represents to our club and community there was a lot of emotion and passion involved.”
Ching was limited to 20 appearances due to injury last season, but still tied for the team lead with five goals. He was also instrumental in Houston’s run to the MLS Cup 2011 final and in the playoff series victory against Philadelphia, he assisted on the game-winning goal in the first-leg win and scored the lone goal in the second game, the final MLS goal scored at Robertson Stadium.
On Monday, the rumor mill began swirling again about a potential deal, as the Impact granted Ching a release for “personal reasons.” The rumors were true, as Ching was headed to Houston to discuss restructuring his contract, in part to make a deal easier.
“It’s uncommon anywhere in life, not just in sports because money’s a very important factor to people,” Canetti said. “It shows what type of person and leader he is. It shows that he was willing to put the big picture ahead of himself. It shows how he feels about the community and what he is to the city so it speaks volumes in that respect.”
Despite Ching’s willingness to redo his deal, Houston still had to finalize a trade agreement with Montreal. But after nearly three months of negotiations, the two sides reached an amicable compromise and one of MLS’ biggest offseason stories was resolved.
“I don’t know what changed to be honest, but it’s a huge relief,” Canetti said about the deal being done. “For Brian, he’s in a place he wants to be and will part of a lot of great things this year and the fans love him and will be happy to see him as part of the team again. From the organization’s perspective there are a lot of reasons why we want to have Brian around. Having this behind us is a positive thing.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.