As the days to MLS Cup 2007 count down, the prognosis for Houston Dynamo striker Brian Ching remains the same.
After Friday's training session, Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear repeated the same phrase when asked about Ching's battle with a left calf strain suffered in the Western Conference Championship.
"It's safe to say he's doubtful," Kinnear said. "That probably has been the same status since the game against Kansas City."
Ching did some light fitness work off to the side and didn't participate in his team's 90-minute workout Friday afternoon at the RFK Auxiliary Field. Kinnear has said the U.S. national team forward will be a gameday decision, but has his focus squarely on preparing his entire team for the challenge of beating the New England Revolution.
"For us, if he's involved, great. If he's not involved, we just have to get on with our business," Kinnear said. "If we keep on looking at the sidelines hoping for Brian to get ready, we're going to miss the final." If Ching, who had team-leading seven goals for Houston and was named to the MLS All-Star Game, is unavailable, Nate Jaqua will assume the role of bruising center forward and partner with the crafty Joseph Ngwenya.
"It doesn't really affect us at all," Kinnear said. "It's just one for one, we'll go forward for forward, which we did the last 20 minutes against K.C. and which we've done before when Brian was away with the U.S. team."
This isn't the first time Dynamo's depth has been tested. When Ricardo Clark received a nine-game ban for violently kicking Carlos Ruiz last month, Houston was left without one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS. There was no panic, though, as veteran Richard Mulrooney slid into the familiar role and the transition was seamless.
"I feel comfortable," Mulrooney said. "I don't feel like there's pressure that I have to perform. They've taken a liking to me and all I have to do is play with the team and I think I like our chances."
With New England coach Steve Nicol adjusting his 3-5-2 formation slightly in recent weeks, moving Steve Ralston into an attacking midfielder role, Mulrooney fully expects to have his hands full with the MLS all-time assists leader.
"If he's playing in that attacking spot, it will be my job to keep an eye on him," Mulrooney said. "I don't think I can necessarily shut him out by not letting him get balls or totally shutting him down. But having said that, I will have an eye on him."
Jaqua, who scored what proved to be the game-winner against the Wizards, is hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.
"We're still keeping our fingers crossed, he's a tough guy," Jaqua said. "If anyone can do it, he can. But if not, I feel like we're a deep team and I think we'll be fine."
Remarkably, both Mulrooney and Jaqua were midseason pickups and, with Houston hoping to be the first back-to-back MLS Cup champions since D.C. in 1996-'97, the trades proved to be incredibly fruitful. It was a couple of the few changes to a team that has, for the most part, remained intact throughout the years.
"I think for me coming in, you could very easily see the core group of guys here and it was very easy to fit in," Jaqua said. "They have a very defined structure on how we want to play and that helps quit a bit. A transition to a team like this is a lot easier."
Dylan Butler is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.