The career of Brian Ching now belongs to the ages. Friday night, 6,528 people braved the cold and the rain to help pay tribute to the Houston Dynamo striker in what was his final appearance on the pitch as a player.
By regular standards, it was more of a spectacle than a soccer match - but that was okay. The two teams - the Orange team beat the White team 6-4 - played 35 minute halves, since a good portion of the participants were not in what can be conceivably called "good fitness." Even with a shortened time frame, there were many memorable moments: Landon Donovan in goal for the White Team, Ismail Elfath fulfilling every referee's dream by showing Dominic Kinnear a yellow card seconds after the Dynamo coach stepped onto the pitch as a substitute, and Craig Waibel pulling a fan out of the stands to take his place, among other hi-jinks. Still, there was soccer played Friday night. It might not have been terribly good soccer - except from Boniek Garcia, who might not know how to play bad soccer - but it was still a fitting tribute.
Ching himself scored five of the Orange team's goals, including one on a penalty kick that poked fun at one of keeper Donovan's famous conversions. Brad Davis (wearing a camera strapped to his chest while in the match) chipped one over Donovan near the start of the second half to tally the other goal for the Orange team. For the White team, Calen Carr had two - including a header off of a brilliant ball from Boniek, MLS Cup foe (and current Dynamo assistant) Steve Ralston had one, and upcoming Bachelor star Juan Pablo Galavis (who is also a former Venezuelan league and USL player) rounded out their scoring.
After the match was finished, a ceremony honoring Ching was held, featuring speeches from Houston councilman James G. Rodriguez, Waibel, Dynamo president Chris Canetti, and, of course, Brian Ching. Between the rain, the video tribute, and Ching's words, there probably wasn't a dry eye in the house. The fans were there to honor Ching, but as he put it, the fans "meant everything to me...they're the reason why I did the things I've done." The fans had made it about him, but he gave it all back to them. As he always has.
Ching said he "measured himself by the way people around you see you," and that tonight, he felt "like I won the lottery." It was a celebration of one man and the bond he had with a city, with a club, and with a fanbase. That's as much a part of his legacy as every record and every trophy he's ever won.
He's not leaving - just moving into the front office - but Friday night was still the end of an era. What a fitting end it turned out to be.
So for one last time: thank you, Brian. Mahalo.