Everything hinges on the present. One person in one moment can change the trajectory of the future. It's why alternative history has become such a popular fiction genre: people can take a past event, ask "what if this happened instead?" and run with it from there. If anyone doubts the impact of a single person, I suggest you go and read some scenarios. Of course, most deal with major events in world history - the popular ones often involve assassinations - but there are also some that deal with sporting events.
We've all thought about it. We've all said it. "Oh, they were one play away." "If that one injury hadn't happened." This is not one of those stories, however. This is something that happened, and something I'm sure we all remember watching. As a matter of fact, it's been brought up several times already. I'd planned on writing about it before others brought it up, but at least I know we're all on the same page. So, here goes:
The date: November 12, 2006. Frisco. The Houston Dynamo have just capped their inaugural season off with silverware. In a thrilling, close match that ended up being decided by PKs, the Dynamo win out and give the city of Houston an immediate return on their investment.
But those PKs, that cup, that victory...none of it would've been possible if not for the resilience and determination of Brian Ching. Let me explain a bit further.
This was the first MLS match I watched, so it's burned into my memory fairly well. It may have been New England vs. Houston, but it was billed as Twellman vs. Ching - two of the league's best strikers trying to lead their respective clubs to the title. Both had been snubbed in the World Cup that summer - Twellman had not been invited, and Ching was on the squad, but rode the bench the whole tournament. Both had several chances to put their club ahead in regulation, but ninety minutes had ended with the score level at zero.
The first half of extra time passed in a similar fashion, and for the first part of the second half, it looked the same, too. That is, until the 113th minute, when Twellman slotted the ball past Kelly Gray and Pat Onstad and into the corner of the net. Celebrations ensued, and at that moment, it looked like the failure to score would come back to haunt the Dynamo.
And it did...for seventy seconds, most of which was celebration from New England. Soon after the restart, this happened:
"...here's Ching with a flick...and he ties it!"
Ching redirected a Brian Mullan cross past keeper Matt Reis to level the score at one. It was how most would've guessed it would end - both regular season meetings ended in 1-1 draws - but that was thanks to Ching.
How many times have we seen it - a late goal knocking the wind out of the sails of the club that conceded. I don't know about you, but I saw it several times this season from the Dynamo. When something like that happens, you need someone who knows that they can respond - and Brian Ching was such a player. Watch the highlights - the announcers haven't even finished praising Twellman and New England when Ching find the end of Mullan's cross. This match had been played up as the battle of the strikers, and when Twellman scored, Ching showed his composure by not panicking and answering very quickly. There were no further goals in extra time, and of course, the Dynamo would go on to win the Cup in penalty kicks, with Onstad denying Jay Heaps in the final attempt - meaning that the previous attempt, converted by none other than Brian Ching, was the Cup winner.
There are many memories I have of Brian Ching, but this is always the one that comes to mind first. Part of it was the stage - how a player performs on a big stage is always remembered - but also, as I said earlier, it was the first memory I really have of Ching and the Dynamo. It was a thrilling match with a fitting conclusion, and the fact that the Dynamo came out on top was the icing on the cake. It took me a while longer to really get hooked, but there's no doubt that this match - and Ching's determination near the end of it - played a role in bringing me into the Dynamo fandom.
So thank you, Brian. For this memory and countless others. I'll miss watching you, and I'll never forget the joys you helped bring to myself and the rest of this city and fan base.