Saturday, May 12, 2012

Houston honors two former Spokane Shadow stars with stadium opener

They are calling it the ‘House that Ching Built.’ But when the Houston Dynamo play their long-awaited home opener at the new BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston Saturday afternoon (TV: 4:30 pm ET - NBC Sports Network) after seven games on the road, the club will be honoring two former standouts from the Premier Development League Spokane Shadow – forward Brian Ching and defender Craig Waibel.

The two players will be immortalized among the 16 pillars around the stadium honoring the club’s key players, and coach Dominic Kinnear, that have been a part of the team and the community since its arrival in 2005, relocating from San Jose (pillar photos).

“In some ways that’s appropriate,” said Dynamo president Chris Canetti in an interview with Hawaii’s Star-Advertiser about people calling it the House that Ching Built. “He is truly a celebrity around town and one of the top-noted athletes, and that says a lot when you consider that in Houston we have an NFL team, an NBA team, a Major League Baseball team and we’re just a growing MLS team. So he’s a big, big impact player for our organization.”

Ching, also a former star at Gonzaga University, will be in action for Houston Saturday against DC United, facing one of his former teammates, Dwaye De Rosario, who is also featured among the 16 pillars. Waibel, a Spokane native from Lewis & Clark High School and the University of Washington, will reportedly be in attendance. He currently is the assistant coach at the University of Michigan after retiring following the 2010 campaign.

The two have had quite the careers individually, but have an intertwined past as well. They played together for the Shadow in 1998; then were re-united with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2001. Neither would stick. Waibel would go off to join the San Jose Earthquakes in 2003 and Ching would join the then second-division Seattle Sounders, whom Waibel played for from 1999-00, from 2001-02. Ching’s success in Seattle saw him finish second in the league in scoring and find his way back to MLS with Waibel’s Earthquakes in 2003.  Three seasons later the two would move to Texas with the club, re-launching in orange after lengthy careers wearing blue, although the Dynamo due tend to use a little accent of sky blue, the color synonymous with the Shadow, along with the orange.

In all, the two spent 10 years playing together before Waibel retired, something Ching has openly said will come following this season, or possibly next.

The Hawaiian has risen to memorable heights in his career. In MLS, he was named Comeback Player of the Year after finishing as co-leader in the league with 12 goals in 2004, also earning Best XI honors. In 2006 he was named MLS Cup MVP following the Dynamo capturing the title, and also received recognition for scoring the Goal of the Year, a bicycle kick goal against DC United.

His MLS performances led to international success, making 46 appearances with the US National Team and scoring 11 goals, including two in 2006 World Cup qualifiers and four in 2010 WC qualifiers. He was named to the 2006 tournament roster, but sadly, and to some controversially, never saw any action as the team was eliminated with a 0-1-2 group record and aggregate score of 2-6. And although he was on the preliminary roster for the 2010 World Cup, he missed the 23-man roster at the cut. Still, that is quite something for a guy that originally wanted to be a championship surfer as a youth.

Prior to his professional career, Ching broke into the limelight with the Shadow, earning the PDL Rookie of the Year honor in 1998 as one of the league’s top scorers with 15 goals and nine assists. He was expected to be the cornerstone of a championship campaign as the club was set to host the Final Four in 1999, but suffered a season-ending injury after two matches, fracturing his eye-socket in a collision with Sounders goalkeeper Bill May in a friendly. At Gonzaga, he set an all-time school record in assists with 23 in his career and had the third-most career goals with 34 while leading the school to two West Coast Conference championships. He earned All-WCC honors three times.

While Ching’s rise was quick and exciting, as is usually the case for forwards, Waibel’s was one of perseverance. For years he was viewed as the journeyman-type of player, sticking around as a steady back for the Earthquakes and Dynamo. But as the year’s passed, his reliability and tenacity in the back line made him a formidable opponent and a fan favorite. Waibel has the second-most MLS Cup championship rings with 4, trailing only Jeff Agoos and his Galaxy and Dynamo teammate Brian Mullan, who nearly picked up yet another last year as finalists.

Waibel’s career with Spokane helped make them a powerhouse as he featured in the back line in 1997 and 1998. Though he struggled to find the back of the net for much of his pro career, he had more success with the Shadow, scoring six over the course of the two seasons. He would go on to score four in 54 games with Seattle and seven in his 155-game MLS career, which began with two appearances for the Colorado Rapids on loan from Seattle in 2000.

For an interesting Waibel flashback interview, check out this UW feature from 1998 that ends…

A college standout. Perhaps a career in professional soccer. A ready audience for his pranks. Waibel can only hope he will be as fortunate with his next coin toss.

The Star-Advertiser feature is also a great read – here is a portion:
From a four-goal performance in the Dynamo’s 2006 debut, an MLS Cup MVP in its first championship, and his status as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer and off-the-field ambassador, Ching has built quite a legacy.

So much so that when they symbolically broke ground earlier on the 22,000-seat facility that opens Saturday with a match against D.C. United, Ching was selected to do it from the seat of a tractor. When the first ceremonial kick was made last week, it was Ching they gave the honors to. When he returned to Houston in an offseason trade, the arrival was greeted with what teammates referred to as “Ching-sanity.”