Avi Creditor: Underappreciated Ching set to retire as an all-time great

The Houston Dynamo icon is reportedly set to hang up his cleats at season's end, and he will go down as one of the top forwards in U.S. history.
In a lot of ways, Brian Ching has been underappreciated as a player.

He is certainly underappreciated in Montreal, where he claimed he'd rather retire than play ahead of the 2011 MLS Expansion Draft before eventually winding up back with the Houston Dynamo. He was underappreciated by Bob Bradley in 2010, when he was one of the last players left off of the USA's World Cup roster.

He was certainly underappreciated by the classless and clueless fans who chanted "U-S Re-ject" at him in Los Angeles in the aftermath of the roster snub. And when it comes to his place in the annals of U.S. soccer history, he's not likely to be the first name that comes to mind when discussing the top tier of players.

Make no mistake about it, though, Ching is one of the greatest American forwards to ever lace up his cleats.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Ching will announce his retirement Tuesday, effective at the end of the season. When the curtain comes down on the Dynamo's 2013 campaign, so, too, will it signal the end of a career for one of the all-time great players in this country's history.

Perhaps it is because the 35-year-old Ching's prime is years in the past that his legacy is not lauded like that of a surefire Hall-of-Famer. We live in a recency effect era, where athletes' legacies dwindle as their playing talents diminish. Ching, though, in his day, was a handful for the opposition, and a consistent one at that. His aerial prowess, combined with his finesse passing, hold-up play and off-ball smarts made for a unique, high-level skill package, especially in today's era where the more athletic, dynamic strikers see the glory.

Ching's MLS numbers aren't overwhelming, but they are upper-echelon impressive, with more than 100 goals scored for club and country. Even though he has never tallied more than 13 goals in a single season, he has scored 82 goals (90 including playoff strikes) and added 34 assists in 12 seasons spent with the LA Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes and Dynamo, consistently battling and overcoming injuries.

Overall, Ching won three MLS Cups, and could still win a fourth. He was a six-time All-Star, and a member of the 2006 USA World Cup team. Ching never played in Europe, which will diminish his accomplishments in some observers' eyes, but that does not mean he never possessed the talent to do so.

Before his international career came to an abrupt halt prior to the South Africa World Cup, Ching tallied 45 caps and 11 goals for the USA, including four strikes in the 2010 World Cup qualifying cycle. Ching was a member of Bradley's provisional roster for the World Cup, only to miss out with the likes of Herculez Gomez and Edson Buddle getting the call ahead of him, something that admittedly took its toll. Ching labored through the remainder of the 2010 MLS season, which coincided with the worst year in Dynamo history.

That setback was just a blip on his time in Houston, though. The Hawaii native, who still draws the unmistakable "Big Kahuna" reference on Spanish-speaking broadcasts, helped put soccer on the map in Houston from the Dynamo's opening day, scoring four goals in the club's inaugural match after moving from San Jose. He fittingly scored the final goal at Robertson Stadium and, following a drawn out saga with the Montreal Impact after the Expansion Draft fiasco, he had the chance to play in the debut of BBVA Compass Stadium, where his likeness rightfully is reflected on one of the pillars around the arena.

Ching's time in Houston doesn't figure to end any time soon, either, with a coaching/front office role seemingly imminent and in line with what he, president Chris Canetti and coach Dom Kinnear have alluded to in the last couple of seasons.

Ching will retire from his playing days as the franchise's all-time leading scorer, and he had his share of clutch moments as well. None was bigger than immediately answering former New England Revolution star Taylor Twellman's goal in extra time of the 2006 MLS Cup final and pushing the match to penalties.

A class act who typically let his play do the talking, Ching nearly had one final clutch moment in him last season before being reduced to seldom-used player-coach during this campaign.

All that most remember from the 2012 MLS Cup final is the overwhelming run that LA went on to turn the game on its head in the second half, defeating Houston for a second straight season and sending David Beckham off into the sunset as a two-time MLS champion.

What many overlook, though, is that Ching came within mere inches of tying the game as a substitute in the 87th minute, holding up the ball, lining up a low, right-footed shot from distance and putting it agonizingly wide of Josh Saunders' goal.

Perhaps that is an appropriate way to refer back to Ching's playing days. His quality contribution was overshadowed and underappreciated but nearly every bit as deserving of the spotlight, all the way until the very end.