CARSON -- Brian Ching's first game against his former Houston Dynamo teammates started with a warning. His one-time (and again) nemesis Bobby Boswell told him before kickoff: “Make sure you wear your shinguards.”
Ching's response: “Are you sure I don't need a helmet?”
That's about as emotional as it got for the Montreal Impact's veteran forward, who was forced in November to leave Houston for Major League Soccer's newest club against his (and the Dynamo's) will, and wasn't shy about saying so.
On Wednesday, some 2½ months after Montreal plucked him in the expansion draft, he took on his former 'mates in a preseason friendly on one of the training fields outside Home Depot Center's main stadium. He played the first 45 minutes, battling Boswell and fellow center back Geoff Cameron with some success but few real opportunities, then watched the Dynamo score twice in the second half for a 2-0 victory.
How weird was it for him?
“Ah, playing against the old team,” he said after the Impact's first game as an MLS club against an MLS club. “I know all those guys. I've played against them every day. I guess you could say it's a little weird, but not really, at this point.”
He said he never mistook an orange-shirted player for a teammate, that there wasn't much conversation with Boswell and Cameron, and that he knows the emotions will be far stronger when the teams meet for real June 23 in Montreal and, especially, July 21 and Oct. 6 in Houston.
“It will definitely be weird,” he says. “This is just a preseason game.”
DYNAMO ICON: Perhaps not just any preseason game. Ching, 33, had been the iconic face of the Dynamo since the old San Jose Earthquakes, whom he'd played for since 2003, up and moved to South Texas following the 2005 season. He led them for six seasons, through two MLS Cup title-winning campaigns and toward another championship-game appearance last year -- and played a key promotional role in the campaign that led to the downtown stadium that opens in May.
This was going to be his final season in orange, and then he'd join the club's front office.
Instead, Houston left his weighty salary and advancing years exposed during the expansion draft just three days following the Dynamo's loss to the Galaxy in the MLS Cup final. Ching said beforehand he'd retire before he'd leave his club and expressed anger after Impact coach Jesse Marsch, the former Chivas USA captain, took him anyway.
He needed time to come to terms with the move, decided he'd rather play than pout, and has been, Marsch says, “important in terms of taking this thing along and helping with the process.”
“It's definitely growing on me,” said Ching, who was on the 2006 U.S. World Cup roster and was among the last cuts from the 2010 team. “Obviously, it was a very emotional time for me when it all happened. But I've been with the [Impact] for about a month now and enjoy playing with the guys, enjoy the project of trying to build a competitive team here. It's still a work in progress.”
Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear, who worked with Ching for nine seasons, said seeing Ching on the other side took some getting used to. “You see him get the ball, and the first couple of times it seems a little odd,” Kinnear said. “But as the game goes on, your concentration goes elsewhere.”
Said Marsch: “I think he's dealing with it all pretty well. I know it's a lot for him. It's always a little exciting and a little emotional to play against your old team.”
NO HEAD-BUTTS: Boswell, Houston's backline general, let Ching know before the game that he was going to get kicked. Ching told him not to head-butt him.
“We were pretty competitive against each other all the time,” Boswell said. “We didn't always get along [when I played for D.C. United in 2005-07], and then when we were teammates, I think we were really good friends. We were roommates on the road. He's a real competitive guy, though, in everything he does, and I'm the same way.”
At one point Wednesday, Boswell was sniping at referee Juan Guzman, “and one person yelled back at me, and it was [Ching], so we got into a little verbal thing. That's just our nature. I think that's why he's such a good buddy of mine, is that we have the same ideas in terms of how to play to win.
“Obviously, I'd rather be playing with him, but the day had it that we went against each other, so we kind of had to move on from there, you know?”
Ching's “no head-butt” request stems from the last time he and Boswell met as foes, shortly before the big defender left D.C. for Houston.
“It's not one of my proudest moments,” Boswell said, “but a month before I got traded to Houston, I did head-butt him in a game. He won't tell you that he tried to break my ribs on a corner kick, but that's just how it is. Guys are battling. You've got guys on every team that you get into it with, but at the end of the day, we're all in the same league and we all kind of want the same thing, and that's what makes it kind of a cool little frat in itself.”
WORTH NOTING: Colin Clark scored in the 65th minute and Cam Weaver in the 86th, with Will Bruin playing key roles on both goals. ... Former Chivas USA forward Justin Braun, now with Montreal, was off the field receiving treatment when Houston scored its first goal. He left because of an ankle injury after a careless tackle by Dynamo trialist Oscar Recio. ... Two more former Chivas players were on the field for the Impact. Zarek Valentin played the first half at right back, and Gerson Mayen played on the right side of midfield the second 45 minutes. ...
Kinnear, on what it will be like when Ching and Montreal visit Houston in July: “It's going to be emotional. The fans love him. Everyone in the organization is really fond of Brian, myself included, so it will be strange, but I'm sure he'll be welcomed back with a ton of applause and a ton of praise, and rightly so. He's been a great player for us.” ... Kinnear wouldn't talk about possibilities of reacquiring Ching through a trade, saying “we have to keep that under wraps.” The Dynamo was a bit vocal about Ching right after the expansion draft, and the coach said he thinks “it was a bit rude, and I apologize for that.” ... The Galaxy plays Houston on Friday morning and Montreal on Tuesday. ... Houston and Montreal meet again in preseason Feb. 29 in Orlando, Fla. ... Expected top NFL draft pick Andrew Luck, wearing a Stanford T-shirt, watched from the east sideline. His father, Oliver Luck, is a former Dynamo GM, and the QB, who is working out at HDC in advance of the draft, played soccer while growing up. ... Portland coach John Spencer and his staff also were in attendance.
Home Depot Center Field 4 (Carson)
Houston Dynamo 2, Montreal Impact 0
H -- Colin Clark (Philip Aseweh, Will Bruin) 65
H -- Cam Weaver (Warren Creavalle) 83
Houston Dynamo: Tally Hall; Kofi Sarkodie (Andre Hainault, 46), Bobby Boswell (Nathan Sturgis, 46), Geoff Cameron (Jermaine Taylor, 46), Corey Ashe (Oscar Recio, 46); Adam Moffat (Daniel Roberts, 61); Brian Ownby (Warren Creavalle, 61), Je-Vaughn Watson (Josue Soto, 61), Eder Arreola (Colin Clark, 46); Colin Rolfe (Will Bruin, 46), Darryl Roberts (Philip Aseweh, 61).
Montreal Impact: Donovan Ricketts (Evan Bush, 46); Zarek Valentin (Jeb Brovsky, 46), Shavar Thomas (Nevio Pizzolitto, 46), Tyson Wahl (Gienir Garcia, 46), Josh Gardner (Simon Gatti, 46); Felipe Martins (Bryan Arguez, 46); Davy Arnaud (Gerson Mayen, 46), Patrice Bernier (Collen Warner, 46), Justin Mapp (Ian Westlake, 46); Sanna Nyassi (Eduardo Sebrango, 46), Brian Ching (Justin Braun, 46; Felipe Martins, 68).
Yellow card: Recio 63.
Referee: Juan Guzman. Att.: c. 50.