In their last game, a quarter-final against the rough-and-tumble Panamanians, the USA needed some grit and a calm old head. They got both in the form of 31-year-old striker Brian Ching. Though he did not score the crucial extra-time winner - that distinction fell to young Kenny Cooper - the Hawaiian-born big man, always a threat in the air, threw himself around, did the dirty work and helped carve openings.
"Those Panamanian backs were big and strong and they made me battle for everything I got all night long," Ching told FIFA.com after the USA's 2-1 win over Panama in Philadelphia that booked a semi-final date with Honduras. "I was fouled quite a bit and I could have played better, but we got the win and that's all that matters."
In a team of young guns like Stuart Holden and Robbie Rogers, all trying to make a name for themselves, Ching is every inch the senior man, and an easy selection for coach Bob Bradley when handing out the captain's armband (he took over the captaincy in the second half against Panama after Jimmy Conrad left the field with a head injury). "A lot of the guys in the team are getting their first caps," added Ching, who has ten goals in 40 international appearances. "But we've come together well and have gelled little-by-little with every game. For a young side, thrown together quickly, that's no easy job."
Ching, born on the famous north shore in Haleʻiwa and the only Hawaiian islander ever to line up for the US national team, can rightfully claim a large amount of the credit for the team's ability to solidify as a fighting unit. They finished their group in first place and twice came from behind to win in their last two games. "Part of my job is to lead the youngsters by example on and off the field," said Ching, a standout and twice-champion in MLS with Houston Dynamo. "I've been around long enough to know what the coaches want, and I can put a hand on some of the younger guys' shoulders and encourage them when they need it. I can also tell them when they can do things a little better."
Though he is often a member of the USA's first team, Ching was not chosen for the squad that stunned the world last month by reaching the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa. Even so, he understands that the CONCACAF Gold Cup is another step in the USA's progress on the world stage. "What the boys did over there in Africa was amazing and it created a lot of buzz here in the US, in the media and on TV," Ching, who has one goal so far at the biennial showpiece, added from the team hotel in Chicago. "Now we have to do our part to make sure the game, and the national team, stay in the spotlight by reaching the final and hopefully winning it.
He was a member of the US side that reached the Gold Cup final last time out in 2007. That team was chock full of the biggest names in US football, like the now absent Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Oguchi Onyewu and Clint Dempsey. "Sure, it's a little weird to look around and see that same shirt but a totally different bunch of guys," he laughed, noting that he's the only returning player from that title-winning team of 2007. "But it's pretty cool too, to see this new generation coming through and bringing this new mentality, this eagerness and enthusiasm."
Standing between Ching, the fourth-oldest player in the team, and his second-straight regional final is a tricky Honduran side. Physical and strong are these Catrachos - who the US beat 2-0 in the first round - and the battle-tested Hawaiian is bound to have another hard day at the office on 23 July. "This game will be nothing like the first one," assured Ching. "They (Honduras) are going to come out intense and physical and it will be a big challenge, especially if they have the crowd behind them like they did in the first game," he concluded. "But our team has come back from goals down in our last two games, so we've shown that we have the determination to get the job done."