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Striker Ching misses Dynamo, but ready to play for expansion Montreal Impact

01/16/2012 06:09 EST | Updated 03/17/2012 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - Brian Ching's heart will probably always be in Houston, but the star striker vows to bring his best game to the expansion Montreal Impact.

Ching threatened to retire after the Impact made him the first pick in the Major League Soccer expansion draft on Nov. 23, but when the Houston Dynamo made no move to get him back, the 33-year-old elected to report to Montreal.

The U.S. international striker was one of 22 players on the indoor pitch at Marie-Victorin College on Monday for the first day of the Impact's inaugural MLS training camp.

"I'll be completely honest with you guys: I would have loved to finish my career in Houston, especially because they're opening up a brand new stadium there," said Ching, his voice cracking a little with emotion. "It was something I was planning on, but I'm a professional and you don't always get what you want.

"Over the past two months I've come to cope with that and deal with it and come to this city and play for my teammates and the fans. For me it's about being a professional and winning games. It doesn't matter where I'm at. I'm a competitive guy and I'm going to give everything I can."

Ching hopes to be traded back to Houston at some point, perhaps at the end of this season, so he can retire in Dynamo colours. He may even move into Dynamo's front office in the future. But for now, he's decided to move north.

"I made an emotional decision (to retire) at an emotional time," he said. "Things sprang up on me and I didn't really have time to reflect.

"I've done that and I'm here today to help the Impact win games."

Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear took a chance when he left Ching unprotected for the draft, perhaps gambling the Impact would be put off by his age and by a contract that calls for a guaranteed US$450,000 for 2012.

When the Impact claimed him, there was speculation they would trade him back to Houston.

So far, no deal has been done, even though Dynamo has an attractive property in starting fullback Andre Hainault. The 25-year-old Montreal native and Canadian international played three games in the USL with the Impact in 2004 before signing with Czech second division club Most. He joined Houston in 2009.

"They took a chance," Ching said of Dynamo. "I think a lot of coaches in that situation probably would have done the same.

"Am I disappointed in how it went down? Yeah, of course. I wanted to open up the stadium in Houston. But I understand that's not possible now and I'm here and I'm going to make the best of the situation."

The Hawaii native was a member of the defunct San Jose Earthquakes when that franchise moved to Houston in 2006. He scored 51 goals in 125 games for Dynamo.

He has also played 45 times for the U.S. national team, which may have been another reason he balked at moving to Montreal.

Impact head coach Jesse Marsch was hired in August after serving as an assistant coach with the U.S. squad. He was part of the management team that made Ching one of its last cuts before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Marsch was also the one who grabbed him in the MLS draft. He sees no problem working with Ching in Montreal.

"He's a great professional and he's a competitor," said Marsch. "I've seen it from him from playing against him, watching him from afar and working with him on the national team.

"Every day, he'll bring it. I know he still wants to be a winner and help this team be a winner."

Ching and former Inter Milan defender Nelson Rivas, the first player to sign with Montreal in MLS, were kept out of a scrimmage at the end of training to stretch on their own. The team's two highest-paid player are locks to make the squad.

"With all our veteran, experienced guys, we have to be smart about how we take them through this process to make sure we're building slowly," added Marsch. "We can build on their fitness knowing that the soccer parts are there. Now we're not putting them in danger of pushing them too hard."

The Impact were the class of what is now called the North American second division for nearly two decades, winning three championships and regularly leading their league in attendance They were granted a franchise to become the third Canadian entry in the 19-team MLS in 2012, one year after their long-time rival Vancouver Whitecaps and five years after Toronto FC.

They open the season March 10 at B.C. Place and play their home opener March 17 against the Chicago Fire at Olympic Stadium. The Impact will play their first five home games at the Big O until the expansion of the outdoor Saputo Stadium to 20,000 seats is completed in June.

About 100 cheering fans and a large media contingent turned out for the first day of camp.

Five players who missed medicals Sunday took them Monday and were not on the field. They were striker Justin Braun, goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, defender Hassoun Camara and midfielders Bryan Arguez and Sanna Nyassi.

First overall SuperDraft pick Andrew Wenger and defenders Zarek Valentin and Bobby Burling were still at the U.S. under-23 team camp in Carson, California.

Six players from last year's Impact squad are on the camp roster, including Camara, goalkeepers Evan Bush and Greg Sutton, midfielders Sinisa Uniparipovic and Ian Westlake and forward Miguel Montano.

Five others are in camp as invitees. They are defenders Nevio Pizzolitto and Simon Gatti and forwards Eduardo Sebrango, Reda Agourram and Mircea Ilcu. There is also one player from their academy, goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau.

"It's not an easy situation," said the veteran Pizzolitto, a top player in second division who admits to feeling like a rookie in the MLS camp. "I've got to prove I'm good enough to play at this level.

"Even after training you're wondering if you did well enough, but you have to stay positive."

The Impact have two days of training in Montreal before continuing camp in Mexico. After a stop back in Montreal in February, they will be off to Florida for a pre-season tournament.

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