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The Agony and Ecstasy of Brian Ching

It’s always a drag when work gets in the way of your retirement dreams.  On Wednesday as millions of us were travelling to Thanksgiving dinner, the Montreal Impact selected ten players left unprotected by their fellow MLS clubs and, for the most part, their picks were quality and unremarkable.  However, their first pick has sparked a little of an MLS firestorm.

The Impact used their first pick of the expansion draft on Dynamo captain Brian Ching, a former U.S. national team player who had expressed a desire to retire in the burnt orange.  Despite the fact they left him unprotected, Houston reacted with offense and shock at one of their big-name players being selected and began a media campaign aimed at getting him back.  Ching, for his part, has expressed his unhappiness with the situation and his disdain at playing for Montreal.  All of this soap opera-esque drama needs a quick Q&A to walk MLS fans through the situation, which has yet to be resolved.  Here is a rundown of the situation (Chinggate 2011?) as it stands:

Why did the Impact use its first pick on Ching?

On the surface, this was a very strange pick by Montreal.  Brian Ching still has a few more miles left in his tank, and is one of the more well-known players in MLS, but he has not been a truly impact player for a few years plus is now injury-prone.  In the MLS Cup he was a nonfactor.  So why choose him?  Simple: Montreal and Jesse Marsch knew that Ching did not want to play for them and could extract some value from the pick.  According to The Sporting News, that value would have to be a player or draft picks (since Houston allegedly does not have allocation money) and Montreal is shooting for the stars: Andre Hainault for Brian Ching straight up.  While that is not the deal that will ultimately be done, I suspect Montreal may end up with some good value here.

But there may be a larger, more nefarious strategy in play here.  Jeremiah Oshan notes that the Montreal picks in the expansion draft seem rather vindictive (my phrase).  The Ching selection is one of a couple that seem aimed at tweaking other clubs and taking valuable either home-town or much loved players.  Interesting hypothesis, and one that would really help the Impact begin with a “bad boy” reputation.

Why doesn’t Brian Ching want to play for Montreal?

Ching has seemingly settled on finishing his career in Houston, although the unprotected status and selection by Montreal may complicate that.  You can’t blame a player for wanting to finish his career with a franchise where he’s found success and a bit of fame.  But as Ben Chew notes, the reason may be deeper than that.  Impact manager Jesse Marsch was an assistant coach to Bob Bradley during the 2010 World Cup cycle when Ching was one of the last cuts made before South Africa.  So there may be some personal animosity there that when Ching made it clear that he would not play for Montreal if selected, Marsch may have added to that bad history by selecting him.

Who is at fault here and how will it end?

As I mentioned above, Montreal will ultimately be the winner here as they will extract from Houston a quality player and draft pick in all likelihood for Ching and possibly allocation.  That said, the “blame” for this controversy can be spread far and wide.  Houston took a gamble on leaving Ching unprotected and should not be surprised that Montreal took him in the draft, as they have a right to do.  Ching is slightly to blame, as he should have been less emphatic that he would never play for Montreal, making his selection a good target for a larger trade.  And if Marsch is playing the “evil genius” game, while he technically did nothing wrong, he certainly is at fault for trying to push a bad-boy image.  Overall, though, Houston certainly has to look in the mirror and accept that they gambled and lost with this situation.