The Brian Ching Story: Protecting the Ones you Want

Leaving a player as inedible bait in the expansion draft may seem a good strategy but it can backfire, for all involved
by Chris Enger   |   Monday, February 20, 2012

Brian Ching of the Houston Dynamo

On November 23, 2011, Montreal Impact manager Jesse Marsch made what could possibly be considered the most audacious pick in Major League Soccer Expansion Draft history. He selected Houston Dynamo centerpiece Brian Ching with the number one pick.

Of course Ching was there for the taking, so that would be an easy choice for a manager looking at building a new MLS team from scratch. Ching has had a successful MLS history and can be considered one of the premier forwards in the league over the last decade.

What made the move so daring was the story leading up to the Expansion Draft. Brian Ching was made available for the draft by Houston, thinking Montreal would pass up on him because of his salary, his age, his injury history and his not so friendly on-field relationship with Montreal coach Marsch. Ching also pre-emptively added the warning that if he was picked by Montreal, he would immediately retire instead of moving and playing with the Impact.

In reality, Houston tried to get away with protecting one more player than everyone else in the draft. Quite daft, if they pulled it off.

But they didn’t, Jesse Marsch did the right thing in calling Houston’s bluff and selecting Ching number 1. He was afterall one of the better players available, a multiple MLS Cup champion, a captain, an All-Star and a USA international. Why wouldn’t you select him?

Brian Ching also didn’t end up retiring; in fact he played against his old club in the early MLS pre-season. But the issue remained that Houston’s fans and front office wanted Ching back in orange, desperately. The Dynamo wanted Ching, its senior franchise icon, to open up the new stadium, play until he retires and then work in the front office. That wasn’t a secret, with both Houston and Ching stating that was the likely pasture he’d seek after he hung up his boots.

The big Hawaiian seemed to give it a go in Montreal, saying the right things while looking like a beaten man in his first few televised interviews. While Marsch and Montreal seemingly showed they found a piece to their new puzzle, which they didn’t know they wanted, like the euphoria you get from winning an auction for something you later realized you didn’t want or need.

This week though the Brian Ching/Houston/Montreal melodrama ended when Montreal traded Ching back to Houston for a conditional 2013 first-round draft pick. That’s it. Montreal’s Expansion Draft first round pick ended up being a conditional draft pick next year. That will surely win the club new season ticket holders.

It essentially is a lose-lose-win for Montreal, Ching and Houston.

Montreal lost an opportunity to select a decent first round pick. There were many other players available. There were younger, more skilled players, that could have filled Ching’s role and now all they have to show for it is a draft pick for 2013. The same draft which sees few starters arise from it, certainly not immediately, in return for what would surely have been a slot for a starter.

From Ching’s perspective, he loses half his salary from a year ago. Being a veteran, he understands his increasingly diminished, and possibly mainly symbolic, role with the team during this moving year for Houston, but losing 50% of your salary is going to sting.

Houston on the other hand didn’t really lose a thing. They kept the rest of the roster intact that was left unprotected in the draft. In the end, they didn’t lose one current player in the process and just a conditional draft pick in the future. They are coached well, have a good core and do a fairly good job with their picks that the loss of one won’t likely hurt them. Only time will tell but they have their hero ready to open their new stadium and that's what's important to Houston right now as they turn the page on a new era for Bayou soccer.

What was surprising about this offseason drama, was that it wasn’t the first time an unprotected player was picked by an expansion team thus leaving the player’s original team scrambling to try and get him back.

Back in 2006, Toronto FC selected Real Salt Lake captain Jason Kreis in the 7th round of their Expansion Draft. The pick was perplexing, but again, TFC knew Kreis’s value to RSL and made a deal with RSL right after the draft. Totally legal, but not very savory.

RSL wound up losing $125,000 in allocation money (which is arguably more valuable than a draft pick in the salary capped MLS) due to the maneuver. But the fiasco ended up working in RSL’s favor eventually as Kreis replaced head coach John Ellinger that year, turning the team lineup and mentality around and bringing a championship to the Utah club in 2009. Toronto still hasn’t seen a playoff match.

It is interesting that coaches and teams think they can get away with trying to protect one more player than other MLS teams by making their nearly-retired iconic veterans available in the Expansion Draft, just to scramble to get them back after they do get picked. If teams don’t want those talismanic players selected, simply protect them and risk losing someone else. Simple as that.

If you look at Houston’s roster from last year they could have easily left Calen Carr exposed and put Ching on the protected list. Oh and don’t even look back at the list of protected players when Kreis was picked up. There’s no way if you wanted those two protected that it wasn’t possible.

The coaches tried to work around the system and it nearly blew up in Houston’s (and it did hurt RSL) face, wasting time, resources and ultimately looking bad to fans and media.  

If you don’t want a player selected in the Expansion Draft, protect him. If not, be prepared to deal with the consequences of that decision. Expansion teams are starting from square one and need as much help as possible, so pardon them if they’re in no hurry to help other teams, especially in their own conference. Sadly Montreal couldn’t make Houston pay more for their called bluff, but it may deter similar moves in the future.

Chris ENGER

Nationality:
USA
College:
Univ. of Utah
Club Domestic:
RSL
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
KoS & SN Podcast co-host & self-proclaimed funniest man in Utah. Mormon by faith, Ute by geography, Gooner by accident & proud RSLer. Father of 4, husband of 1, brother of many. Bilingual by day, quasi superhero en la noche. There's only one "Fuegote".
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