You'd think a tough, rugged forward who scores goals for club and country and has battled back from numerous injuries -- including concussions and a ruptured Achilles' tendon and severe facial fractures that required four plates and 12 screws to repair -- would generate some sympathy if not affection from opposing fans, but such isn't the case for Brian Ching.
The handsome, personable Hawaiian -- whose signing of a new four-year contract became official on Friday - gets stick from all sides. As expected, he's taunted and booed wherever the Dynamo plays, maybe because in nine MLS seasons he's scored 73 league and playoff goals and helped San Jose and Houston win three league titles, yet he's also the target of many U.S. fans who view him as too slow, too ponderous, and too limited at the international level, and he even gets some abuse when he returns to California to play against the new Quakes.
"Ching, you're still a donkey!" shouted out a fan last season at Buck Shaw Stadium when Ching brandished the team logo on his jersey after scoring a goal in a typically intense encounter between the team that left San Jose prior to the 2006 season and the one that replaced it last year.
According to Ching, what motivated that gesture and reaction to fans he once played for had very little to do with him personally, and everything to do with Coach Dominic Kinnear, who has retained him while moving more than a dozen forwards on and off the roster as assistant coach and head coach.
"Every once in a while the fans get under your skin, but in that game there were a bunch of guys right behind the bench trying to be funny, and they were being mean to Dom and the coaching staff," says Ching. "It wasn't necessarily directed toward me, but hearing the abuse from fans directed at him kind of lit a fire under my skin."
The current Quakes, which have yet to complete their second season, are entitled to wear two championship stars on their jerseys by a league decree that all team records and accomplishments registered by the team from 1996 to 2005 were retained, along with the nickname, logos, etc. When Oakland A's co-ownersLewis Wolff and John Fisherbought an expansion franchise in 2007, all Quakes records and trademarks reverted to them and the new organization.
Kinnear, who grew up in Northern California, left behind his parents and siblings and friends when he moved with the team to Houston, which won back-to-back titles in its first two years in Texas. In the purview of MLS, though, the moved team was a new team, and thus on its jersey are the stars from 2006 and 2007, not those from earlier in the decade.
"As soon as I scored I ran over to them and wanted them to know who put the stars on their jersey," says Ching. "I wasn't there for the first championship  - I was there for the second  - but Dom was there the whole time and he gave everything to that community and that club. It was more sticking up for a coach more than anything else."
You can call that cornball if you like, but that's about all you'll get from Ching, who personifies team and heart and commitment while playing a position occupied by some incredibly selfish though prolific practitioners. Opponents and critics can lambast his limitations; he absorbs the abuse and punishment, on and off the field, and just plugs away.
"We all have a ton of respect for him," says teammate Richard Mulrooney. "I've had a few injuries and so have most of the guys, but I don't think anybody takes the elbows and kicks and fouls that Brian does, and he just keeps battling. He gets beat up all the time and still you have to drag him off the field."
His previous contract, which paid $240,000 per year, wasn't due to expire until the end of next season, yet the Dynamo offered him a new deal that will keep his rights until he turns 35 in 2013. The critics can say and write what they want; in Houston, to go all cornball again, he's the face of the franchise, and a symbol to the men he plays with.
"I read the comments and it does get to me," he admits, "but the best thing I can do is just do what I do and not try to please everybody, because if you do that you're not really being true to yourself.
"As long as my teammates respect me and I bring value to the team, that's all I really care about. I play for my teammates and that's who I try to win with."