Pan-Pacific Championship set to kick off
HONOLULU -- Despite being a hometown hero, Brian Ching realizes he's not the biggest draw in the inaugural Pan-Pacific Championship.
That honor goes to Los Angeles Galaxy star David Beckham, whom Ching describes as the "Brad Pitt of soccer."
"I'm just an extra," said Ching, a forward for the MLS champion Houston Dynamo.
The Dynamo and Galaxy are among the four-team field in the exhibition tournament, which begins Wednesday. The Galaxy will open against Japan's Gamba Osaka and the Dynamo faces Sydney FC from Australia.
On Saturday, the first day's winners will play for the championship with the losers for third place.
Will Wilson, executive vice president of Soccer United Marketing, said bragging rights are at stake for the Pacific region. He hopes to grow the tournament with more teams from other leagues and nations in the future.
The event is MLS' latest attempt to schedule matches against foreign opposition, joining the SuperLiga against Mexican opponents.
Ching, who had seven goals in 2007 despite missing a third of the season, said he's waited 12 years to play in his hometown. He last played here when he starred at Kamehameha Schools, located a few miles from Aloha Stadium.
"I'm extremely excited because I have a number of friends and family who couldn't get away to see me," he said. "Just to be here and share Hawaii with my teammates and other teams in the tournament is kind of a blessing and something I've dreamed about ever since becoming a professional soccer player."
The 29-year-old Ching, nicknamed "The Hawaiian Superman," has been designated as the unofficial tour guide for the Dynamo. He recommended snorkeling at Hanauma Bay and surfing.
"That was really my first love," said Ching, who grew up on Oahu's North Shore, known for its world-class surfing.
Ching emphasized that his team wasn't here for a vacation and that, "we have enough veterans on our team that realize that," he said.
After being the first team in a decade to repeat as MLS champions, the Dynamo are seeking an unprecedented third straight title.
Ching said the team looks forward to showing the Australians "our level of play."
Lt. Gov. James Aiona, who helped bring the tournament to Hawaii, disagreed with Ching's assessment about being a supporting cast member.
"For us here in Hawaii -- and no offense to David Beckham -- we have probably the biggest draw you could ever have. That's the guy sitting next to me, Brian Ching," Aiona said.
Beckham has created a frenzy in Hawaii. On Tuesday, the Galaxy and Gamba were scheduled to visit youth soccer players in the poorest corner of the island where tents line the beaches, not multimillion mansions like the rest of Oahu.
Beckham said the tournament can accomplish many things.
"It raises awareness for the game and brings excitement to a place where soccer might not be as big as it is in different parts of the world," he said. "It's so important for us players to come on tournaments like this because we know children are out there watching and look up to many of the players."
Beckham is entering the second year of a $32.5 million, five-year contract with the Galaxy, which finished with the third-worst record in MLS last season and failed to reach the playoffs for the second straight year.
He called the season disappointing, but said the team was committed to returning to the playoffs.
New Galaxy coach Ruud Gullit expressed concerns the teams were playing on the artificial FieldTurf at Aloha Stadium.
"We still take this game very seriously but we have to take care of our players," he said.
Gullit has been busy since taking over in November for Frank Yallop, who left to take over the expansion Earthquakes. He signed one of his former players, Celestine Babayaro. The club has also traded for two former Galaxy players in Carlos Ruiz from FC Dallas and Greg Vanney from D.C. United.
Los Angeles and Sydney are getting familiar with each other. The teams could face each other Saturday after playing each other in New Zealand on Nov. 27. Sydney defeated Los Angeles 5-3 before a crowd of 80,000.
"We would like to go home with that trophy. We didn't come here to get a sun tan," Sydney FC coach John Kosmina said. "We're here to play football."
Beckham remembers the match against Sydney FC.
"[It] was a friendly. Well, it wasn't friendly at times," Beckham said.
Gamba Osaka, which is missing seven players because of injury, has been in Honolulu for two weeks preparing for the event. The Galaxy, meanwhile, arrived Monday.
Tickets for the event were selling for as little as $10, a bargain in high-priced Hawaii.
"I went down and had a pina colada, and that was $10," Houston coach Dominic Kinnear said.