Dynamo must overcome absence of Ching

Nov 17, 2007 - 9:49 PM By Ian Parker Special to PA SportsTicker

WASHINGTON (Ticker) - The Houston Dynamo will have to defend their MLS Cup title on Sunday without top scorer Brian Ching.

The club continued to list the United States international player as doubtful on Saturday, but coach Dominic Kinnear all but admitted Ching would not be ready to go when speaking after the final practice session at RFK Stadium.

"He didn't train today so the outlook is kind of bleak," Kinnear said. "You never know, he could sleep on some special bed and wake up feeling good tomorrow, but we're kind of planning without him at the moment."

Ching, the Most Valuable Player of last year's MLS Cup, suffered a calf strain during last weekend's Western Conference final win over the Kansas City Wizards.

In his absence, Joseph Ngwenya will partner Nate Jaqua up front.

"It takes away a little bit of height for us," Kinnear said. "Brian is a great target man for us, but we've actually had him playing off Nate in the last couple of games, so we're not going to change the way we play. We've still come here to win whether it's Joseph playing or Ching playing. It doesn't change the way we play."

The absence of Ching certainly does not affect Houston's main strength - its defense.

Houston conceded only 23 goals during the regular season, and kept 13 clean sheets while setting an MLS record of 547 minutes without allowing a goal.

"We have a great defense and it's one thing this club has always taken a great deal of pride in," said Craig Waibel, a man who can line up anywhere in the Houston back four. "We take a lot of pride in getting zeroes on the board. It's hard to lose if you don't give up any goals."

The attitude, he says, starts at the top with Kinnear and his assistants.

"They are the ones that tell us how to play and the tactics to use," Waibel said. "It's in their training sessions and their mentality and the continuous reminders of, 'Don't give up goals.' But you know, it's personal for us. We're lucky we have a team, 14- or 15-deep, that really takes it personally when they get scored on."

Like New England, Houston is a workmanlike team short on star names.

"We don't have DPs (designated players), we abide by salary caps, and we've been together a long time, and that's on both sides," Waibel said. "It's amazing. They've been to four of six championship games and we've been to three of five. I think that says a lot."

It is the first time in MLS history that a final will feature the same two teams as the year before, and Houston has a chance to be the first club to win back-to-back titles since DC United did it at the dawn of the league in 1996-97.

That creates plenty of story lines of its own, but not ones that concern Kinnear.

"Everyone's talking about a rematch or revenge but I've sat with (Revolution coach) Steve Nicol a little bit and said, 'It's a 90 minute soccer game we're trying to win,'" Kinnear said. "All the side stories - that's exactly what they are - stories. When you strip it all down, it's just a game of soccer."

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