Despite conflicting reports as to whether or not it was actually the first testimonial match in MLS history – both Marco Etcheverry and Mauricio Cienfuegos were honored with tribute games, though they took place before MLS matches and weren’t stand-alone events – Friday’s game honoring Brian Ching was a watershed moment in league history. I’ll write more about it in the coming week, including thoughts from MLS legends like Dwayne De Rosario, Landon Donovan and Steve Ralston – but for now – I’ll just share some of the top moments for those who missed it.
5 – “Fake Craig Waibel”
Midway through the second half Craig Waibel subbed out and nonchalantly walked into the stands at BBVA Compass Stadium. About five minutes later, Waibel’s jersey was back on the field – only it was wrapped around a fan that was equally as bald but about three inches shorter and 35 pounds heavier than the current University of Washington assistant coach. The dude was also wearing jeans, and STILL managed to put a shot on goal before being subbed back off.
4 – Bicycle kick saved
Landon Donovan saved Brian Ching’s bicycle kick. Just read that sentence again. Is there any other place where such a series of events could occur? It was an awesome moment, and Donovan’s willingness to play goalie despite a sore ankle – and totally commit to the bit – was a testament to how much respect Ching has from his peers. By the way, the bicycle kick was actually pretty well hit.
3 – They were all yellow
While some of Friday’s players had a bet going that Eddie Robinson would see red before the night was over, you don’t really expect to see cards during a testimonial. Within seconds of steeping on the field however, Dominic Kinnear was given a yellow by referee Ismail Elfath. After the game Kinnear said he was ‘guilty by reputation’ – and those who have seen him interact with refs on an MLS sideline might agree. After a controversial penalty kick in the second half, Jimmy Conrad turned the table on Elfath – pulling the yellow out of his hand and giving the referee a caution, much to the delight of the BBVA Compass Stadium crowd.
2 – The Bachelor scores
Soccer fans probably don’t know who Juan Pablo Galavis is – he played professionally in Venezuela for a few years before suiting up for FC Miami during their USL days – but pop culture enthusiasts will most certainly recognize the name. He became famous during a stint on last year’s The Bachelorette on ABC and has since been named as the protagonist in the next season of The Bachelor. He played on Friday, and scored a decent second-half goal – lobbing the ball over Tyler Deric before finishing into an open net.
1 – Brain Ching’s speech to his mom
There were plenty of poignant moments Friday, but none tugged at the heartstrings quite as much as when Brian Ching directly addressed his mother during the postgame ceremony. As was discussed quite a bit in the week leading up to the testimonial, Stephanie Whalen raised Ching – and his siblings – as a single parent, and also, served as his first soccer coach. As Ching choked up while thanking her for turning him into the man he’d become, there was hardly a dry eye in the house.
Truth is, there are probably another ten moments that could easily make this list. Just another reason the MLS community needs to ensure that events like Friday’s become far more frequent moving forward.