With 15 seasons in the books, MLSsoccer.com looks back at the stars, personalities and cult heroes who made Major League Soccer what it is today. We continue our "What Ever Happened To..." series with former MLS All-Star and MLS MVP finalist Mark Chung.
Where He Was Then
One of the most skillful players ever to grace an MLS field, Mark Chung was a four-time All-Star, a three-time Best XI player and a finalist for the 2002 MLS MVP award. Although he never won an MLS Cup, he seemed to get better with time during his decade of MLS service, joining the league in its 1996 inaugural season. However, success on the national-team level (24 caps) was more elusive.
Where He Is Now
After 10 seasons and nearly 300 matches played in MLS, Mark Chung felt it was time to focus on family and his three daughters.
It was 2005 and, even though then-San Jose Earthquakes head coach Dominic Kinnear wanted him to stay on for the move to Houston – and Chung felt he could have played a few more years – his mind was made up. He was going out on his terms.
“I wanted to give up my life now for my kids and family,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “I’d left them so many times and weekends and preseasons. I wanted to give them time. “This is the longest I’ve stayed in one household.”
The Chung family settled down in South Florida with his wife and daughters, ages 14, 12 and 7. For the last six years, he has coached his eldest girl on the Boca United Under-14 team, a club run by former Miami Fusion assistant Eric Eichmann.
The youth soccer experience has proven an eye-opener for Chung. He says he has seen parents thrown out of Under-9 kids games. Winning is all that’s important to them, but Chung is insistent on delivering a very different message.
“It’s so needed in this country to develop kids at a young age and 98 percent of the clubs don’t do that,” he said. “I tell my [players'] parents: ‘Get used to losing most of the games because kids need to work on controlling and passing.’ They’re going to mess up when they’re young.
“The group I have now has shown that. We used to get killed by every team [in years past] and now we’re one of the better teams in Florida in our age group because they’re playing better soccer. The goal is not to win the Florida state league at U-12. It makes no sense. And no college coach cares if you won at U-12.”
When he’s not coaching youth or playing pick-up soccer with the likes of George Weah and former MLSers Carlos Valderrama, Ian Bishop and Ivan McKinley, Chung does have a full-time job.
He’s the president of HotPie, a company that is a leader in the Jamaican patty market, producing 25,000 a day for distribution nationwide with a focus in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
It’s a company that his parents started 26 years when they moved from Canada. HotPie has since grown to supply restaurants, gas stations, school districts, grocery stores (under the name of “Island Joe’s") and even MLS teams when they pass through South Florida.
“When [MLS clubs] come down here, I bring them my products from my company,” he said. “They eat up the Jamaican patties like crazy. I don’t know what [new Chivas USA manager] Robin Fraser is going to do without me. I’m not going to ship them all the way to California.”
Under his management, HotPie has now purchased land and constructed its own warehouse. Chung will next look to surround himself with a capable staff which will eventually allow him to supervise from a distance and get back into the pressure cooker that is professional soccer.
He has received offers to be an assistant coach over the years, including for Kinnear, who Chung believes, “You’re going to see as national team coach.”
But Chung’s not necessarily banking on that first opportunity to come in South Florida. In the eternal debate on whether the Sunshine State is deserving of an MLS team, he points to the marketing power of Disney as the potential ticket to success.
“For a Florida team to establish itself, it probably has to be at Disney first,” he said. “When they do something, they do it right. If an MLS team were to come here, it’d be in Orlando or Tampa. Down this way, I don’t know yet. You need the top minds in Miami to figure it out.”
Wherever his start in coaching comes, Chung will have a long and distinguished MLS career upon which he can draw. He was a three-time Best XI player, including in back-to-back years in 2002 and 2003 with the Rapids, where he flourished in central midfield after moving from a traditional winger role.
Few may remember that he was also an MLS MVP finalist in 2002 alongside Carlos Ruiz and Taylor Twellman. It was a memorable season which earned him a USMNT call-up from Bruce Arena that he was forced to decline because of an illness in the family.
But Chung says it was the previous USMNT cycle in which he was most deserving to make his mark – the Steve Sampson era.
“I think I belonged on that team,” Chung said. “I remember I was standing on the podium for MLS Best XI [in 1997] and I was next to Jaime Moreno, Marco Etcheverry and Brad Friedel and Valderrama. Every single player was going to a World Cup except me. … I wasn’t given the chance I feel I should have been given.”
The 40-year-old Chung comes across as someone who is focused and has his priorities straight. First he’ll watch his daughters grow, expand his business, and then it will soon be time.
“Eventually I will be back into it,” Chung said. “Once they grow up and get out of the house, that’s when I’ll be getting into college or a professional job.”
Turns out MLS retirement for Chung was a “see-you-soon” all along.
What They Said
“He was really underrated for a long time but he was the best one-on-one players in terms of beating guys. He was unbelievably quick, really deceptive and just a fantastic striker of the ball. He scored some phenomenal goals. It’s really a mystery why he didn’t spend more time on the US national team. He’s definitely one of the best left-sided players and one of the best players – period – in this league’s history.
– Robin Fraser, Chung's teammate for two seasons at Colorado