McBride leaves legacy as the quintessential U.S. target man
Precious few American players are so beloved and so mightily respected that a club will actually name a stadium lounge in his honor.
Especially if that club is in England.
Such is the esteemed legacy of
"Brian McBride has been a fine ambassador for Fulham Football Club," said then-manager
"His attitude is second to none -- Brian is a true pro in every sense of the word."
The former U.S. national team standout has done a lot for domestic soccer. And yet there he was Friday, graciously thanking everyone else, acknowledging a long list of figures who assisted along the way. The list included Chicago Fire teammates, fans and officials, who helped McBride round out a spectacular 16-year pro career near his hometown.
McBride, who never seemed 100 percent at ease with his celebrity, became emotional during Friday's news conference to announce his plans. "Now I've got to pull it together, and this is the one part I knew I wouldn't hold it together," he said at one point. He then proceeded to thank and say wonderful things about his wife, Dina, the mother of his three daughters.
Who would expect anything else from McBride, the gold standard in conduct and comportment for successful, professional athletes in any sport?
Few figures command such earnest and universal respect. Just try to find someone with anything negative to say about the guy. (Well, outside of a couple of Mexican players with whom he may have, quite literally, butted heads.)
Former U.S. international
McBride's career ascended along a parallel course with Major League Soccer's rise. He was the league's very first draft pick, a shining star and consummate All-America hero type out of St. Louis University
McBride's career is so rich that it's easy to forget some of the smaller accomplishments along the way. He spent a year with the Milwaukee Rampage of the USISL in 1994 before joining VfL Wolfsburg of Germany's second division. He found playing time sparse there and returned soon to take part in the original MLS staff, where 12 original clubs stocked their rosters.
The Columbus Crew had the first pick, using it on the player who would become the club's all-time leading scorer. McBride was never exactly prolific but was dependably steady, hitting for 62 goals over eight seasons.
His production in 96 national team appearances was even more modest at 30 goals (although that tally ranks third on the all-time list for the U.S. national team). But with McBride, the sum contribution was far more than goals. Rather, fierce devotion to the cause and thoughtful stewardship marked his time and turned him into a fan favorite. He said on several occasions that the raw numbers didn't matter much. "I've been fortunate to do something I love while having a great family and seeing the world," he said before a World Cup qualifier in 2005.
Plus, in terms of what else he brought to the field, McBride's role made him particularly indispensable. Ever shy of midfield craftsmen who could build attacks more gradually, Route One soccer was frequently the way for U.S. teams. It was never the fanciest or prettiest of brands, but if your team must go that way then a Brian McBride is essential. It takes a target man who will stand fast and take the punishment that surely is headed his way, fighting for aerial balls, scrapping for second balls, harassing defenders and always willing to be a primary target for set pieces.
His presence was reassuring for a class of defenders not always adept at graceful distribution; a big ball up toward McBride was always an option for a fullback or center back under pressure.
McBride, who retired from international soccer after the 2006 World Cup, was a leading figure among the generation of U.S. players who guided the country from its awkward teenage stage into a tenuous sort of manhood. His goal against Iran in the 1998 World Cup provided momentary shelter from the storm in a notorious three-and-out fiasco.
The 2002 World Cup, as we all know, unfolded far more majestically. He delivered immediately, ghosting to the far post to finish
Twelve days later, McBride was cool on the finish in supplying an early lead against Mexico in what remains the most important U.S. victory yet, a second-round win over the country's bitter border rival.
Things weren't so neat four years later, as the World Cup effort couldn't withstand expectations. But there was one shining, memorable night against Italy. Images of a bloody McBride became the singular, fixed image of that determined night, where the United States finished with just nine men but managed to hold fast 1-1 draw with the eventual winners. (McBride was the recipient of a nasty elbow that temporarily left the Italians a man down.)
If McBride became a faithful fan favorite for his accomplishments in the United States, he became a U.S. legend for his exploits in England. He moved to Preston North End in 2000 at a time when far fewer American players than now were earning paychecks overseas. There he began a relationship with respected manager
In 2004, Fulham stretched its shoestring budget to purchase McBride from MLS for $1.5 million. Fans around Craven Cottage were immediately smitten with the determined Yank, whose work rate and fighting spirit was the embodiment of the traditional English game.
McBride returned to MLS during the 2008 summer transfer window, choosing to play near his Chicago roots. He said Friday this decision has been coming for a while, having spent the last five years on a series of one-year agreements. Two months into the current season he was seriously mulling retirement.
"Not so much because I didn't feel like playing, but it was just time for a new segment of my life and a different career," he said, adding that coaching or soccer management wasn't necessarily in the plans but wasn't out the question, either. "I do have passion for the game and do have a few things in my head that I think can help people," he said.
"I also want to say this is not the end," McBride said at the end of Friday's short retirement speech. "I am fully committed to helping the Fire first make the playoffs and second to win a championship."
A championship this year for Chicago seems like a tall order. Then again, who could deny that McBride has earned the right to say as much?