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McBride leaves legacy as the quintessential U.S. target man

Especially if that club is in England.

Such is the esteemed legacy of Brian McBride, the brave striker who announced his retirement Friday in Chicago effective at the end this year. McBride, 38, will finish out the season at Toyota Park, the punctuation mark on a career that took him briefly through Germany, two addresses in Major League Soccer and three stops in England. At his last England address, Fulham, appreciative officials actually named a bar in his honor at their West London grounds.

"Brian McBride has been a fine ambassador for Fulham Football Club," said then-manager Roy Hodgson when McBride departed England in 2008. "As my captain last season Brian was truly respected in the dressing room and led by example on the pitch.

"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 Eric Wynalda on Friday called McBride the nicest guy he ever met in soccer.

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 Tony Sanneh's cross with authority in that stunning opener against Portugal. That was No. 3 in that early morning delight, vitally important as the eventual game-winner, which launched the United States' quarterfinal dash.

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 David Moyes, who would later bring McBride to Everton in the venerable English Premier League.

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?

Los Angeles at Chicago (4 p.m. ET, Saturday): The Galaxy can keep living off that prodigious, early three-month run; the playoffs really aren't in question as Bruce Arena's side may already have enough points entering Round 23. On the other hand, there is Supporters Shield and home-field advantage in a potential conference final to start worrying about if the Galaxy can't shake the funk. Meanwhile, Chicago will be energized by what surely will be an emotional night, the first contest after McBride's announcement. Oh, by the way, David Beckham is now eligible to play, although not quite ready. Yet. Talk is swirling of a potential Sept. 11 reintroduction.

New York Red Bulls at Real Salt (9 p.m. ET, Saturday): Both of these sides are a joy to watch. No team in MLS holds the ball and extends the field like Real Salt Lake. Meanwhile, no team in MLS has such a wealth of ideas and options once inside the opposition half as New York. Players on both sides have talked about looking forward to this one. It's a little early to dive into "potential MLS final preview" talk and all that. But not by much.

Kansas City at Philadelphi (3:30 p.m. ET, Saturday): The Wizards seemed left for dead a month ago, playoff wise. But a determined little August spurt has renewed hope. They'll find a confident Union side at PPL Park, where Peter Nowak's team turned up an unlikely road win a week ago in New England and then came home to outwork Mexico's famed Chivas in a midweek friendly. There is, unfortunately, one less seemly element to be considered: how the Wizards might cope with any undertow of coach Peter Vermes' arrest earlier this week on allegations of DUI.