U.S. striker Brian McBride ends iconic career Saturday at Home Depot Center

i-864d5fca00430c3f8577600ddab64a2e-mcbridgealston.jpgBrian McBride, seen at right challenging Kevin Alston, one of the bravest and best American strikers in the nation’s history, will retire after the Chicago Fire plays its final MLS game of the season Saturday night against Chivas USA at Home Depot Center.

Fans may not see much of him – he’s expected to start on the bench – but regardless, a standing ovation at game’s end is not only apt, it should be compulsory.

Associated Press Writer Nancy Armour is the author of this piece summing up his exemplary career:

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. (AP) — Brian McBride’s face was covered in blood, and it would take three stitches to close the gash under his eye after an elbow from Italy’s Daniele De Rossi.

Just the sight of him was enough to make soccer fans wince. Yet McBride stayed in the World Cup game and helped the Americans salvage a draw against the eventual champions, just one example of the grit and determination that defined his career.

“He was a complete forward,” said Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena, who coached McBride at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. “He’s been a player who excelled on the field and obviously off the field, and he’s been even better in the way he represented American soccer and himself. He’s a first-class guy.”

The Chicago Fire forward will play his final game Saturday in Carson in a career that’s spanned 17 years, two continents, three World Cups, some gruesome injuries and more than 150 goals. Other players have had longer careers than the 38-year-old striker and
scored more. He wasn’t the first American to go to England, and others have had more longevity in Europe.

But his goal-scoring ability, tenacity and spirit helped make the U.S. more competitive in the world’s favorite game, and paved the way for the next generation of players.

“I haven’t looked at it from that standpoint,” McBride said when asked what he wants his
legacy to be. “I hope that I’ve added quality to wherever I’ve been and also done things in the right way, with class. Hopefully I’ve been able to pass on a few words of wisdom.”

The U.S. has produced some world-class midfielders (Landon Donovan, Claudio Reyna, Clint Dempsey) and high-level defenders (Alexi Lalas and Steve Cherundolo), and most countries would be thrilled to have a goalkeeper like Tim Howard, Brad Friedel or Kasey Keller.

But forward is trickier.

A U.S. forward hasn’t scored since the 2002 World Cup, and Jozy Altidore has only two goals in his last 14 games with the national team. No American forward is getting regular playing time in Europe, and Major League Soccer’s best, Edson Buddle, wasn’t even in the World Cup mix at the beginning of the year. (Donovan and Dempsey are sometimes listed as forwards, but their natural position is midfielder.)

A forward has to be able to play with his back to the goal and outmuscle defenders who want nothing more than to knock him off his feet. He needs cat-quick reflexes and vision, too, able to make something happen within a second, maybe two, of getting the ball.

As a “target” forward, McBride had all that — and more. Tough, physical and supremely gifted in the air, the 6-foot-1 McBride could create goals most other players could only imagine.

“He had an uncanny ability to get at the end of service in the box, whether in the air or on the ground. And he showed great courage in the air,” Arena said. “He was a good goal scorer. He worked hard on finishing and scored in a variety of ways.”

McBride provided one of the lone U.S. highlights at the 1998 World Cup, scoring on a header against Iran. Four years later, his diving header from 6 yards out would prove to be the game-winner in a 3-2 upset of Portugal. The Americans would go all the way to the quarterfinals, a surprising run that showed the rest of the world the United States was no longer part of the lightweight division.

McBride was the first American to score at two World Cups, and finished with 30 goals in a U.S. uniform. Only Donovan (45) and Eric Wynalda (34) have more. He has 79 career MLS goals (he still shares the Crew record for goals scored), and scored another 40 in his 4 seasons at Fulham.

“You’ve been a massive inspiration for all of us,” Donovan said in a tribute video played
after McBride’s final home game last Saturday. “We’re going to miss you.”

McBride wasn’t afraid to shed a little blood, either.

He absorbed so many elbows and arms over the years he has titanium plates in his cheeks. He missed most of the 2007-08 season, his last at Fulham, with a ruptured quadriceps and dislocated kneecap. It was that combination of quality and toughness that endeared McBride to the Fulham faithful. With the Cottagers deep in relegation trouble in 2008, McBride’s return sparked a remarkable turnaround and Fulham won four of its last five games to keep its spot in the Premier League.

A bar at Craven Cottage is now named “McBride’s” in honor of the contributions of “Captain Courageous.”

“Things that stick out are the ’02 World Cup and then my last year at Fulham,” McBride said. “Those are probably two memories that just pop into your head because they were so strong.”

Though Fulham tried to lure him back for one more year, McBride and his wife Dina had already decided it was time to come back home. Both the McBrides are from Arlington Heights, Ill., and family is a big part of their lives (when McBride scores, he kisses his ring finger in honor of Dina). They wanted their three daughters to grow up surrounded by family and close friends as they did.

McBride signed with his hometown Chicago Fire, and has 17 goals in two-plus seasons. The Fire’s leading scorer last year, he is second this season.

“Absolutely amazing player,” said teammate Freddie Ljungberg.

McBride could probably play for another season or two. But his daughters are getting older, and he wants to be around for all of their activities. He wants to take his wife out for dinner on a Friday or Saturday night, something he can only do in the offseason now.

But he’s not leaving the game entirely. McBride hopes to start soccer camps for attacking players, teaching them everything from fitness to movement off the ball to what they should do in various game scenarios. He wants the camps to be small enough, 10 to 20 kids, so he can be hands-on and pass along all his knowledge and skills.

Who knows? Maybe one of those kids will play for the U.S. someday.

“He’s the kind of player you point to and tell younger players, ‘Watch him.’ He serves as a great role model,” Arena said. “I don’t for a second take lightly the kind of character he had and how sorely it’s needed in the game and how it moved the game along.
“He’s a rare breed.”

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About Nick Green

South Bay-based Los Angeles News Group soccer columnist and blogger Nick Green writes at the 100 Percent Soccer blog at www.insidesocal.com/soccer and craft beer at the Beer Goggles blog at www.insidesocal.com/beer. Cheers!
  • Studs Up

    Mcbride does not get enough credit as a striker of the ball. Great finisher on the ground as well, witness his last goal.

  • Studs Up

    Update – McBride does it again on the ground. Way to go out in STYLE.

    I love his idea of putting on “attacking” camps. We need to develope special players with specialized skills. Just see what Chicarito did against Stoke today. A backward header even McBride will applaud.

    We need to make our game beautiful.