Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010
By Justin O'Neil
The result did not matter for the Chicago Fire on Saturday. While the team has gone through a frustrating season, missing the playoffs after back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals appearances, Saturdays game was only about Brian McBride.
Saturday's 0-0 draw against D.C. United was McBride's last home game as a member of the Chicago Fire, as the legendary striker will retire from the game at the end of the MLS season. The Arlington Heights native is the last of the pre-MLS generation U.S. stars, athletes that came up with all the skills needed but had nowhere to ply their trade.
McBride graduated from Buffalo Grove High School in 1990 as an All-American, and scored 72 goals in four years at St. Louis University. Despite his stardom at the collegiate level, McBride did not have a lucrative offer upon graduation - instead playing for the Milwaukee Rampage indoor soccer club, and a second division German team, VfL Wolfsburg.
The 1994 FIFA World Cup was held in the U.S. and is still the highest attended World Cup in history. As a condition of holding the World Cup, the U.S. was obligated to form a top level league, and in 1996 the MLS kicked off its inaugural season. Before the season, players were allocated, and in the first MLS Draft, McBride was the number one overall pick for the Columbus Crew.
The forward had eight successful seasons with Columbus and during that time spent two off-seasons playing in England, for Preston North End and Everton. He was among the first American players to play in the English Premier League, and in 2004 made a permanent move to London Fulham.
McBride became a fan favorite at the club, helping them twice avoid being relegated from the Premier League on the last day. He is the only American to ever serve as captain of a Premier League team, and is legend at Fulham, with a stadium bar named in his honor.
The example McBride set for fellow Americans on their conduct and the ability of Americans to play in Europe is one that is still evident today. The 1990 and 1994 U.S. World Cup rosters were made up mostly of college and minor-league stars, while today European leagues are filled with American players. Just last week, the U.S. fielded a roster made up of entirely European-based players. The idea of that would have been impossible just 10 years ago, but the success by McBride in England showed that the U.S. was a soccer power and had athletes that could compete in the best leagues in the world.
For the national team, McBride was a stalwart in the starting lineup, scoring the lone U.S. goal in 1998 and scoring twice during the 2002 run to the quarterfinals. He retired after the disappointing 2006 World Cup, but made a brief cameo with the national team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, serving as captain.
McBride was substituted late during Saturday's draw, and received a standing ovation from an appreciative crowd at Toyota Park. His career did not come to a storybook ending, but the story of his career was not one told in storybook fashion. He came up at a time when soccer was on the peripheral of the American sports scene, and retires from a league that has soccer specific stadiums and a fan base that is passionate enough to support an expanding league. He was not the man that led the U.S. to the top of world soccer, but instead one of the building blocks of soccer in America.
McBride helped write the story of American soccer, and as one of its greatest and classiest players of all time, will always be near and dear to those who care about the game. He made a lap of honor with his wife and three daughters at the conclusion of the game, as fans held up their signs and continued to cheer in honor of the legend.
Landon Donovan and Bruce Arena were among the people thanking the striker for his impact and friendship in a video tribute after the match. Team technical director and former U.S. national team member Frank Klopas presented him with a mural from fans, and teammate C.J. Brown thanked McBride for his impact with the MLS.
McBride took the microphone at the end of the tribute, thanking the 'Section 8' fans and the Fire community for their support at the conclusion of his career.
Fire "Section 8" fans were wearing 'Real American Hero' T-shirts at Saturday's game, and to U.S. soccer fans and athletes, McBride will always be a hero and idol.