Brian McBride: America's Man Of Steel
The welt on Brian McBride's head was about the size of a plum. In the process of fighting for a ball, the top of Latvian defender Deniss Ivanovs' head met with McBride's forehead.
He toppled to the ground, like many a soccer player does when meeting contact with an opposing player... however, when McBride doesn't immediately get up, there's a reason beyond theatrics.
After rising to his feet, McBride was forced to go off of the field for a moment to receive treatment from the medical staff.
Medical treatment has become a mere formality for McBride; a man who has titanium plates surgically implanted in his face: a stern reminder of his tendency to break facial bones in the pursuit of possession.
A minute passed, maybe two, before McBride was allowed to reenter play, his welt soaking in the rays from the Rentschler Field spot lights as 24,000+ in East Hartford cheered on the legendary American target forward.
The U.S. continued to dominate possession, but had nothing in the way of goals to show for it.
Close your eyes. Open them.
Right back Steve Cherundolo is flying down the right side of the field. He whips a cross into the middle of a pack of cross-continental foes.
6' feet of titanium and testosterone from the Windy City rises above the pack, meeting the ball with his recently welted forehead. McBride provides all the scoring the U.S. would need in that moment of physical defiance.
A minor incident in a trivial exhibition to some, McBride's career has been plagued with minor incidents of perseverance and dedication.
Many will remember this moment from the 2006 World Cup: McBride, head gashed open from an elbow thrown by Daniele DeRossi. He gets right back to his feet, walks off proudly... comes back on shortly after, ready to face Armageddon.
Digest some of that phrase for a minute: "gets right back to his feet."
That is the career of Brian McBride in a nutshell.
A stalwart at the University of St. Louis, McBride signed with the Milwaukee Rampage of the A-League in 1994. After tearing the league to shreds, he was signed by Vfl. Wolfsburg of the 2.Bundesliga after just a year.
McBride found breaking into the first team difficult at Wolsburg and returned to America to play for the newly formed Columbus Crew of the equally new Major League Soccer in 1996.
For the next eight years, McBride would plague opponents, scoring 62 goals in league play over 161 games.
Twice, during off-seasons, he was loaned to, and impressed at, English clubs.
First was Preston North End, under the leadership of young manager David Moyes. Preston would attempt to acquire McBride on a permanent transfer following his injury plagued stay, but MLS rebuked their offer in 2000.
In 2002, he was once again called on by Moyes, this time at his new home in Everton. McBride came out of the chutes firing, scoring on his debut against Spurs.
Speaking to the Associated Press about McBride, Moyes was not shy about his feelings over the American,
"I remember when I came here a year ago, one of the things I questioned was commitment and attitude, but those are qualities Brian has in abundance."
McBride returned to MLS again, impressed again, and was transferred to Fulham FC in January of 2004 for $1.5 million.
By today's exorbitant standards, then Fulham manager Chris Coleman made one of the deals of the decade.
An American Target Man in London
McBride, brought in as Louis Saha left, made an immediate impact for the Whites, scoring on his debut and didn't stop.
Over his four year stay, McBride worked his way from the bench, to first team mainstay and, eventually captain.
His career in South-West London would entail 40 goals in 153 appearances, and became widely known as one of the best headers of the ball in the game (a statement many of the Everton faithful would attest to in this clip).
In mid-August of 2007, McBride would dislocate his kneecap in the process of scoring a goal against Middlesbrough... applauding the appreciative Fulham fans from his stretcher as he was carried off the field.
As his fortunes fell so did Fulham's, dropping into a near impossible hole and staring relegation straight in the face.
But McBride would return in February... and his swan song with the Whites may have been his magnum opus.
Game winning goals against stingy Everton, Birmingham, and on the road against Reading (snapping Fulham's woeful away losses string, which had gone on for over a year) were vital to Fulham's survival efforts.
The Whites finished just above the relegation zone on goal differential and McBride was offered a contract to keep him in the Premier League.
He declined, feeling that the time was right to return to MLS for the twilight of his career... and rejoin the U.S. National team for their Olympic campaign in China.
AN EXAMPLE OF PURE CLASS
When watching McBride score goals (Exhibit A), one may notice his steady celebration technique:
1) Kissing his ring finger.
2) Signing the cross.
3) Pointing to the sky.
4) Pointing to a teammate. (usually)
5) Showing unbridled passion.
Let's go over these.
1) - The kissing of his ring finger is a gesture of love to his wife, and having her in his thoughts each time he scores in a game. In a soccer world where players are more known for their consistent visits to prostitutes (COUGHchristianoRonaldCOUGH) and web-cam inspired masturbation sessions in Moscow (COUGHashleyoungCOUGH) isn't it a little inspiring to see someone actually care about their significant other?
2) - A sign of his faith. I know personal faith is overdone in sports, but McBride doesn't drone on, insincerely thanking God for his success during interviews. He shows his appreciation in this singular act.
3) - This coincides with the previous two, thanking the people who are with him in spirit if not in flesh.
4) - McBride showing thanks, once more, by giving credit to the player who helped create his opportunity, instead of running over to snort the endline, attempting to shoot lightning bolts, playing the violin, or flying like an airplane.
No. McBride doesn't need these excesses. He possesses the qualities that we as Americans beg for in our athletes in a sport that is often bemoaned for lacking the qualities to entertain an American audience.
Hard work. Teamwork. Dedication. Strength. Endurance. Passion.
Some call it a no-contact, low-action sport where sissies flop all over the field, trying their hardest to win an Oscar.
Some say Americans can't play the game at the top level. That it will never produce top level talent able to keep up with the top soccer playing nations of the world.
My ears have learned to shut out their wanton disregard for the the truth, for the facts. I don't need to argue with them.
I just tell them to watch Brian McBride.
If they don't, it's their loss.
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