An American trailblazer
It seems almost unfair that my most enduring memories of Brian McBride involve blood and broken bones. There was so much more to his career than that. Yet in a way, those images are symbolic of a player who gave everything to the sport of soccer, and with the announcement on Friday that this current MLS season will be McBride's last, it's clear that the man affectionately nicknamed "McHead" will be greatly missed.
The Chicago Fire forward was a trailblazer in so many ways. While with the Columbus Crew, McBride was one of the first American players to make a name for himself in MLS, a league that back in the late 1990s still had the training wheels firmly affixed to its frame.
He also was a vital part of the narrative of U.S. players competing overseas. Sure, performers like Paul Caligiuri, John Harkes, Claudio Reyna and Eric Wynalda did plenty of heavy lifting to help raise the profile of Americans playing abroad. But McBride did more than his fair share, too. In fact, he was in many ways the perfect ambassador.
McBride's nose -- and head -- for the goal, his physical presence up top, and his ferocious work rate all made him a valued asset wherever he played. The native of Arlington Heights, Ill., carried himself with a quiet dignity as well, which endeared him to teammates, fans and journalists alike. Even after first-round exits at the 2006 World Cup and the 2008 Olympics, McBride never shied away from the press. He handled himself with class.
It was this combination of attributes that made him a much-admired figure in the English game, where he played for Preston North End, Everton and Fulham. The Cottagers even went so far as to name the pub in their stadium, Craven Cottage, after McBride. He captained the side as well, a rare feat for an American. All of this helped clear the path for players such as Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and Eddie Johnson to play in the EPL.
Just as impressive is that McBride's poise never faltered, even as he endured a set of bizarre and debilitating injuries. While on loan at Preston North End, McBride developed a blood clot in his arm that necessitated the removal of a rib. He also sustained a dislocated knee while playing for Fulham in 2007.
Then there were the facial injuries. McBride has enough titanium in his face to cause backups at airport security checkpoints the world over. And he was famously cut open by an elbow from Italian midfielder Daniele De Rossi at the 2006 World Cup, needing several stitches to close the wound. Of course, he stayed in the game to help the U.S. record a memorable 1-1 tie against the eventual champions.
But with the blood came the glory. In the 2002 World Cup, McBride scored a crucial third goal against Portugal with a diving header. His tally against Mexico in the second round of that tournament set the U.S. on its way to a 2-0 win and a spot in the quarterfinals. It's telling that following McBride's international retirement in 2006, the U.S. has struggled to replace his combination of strength, hold-up play and finishing ability.
In short, McBride is an American soccer icon. But you won't hear this quiet American bragging about that.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.