McBride is working man's forwardPosted: Thursday June 06, 2002 2:33 PM
By Ridge Mahoney, Soccer America
Since all-time leading U.S. scorer Eric Wynalda faded out of the national team pool, several forwards have vied for the title of America's top striker.
Clint Mathis' ascendancy with the Metros and the national team has yielded cover-boy treatment by Sports Illustrated. Young sensation Landon Donovan returned from Germany to help San Jose win the 2001 MLS title.
Joe-Max Moore won a spot with Everton of the English Premier League and Josh Wolff recently signed an unprecedented 6-year extension to his MLS contract.
Less glamorous but no less valuable is the prototypical hard worker from America's heartland whose grit and determination has paid off in chances and goals.
Since the first day of MLS, Brian McBride has labored in Columbus, close enough to his suburban Illinois roots for him to settle in and far removed from the bright lights of New York, where Mathis dons silk shirts and delves into discos, or Los Angeles, province of dreadlocked Cobi Jones and icon Alexi Lalas.
In early February, McBride completed a remarkable recovery from a second blood clot to help the U.S. win the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Six days after the final, he was married and reportedly broke at least a few hearts in Columbus among the Crew faithful.
"Oh I don't think that's the case," he said. "Somebody must have told you that."
Because of his marriage he missed the 1-0 loss to Italy in February. He didn't play in a 4-2 loss to Germany in March and played a non-descript first half in a 2-1 loss to Ireland in April. How he would fare against European opposition in a World Cup atmosphere remained unclear although he had delivered on the world stage before.
He was the only American to score a goal at France '98.
McBride produced one of his best U.S. games as the U.S. stunned Portugal, 3-2, in its 2002 World Cup opener. McBride caused one goal and scored the winner while constantly battering and stretching the Portuguese defense.
A powerful McBride header yielded a rebound from which John O'Brien scored in the fourth minute and his back-post header from Tony Sanneh's cross provided goal No. 3.
"He really stepped up being a target for us," said assistant coach Dave Sarachan.
McBride, as per his nature, downplayed his contribution.
"It's not all that hard when you get the service," he said. "I'm always happy to score but all of the guys played very well today . The balls were served great and that makes my job easy."
The value of McBride can be assessed in his resilient work pressuring the opposing forwards and his aerial dominance against Portugal. Most central defenders of Fernando Couto's ability gobble up opponent's goal kicks, given all the time they have to read the flight of the ball. But more often than not it was the head of McBride that got there first.
He glanced one such kick from Brad Friedel right into the path of Donovan, who shot wide.
Cuoto has roamed European fields for club and country for more than a decade. He is currently employed for Italian club Lazio and didn't take kindly to being upstaged by an American. McBride absorbed elbows to the face, punches to the ribs, and a tirade of abuse. A few stitches were needed to close a gash on McBride's lip.
"That's part of the game," said McBride. "You take the shots but the reward is you have 10 other guys doing the same."
But more often than not it was McBride flicking the ball on or redirecting it with his back to goal. His goal was the 19th of his U.S, career, second only to Moore (24) among current national team players.
"That's one of our strengths, Brian McBride up on a head ball," said midfielder Steve Cherundolo. "He's got great timing and is strong in the air. He's one of our best weapons."
Ridge Mahoney is senior editor at Soccer America magazine.