In the past year U.S. forward Brian (Bake) McBride has gone as global as the golden arches, winning fans and converts from South Korea, where he had two goals in the World Cup, to England, where the Columbus Crew mainstay scored four times in eight games while on loan to Everton of the Premier League. But when Everton asked to extend the loan from three months to 18, the recently married McBride nixed the deal. "We didn't want to throw away seven years in Columbus for one year over there," McBride says, "and then come back to Columbus and say, 'Hey, I'm welcome, right?' "
Small wonder Crew supporters are saying you're welcome and thank you at the same time. After 12 months of globe-trotting, McBride is focused on the domestic life these days. His new MLS contract pays him the league maximum ($275,000 annually) for the next three years, with options for two more. He and his wife, Dina, are expecting a baby next month. And his chances of winning an MLS Cup are better than ever, judging by Columbus's Eastern Conference-leading 3-1-2 record after Saturday's 2-0 win over the Colorado Rapids.
At "a young 30," according to U.S. coach Bruce Arena, McBride is at the height of his powers. "In the modern game there aren't many players who are willing to stay up high for 90 minutes and take the pounding he takes," Arena said before last Thursday's scoreless draw against Mexico in Houston. "Brian gives us great balance, and he's proved he can get chances in front of the goal and finish them."
McBride is renowned for his heading ability, but against Mexico he created the most dangerous threat with his feet, juking defender Duilio Davino before firing just wide. "People overlook Brian's skills because he does so much in the air and holds the ball so well," says U.S. strike partner Landon Donovan. "But his teammates see him all the time. We know better."
For years McBride has been a paradox, the rare player who's more productive at the international level than in league play. Limited by injuries, national team duty and confusion over his role, McBride scored just 17 goals over his last four full MLS seasons, as many as he did in 1996 alone. With the national team, McBride explains, "I'm basically the guy to get in the box, while in Columbus it's been more about me connecting the defense to the offense." Arena says the Crew attack "may not be tailor-made to Brian's qualities. Their other forwards [ Edson Buddle and Jeff Cunningham] like to play in the midfield, and a lot of times they get in his way. The passing lanes aren't there, so he doesn't get the ball in the same spots as he does for us."
That may finally be changing. On Saturday, McBride scored his third goal of the young MLS season, a sharp left-footed drive through traffic that tied him for the league lead and left him only two shy of his 2002 total. In a post-World Cup year his gaze is fixed firmly on Columbus, one of three MLS teams never to have reached the league's championship game. "I've always been thinking about the possibilities ahead," McBride says. "Now I'm more focused on where we are" With a new wife, a growing family and a first-place team, it's not a bad place to be.