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How Great was Soccer's Brian McBride?

There was a very strong urge to let the picture posted above stand on its own merit. In the last eight years nothing has spent more days and weeks as my desktop background that than perfect image frozen in time from June 5, 2002 in Suwon, South Korea.

As much as the news earlier this week on the U.S. National Team bringing back Bob Bradley as head coach divided the American Inter-nets soccer community, one thing I'd desperately hope everyone with a blog, podcast, Twitter, tumblr, chat room, Skype, Ham Radio signal etc. can agree on is this simple equation:

Brian McBride = Legend.

Let's get back to that day, well was it night or morning really, from South Korea vs. Portugal in the 2002 World Cup.

Odds are there won't be a moment as surreal a day in U.S. Soccer History, barring the day the Yanks actually win the World Cup, than the 3-2 win over Portugal, the team we'd told was going to brush us aside with the haughty arrogance of a 1700s Austrian Duke. You know, the team that had Luis Figo, Rui Costa, and the rest of the "Golden Generation."

Something crazy happen, it almost gives me goosebumps just to think of it. A fourth minute goal from John O'Brien? Who? What? The Landon Donovan inspired own-goal by Portgual minutes later? Wait ... are we sure this is actually happening? Finally, McBride's form header past Victor Baia making it 3-0 in 36 minutes.

McBride's full-form header was the stuff as a U.S. fan you'd dreamed of for years and to see it happen in real time was almost too much to comprehend. (Delivery of the cross? Yep, Tony Sanneh.) My father and I alternately between screaming, fist pumps, claps, cheers ... and looking at each other to make sure this was happening.

But today's not about that still hard-to-believe result.

No, it's time to remember Brian McBride, a blood-and-guts warrior. An inspirational figure both on American shores and at Fulham's Craven Cottage in West London, where he won over fans and the club's captaincy.

We can all eulogize McBride in full when he retires from the game after the 2010 MLS season. All we need to remember today is a player who showed the world that an American could dominate -- or at least score a boatload of goals in MLS -- and move on to become a productive producer in a top flight European club.

Without getting overly sappy, McBride embodied everything you'd want from your traditional American sports hero: hard-worker, honest, humble, down for the cause, etc. Perhaps that's underrating McBride's technical skill, since you don't score 44 goals in England without being more than a huffing-and-puffing grinder. At Fulham McBride was arguably on the fringes of the Premier League Top 10 strikers. (Take a look. [Update, this vid, as pointed out by 30f is much better. Sorry for actively linking to a Nickelback song. Never felt so mortified.] )

Bottom line with McBride no matter which shirt he was wearing you knew he was giving an honest, all-out 90 minutes where you could reasonably expect him to put the ball in the back of the net.

Obviously, four years after South Korea there is a more enduring image of McBride, bloodied and bleary-eyed from an elbow from Daniele de Rossi at the 2006 World Cup in the "Battle of Kaiserslautern." Hell, it's proudly included in the banner for this site.

In a sense those two images encapsulate everything you want to know about McBride and why he's so revered in U.S. soccer circles -- a fearless, goal-scoring warrior without a hint of ego.

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Side note to consider: In the year 2010 could a young Brian McBride have existed? Would a player of his skill have even played college soccer? Or spent eight years of his prime in MLS? And would McBride's mostly non-flashy game be appreciated when he donned the U.S. shirt? Think it's interesting and worth nothing how much the U.S. overall soccer program soup-to-nuts has changed over the course of McBride's pro career.

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