BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Players, coaches and team staff throughout MLS reacted to Chicago Fire striker Brian McBride’s retirement on Friday with equal amounts of praise for one of the most accomplished players in US history.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody say a bad word about Brian, and I’ve known him since 2001,” Fire midfielder John Thorrington said. “People use the word 'honest' in a lot of different ways, but I think he’s a very honest player. He always gave you everything he had. … He’s just very brave and a very honest player.”
Fire technical director Frank Klopas – who helped bring McBride to Chicago after the striker's days with Fulham ended in May 2008 – called McBride’s career “truly fantastic” and said that he would “be missed by any organization that he touched.”
“The respect he has from fellow teammates and coaches in the English Premier League speaks volumes,” Klopas said. “I think he will be remembered as one of the best strikers in US history.”
LA Galaxy star Landon Donovan – who teamed with McBride during both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups – cited McBride’s legendary work ethic ahead of the Galaxy’s clash against Chicago on Saturday, which could be the duo’s last time on the field together.
“When you spend time with him in a camp or on the team, you realize that everyday he’s ready to do his job,” Donovan said. “And that seems like something you would take for granted, but a lot of young kids these days don’t.
“It’s nice to have someone to look up to in that way and follow, and he’s always been that way from Day 1.”
Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena – who coached McBride with the US team in 2002 and 2006 and will coach against him Saturday night – reflected fondly on perhaps McBride’s signature moment, when he suffered a nasty gash to his face but played on during the Americans’ 1-1 draw against Italy in the group stage of the 2006 World Cup.
“He was cut and he played 90 minutes, and he played an unbelievable role in allowing the US to get the point against Italy,” Arena said. “In that game, he was a warrior.”
Added Donovan: “It’s hard not to think back to the Italy game in 2006, when he got gashed open. You assumed when you saw him go off the field, ‘Alright, he’s done, we gotta get a sub on the field.’ And as we played a few more minutes, we look over and he’s bandaged up like the gladiator coming back on the field. That’s how Brian was. Nothing really slowed him down.”
Colorado Rapids defender Pablo Mastroeni – who played alongside McBride during the 2002 and 2006 World Cups – said McBride “paved the way” after he was taken first overall by the Columbus Crew in the league’s first-ever draft in 1996.
“He’s been a pioneer, but not only a pioneer in being the first player, but for playing exemplary soccer on the field and being a class act off the field,” Mastroeni said. “He’s definitely a great friend to have.”
Said Rapids forward Conor Casey: “He was a big influence on me. He was the forward that I watched growing up, really, in America. I definitely took a lot from watching him.”
Added Arena: “I’m both happy and saddened for Brian. I’m happy because I know he’s had a fabulous career and he can’t accomplish a whole lot more. I’m sad because I’m going to miss him on the field.”
One Fire player who McBride had a particularly profound effect on is forward Collins John. John and McBride first became teammates in 2004, when John – then 18 – joined the then 32-year-old McBride at Fulham.
The two became close during their time at Craven Cottage, where they were often paired together up top. Their Premier League partnership, which lasted from 2004 to 2007, was at its best during the 2005-06 campaign, when they combined to score 21 league goals.
“We played a lot of games together at Fulham,” John said. “There was a great combination between him and me. And of course, when that happens, you have a little click together, and that was a big thing when I was 18 years old.”
John, who was reunited with McBride when he signed with Chicago in January, said that he’s sad to see his longtime teammate call it quits.
“He’s a great guy," John said. "I remember the first day when I saw him in the dressing room when I came to the Fire, it was a big hug because I missed him. I’m still learning off the way he plays and the advice he gives, so it’s a big [loss], but you have to respect his decision. He’s had a great career and hopefully I can do the same that he has done.”
John expressed his desire to send McBride off with an MLS Cup – one trophy the American has never won during his illustrious career.
“I don’t want to be too loud about this, but I think he’s never won a championship,” John said. “So that would be a big thing. I think tears might come if that happens.”
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal. The media relations departments from the Chicago Fire and Colorado Rapids contributed to this report.