(Thursday, March 1, 2007) -- Brian McBride's season just keeps getting better, which was bad news for the Columbus Crew.
McBride is hands-down the most popular player ever to wear the Crew's Yellow and Black and the struggling Major League Soccer club was serious about reacquiring the star striker, who transferred to Fulham of the English Premier League in January 2004. Apparently, Columbus general manager Mark McCullers was prepared to use his Designated Player Rule salary cap exception to give McBride a contract approaching the reported $1.5 million he was earning at Fulham.
Columbus dreams died -- at least for now -- February 2 when Fulham gave McBride a one-year contract extension, reportedly with a healthy raise, to spend the 2007-08 season at Craven Cottage.
"I'm delighted, as I'm sure everybody associated with Fulham Football Club will be," Fulham manager Chris Coleman told the club's web site that day. "Brian has done an absolutely fantastic job for us. He loves it here, his wife is settled and his kids are in a good school -- that was an important factor for Brian."
Coleman's elation contrasted with McCuller's disappointment. "We were in competition for him until that point," the Crew GM told the Columbus Post Dispatch. "We felt all along that if (Fulham) decided to get serious about signing him, they were going to be able to do it and we were not going to be able to compete. What we offered Brian had to be at a certain level or he wouldn't have been considering it. He thanks us for our interest and our diligence. We did work very hard at signing him."
Twenty-four hours after putting his signature on the new pact, McBride provided what a clinical finish for a goal that turned out to be the game-winner in a 2-1 decision over Newcastle United. On Saturday, he posted his second goal of February for a short-lived lead in a 2-1 setback to Premier League-leading Manchester United, capping of a body of work that earned his "Player of the Month" honors in a vote of fans.
"He's perfect, fantastic, a team player," Coleman said. "He looks after himself, when he's not at the training ground he gets lots of rest, he rarely misses games, rarely gets injured. You always know what you're going to get from him."
McBride, 34, prides himself on his work ethic. "You definitely have to try and understand the game," he told the team's web site. "Hard work means at training, you have to be trying to adapt, to learn, to understand where your teammates are going to normally get the ball, position-wise.
"Defensively, how you need to get yourself in the spots where you are going to help the team win the ball in better positions. Really, you just need to try and make sure you do it in practice, then on the field it comes to you a lot easier than just trying to figure it out just in games."
| Brian McBride has 12 goals this season for Fulham, nine in the English Premier League.
Despite having suffered several serious facial and head injuries, not to mention a pulmonary embolism from a blow to his left arm, McBride only knows one way to play the game and that is with aggressiveness. He's taken "a few whacks, I think. My head's taken it's fair share of stitches and a few odds and ends of other things. But I think that's probably happened to a lot of players who are center forwards or center halves. It's part of the job. I think if you start shying away from it, it's going to affect the way you play. If you don't take the hits, you are showing a lack of respect to your teammates and, for a large part, the game itself."
McBride leads the Cottagers with 12 goals this season, nine coming in Premiership play, prompting Coleman to say recently he considered the American his best acquisition. "If you look at it pound for pound, you can't buy anybody who can attack a ball like he does, scores goals like he does, for 700 grand," Coleman said of the £700,000, which translates to just less than $1.4 million. ". . The service he's given us, he's got to be the best signing of any we've done."
McBride was an All-Star in seven of his eight MLS seasons, scoring a club-record 62 goals and adding 45 assists in 161 regular-season matches between 1996-2003. In its first season without McBride, Columbus finished first in MLS's Eastern Conference, but was eliminated from the playoffs in the first round. In the two years since, the Crew was last in the East.
On Saturday, Fulham came out with great energy, while United appeared tired, possibly the consequence of traveling to France for a 1-0 victory over Lille four days earlier in the European Champions League.
In the 17th minute, Fulham midfielder Michael Brown lifted a ball into the penalty area where United goalkeeper Edwin Van der Saar and defender Nemanja became tangled. McBride was quick to the loose ball and banged a spinning shot off a post and in, just before defender Rio Ferdinand was able to clear it.
Midfielder Ryan Giggs tied matters for United at 1-1 in the 29th minute. With U.S. defender Carlos Bocanegra in the right flank, the Cottagers's back-line stayed tough until the closing moments. However, in the 87th minute, Ronaldo picked up the ball and beat American midfielder Clint Dempsey, who had come on in the 71st minute. Moving down the left flank, Ronaldo cut into the box and fired a low shot into the corner of the net to hand the Cottagers their third straight loss.
| Carlos Bocanegra battled his fellow U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu, who was making his debut in England.
McBride was denied a second strike in the 68th minute on a fine save by Van der Saar and came out to a standing ovation 11 minutes later.
Fulham's FA Cup run came to a crashing end February 21 when the Cottagers suffered a humiliating 4-0 drubbing at the hands of visiting EPL foe Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs, sparked by a 13-save effort from England international keeper Paul Robins, received goals from Robbie Keane in the sixth and 68th minutes, while Dimitar Berbatov came off the bench in the 73rd minute to add a pair of tallies.
McBride forced Robinson into two good first-half saves and was pulled down by Anthony Gardner in the penalty area in the 57th minute, though pleading from the Fulham bench could not bring a penalty-kick call. McBride left in the 61st minute.
McBride went the distance February 11, operating as the lone striker in the first half and getting a partner in a 4-4-2 after intermission of a 2-1 loss to host Bolton Wanderers. In the second minute, McBride took a boot to the face, but the Cottagers could not do anything with the resultant dangerous set piece.
Once in each half, McBride was the target off crosses, but missed by inches from latching onto the delivery.
Fulham's last victory came February 3 when the Cottagers registered a 2-1 decision over visiting Newcastle United, the winner of an intense battle to obtain U.S. central defender Oguchi Onyewu.
Forward Heidar Helguson put Fulham ahead 1-0 in the 49th minute with a nicely placed chip shot.
| Acquired January 1, Clint Dempsey is looking to find his way into Fulham's starting lineup.
It was McBride's goal in the 72nd minute, however, that proved to be crucial. Five minutes after entering the fray, midfielder Papa Bouba Diop made a brilliant run down the flank and fed McBride from right side of penalty area, and the American swept the ball home from six yards for a 2-0 advantage.
"I just wish McBride was five years younger," Coleman said to reporters after the match. "He showed again what a great striker he is."
Onyewu was playing in his first Premiership match for Newcastle and was his usual, physical self without being booked, though he was lectured twice by referee Phil Dowd. He was called "a powerful, bruising presence" by the English Press Association. The 6-foot-4 American should have been carded when he grabbed the jersey of Helguson, but nothing was called.
Onyewu, on loan from Belgium's Standard de Liège for the remainder of the season, opened in the center of defense with Titus Bramble and made several crunching tackles. At one point, Fulham midfielder Moritz Volz tried to control and advance on goal, but Onyewu stripped him at the edge of the box, leaving Volz on the turf requiring medical attention.
On the other end, Bocanegra was strong in the Fulham defense and attacked freely, twice nearly scoring only to watch his headers cleared near the goal-line. Bocanegra blocked one wicked shot from Onyewu and it was he who was issued a yellow card in the 31st minute for unsporting behavior after protesting a foul call for his tackle on Obafemi Martins.
Dempsey replaced Wayne Routledge for Fulham in the 78th minute and McBride came off two minutes later in favor of Vincenzo Montella.
Martins found net deep into stoppage time, emphasizing the importance of McBride's tally.
Newcastle is in 11th place at 10-12-6 with 36 points. Fulham is tied for 13th place at 7-10-11 with 32 points.