For the vast audience of the World Cup, perhaps unfamiliar with Brian McBride’s hard-nosed style of play, Saturday offered a fitting introduction to the U.S. forward. After a stray elbow caught him just under the left eye, he lay stricken on the field of Fritz-Walter-Stadion, likely horrifying those watching the former Columbus Crew player for the first time. However, for American fans, McBride’s return to the pitch was never in doubt. Sure enough, after some handy work by the American medical staff, McBride sprinted back onto the field and continued to lead the U.S. attack for the remaining 60 minutes.
McBride is no stranger to the physical side of the game, and he certainly has a catalogue of facial injuries to show for it. In 2001, during a crucial FIFA World Cup qualifying match vs. Mexico, McBride was forced to leave the game, a rare occurrence, after a brutal collision with Rafael Marquez that left the American with extreme swelling over his right eye.
More recently, McBride sustained another knock to the face in the team’s final send off match against Latvia on May 28. This time, however, McBride stayed in the match, and managed to score the team’s game-winning goal, with his head nonetheless.
Against Italy on Saturday, McBride’s willingness to throw his body around was one of the biggest reasons why nine-man USA held on for a crucial point that makes Thursday’s match against Ghana meaningful.
McBride, however, is quick to downplay the uniqueness of his physical game.
“I think if you asked anybody who is a defender or a target forward, you’re going to get the odd elbow, you’re going to get the odd head on head,” says the 34-year old. “You don’t think about things like that. If you did, I think it affects your game. It’s not just me. Everybody in those two positions has had that happen to them regularly.”
Certainly though, the effect that McBride has on his team, is anything but common. In the match against Italy, McBride demonstrated that his versatility and his importance to the team are not felt exclusively in the offensive end of the field.
“McBride was doing so much work,” said Manager Bruce Arena. “Defending on restarts, defending in the run of play and being our target, Brian was doing well, he hung in there.”
Particularly when the United States was reduced to nine men early in the second half, McBride showed how much he means to this team.
“In the second half, his work rate over the last 40 some odd minutes, when we were down a player, was fantastic,” Arena elaborated. “He made all the little plays that make a difference in a game. He was superb and again, he’s the kind of guy you want on the field in those type of games.”
As for the injuries, McBride concedes that they are part of the game for every elite player, but makes no plans to shy away from any potentially dangerous tackles.
“I’m fortunate in the fact that I don’t have a lot of feeling in my face. My nerves are all dead from the surgeries. But, you get hit, and you get back up.”
It’s this type of attitude that the entire U.S. team looks to channel into their final game against Ghana, as they look to advance to the second round.