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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Good Bye and Good Riddance Mr. McBride

Today it was announced that Brian McBride, striker for Fulham FC and the US National team, has retired from international football. My take on it is: good bye, and good riddance.

Why, you may ask, do I say good riddance to Mr. McBride? Oh, let me count the ways. Let's start with a basic premise on McBride that seems to go unnoticed. He is a very limited player. Even at his own club, Fulham, he is used primarily as a substitute. The reason is that he's only useful in very specific situations; namely when a team lacking in resourcefulness and ideas resigns itself to dumping a century of crosses into the area, and hoping that a big, strong player, who's not afraid to get smashed in the face (enter McBride), will get onto the end of one of them.
He knows this, and is more than happy to collect an EPL style check for an MLS style player, with no complaints, mind you. And if you were as lacking in skill and ability as he is, you probably would too - so he's the perfect substitute. Never complains about being a bit-part player: never should, and never will.

That's great for Fulham, because they're a small team with little quality and one path to success. Gone are the swashbuckling days of Jean Tigana's men that supporters of other teams actually enjoyed watching, to be replaced by the likes of Brian McBride, and whoever else steals a paycheck from them from week to week. But for the US National team, a team that needs to build, combine and create their way to goals, he's been utterly useless. As evidence I would enter his performance in the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

As such it makes you wonder why, then, did he have to start and play 90 minutes every game for the US in this World Cup, and for that matter, seemingly every game of consequence for the US in the last 4 years? Only one reason: reputation. Watch one of his "brilliant" performances for the US in Germany and I'll bet you can't count a single time that he strings together more than 3 passes in a row without giving it away. Why? Because, as I noted, he's very limited. The truth is, anyone who has suffered through watching him plod his way through 90 minutes of futility can see that the man can barely function with the ball at his feet, which you'd think is a rather essential requirement of a professional footballer.

If you disagree, ask yourself these questions: does he run at defenders? Does he create his own shots? Can he even keep posession? And for all the time he used up in the World Cup this year, did he score? And what did he do when he wasn't scoring (which was all the time I might add)? You guessed it - absolutely nothing.

His career record for the Columbus crew was 50 goals in 137 games, that's barely a goal every 3 games, and that's playing 90 minutes because he's none other than the great American hope, Brian McBride. What kind of scoring rate is that? Nowhere else would a player scoring once every 3 games be an automatic starter - not even Fulham FC. And as for his 24 goals for Fulham - that's a goal every 4 games! Even worse and nothing to shake a stick at. Even Eric Wynalda, who was hardly the most prolific goal-scoring international that ever played, and spent a third of his games on the wings, had more goals for the US national team. And he did a hell of a lot more than score with headers. Hell, if being the leading scorer for your national team is the measure, then I give you Bruce Murray (remember him?) who was the all-time leading scorer for the US for 10 years, with a gobsmacking goal-scoring rate of 16 goals in 91 games. Point well taken.

Let's be honest, McBride is a glorified squad player who through marketing, and a couple of goals in Korea/Japan 2002, has been annointed the greatest thing in US soccer since Hugo Perez. His limitations, combined with his inclusion in every game has meant that quality strikers are all merely vying to play along side him, and even so are really only playing with half a player and as such he becomes a drag on them too. So not only do you get nothing out of McBride, but you get very little from whoever is stuck playing along side him. Yes, we've heard all the platitudes about "the little things" and, "in the trenches", etc. That may help a team full of stars when there's nobody to do the work (a la Claude Makelele at Real Madrid, or Chelski), but that was certainly not the case with the US. And for the record, what exactly did the US get from all the "hard work" McBride put in - 3 games and 1 goal (on purpose).

In fact I can't recall a single shot this guy took in Germany - never mind a shot on goal. Rumor has it that he took a few in training, but those are as yet, unconfirmed. Whereas Eddie Johnson, on the other hand played 20 mintues against the Czech republic had 2 and (heaven forbid) ran at defenders! What a concept. Let's take a look at the coaches who used their strikers effectively: Germany used Neuville, Podolski and Klose for 9 goals in 7 games - not bad. Italy rotated Totti, Gilardino, Inzaghi, Iaquinta, Toni and Del Piero for 5 goals between them, and given their defense, was more than enough to win the entire tournament. France used Henry, Trezeguet, Saha, Govou and Wiltord for 3 goals (granted they all went to Henry) but their contributions got them to the final, and how many goals do you need from your strikers when you have Zidane, Ribery and Vieira bagging 6 between them?

Now look at the teams that stuck with one or two strikers no matter what: Brazil stuck with Ronaldo and Adriano for 4 games and got 3 goals out of them put together. England used Owen, Rooney and Crouch and look what that got them - 1 bloody goal in 5 bloody games. Bloody hell!

Here's the rub. Nobody is indispensible in any team, no matter how good they have been in the past (and McBride has never been THAT good) and those coaches who insist on sticking with certain players because they are assumed to be the best do themselves no favors. The US with McBride is a great example of that. They had players available and never used them because they just assumed that McBride had to be used, and look what it got them - no goals, no posession, no setup, no combinations, and no-second round qualification. Honestly, in retrospect, given his performance, could Brian Ching or Eddie Johnson possibly have been any worse?

McBride leaving the national team is the best thing that could have happened to it. Just like Shearer leaving England, it paves the way for others who actually score from time to time to have a shot. But thanks to Eriksson, that theory went right out the window in Germany - the genius from Sweden simply replaced Shearer with a half fit Michael Owen, to the extent that rather than bringing Jermaine Defoe, or Darren Bent along, in case they were needed (and of course that didn't happen, right?) he brings Theo Walcott who would have been better served taking his learner's permit exam this summer. One wonders if Eriksson's intent was to give the kid the experience (something his own club manager doesn't think he's ready for) or if he simply didn't want to pressure himself with the decision to replace Owen and/or Rooney if the need arose (which of course it never did, right?).

And how about Brazil relying on Fat Albert Ronaldo, who if he just got the hell out of the way they might discover they've got a few forwards in Brazil who can play. Unfortunately Carlos Alberto Parreira's faith in him cost Brazil a chance at the semi-final, and he has left in his (rather large wake) a graveyard of would have/could have forwards who score every week for their club teams, and no obvious successor to the gap-toothed phoenomenon from Rio de Janeiro. Lesson learned: no matter what his name is, if you have to make changes, make them, or you'll be watching the final on the telly, and coaching from the cheap seats.

Blind faith in players, like McBride, that don't do the basics because they've got a reputation gets you nothing. Which is exactly what we got from McBride this year - nothing.

Good riddance.