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Inside Soccer

Hitting Home

After 12 months of foreign success, Brian McBride is thriving

In the past year U.S. forward Brian (Bake) McBride has gone as
global as the golden arches, winning fans and converts from South
Korea, where he had two goals in the World Cup, to England, where
the Columbus Crew mainstay scored four times in eight games while
on loan to Everton of the Premier League. But when Everton asked
to extend the loan from three months to 18, the recently married
McBride nixed the deal. "We didn't want to throw away seven years
in Columbus for one year over there," McBride says, "and then
come back to Columbus and say, 'Hey, I'm welcome, right?'"

Small wonder Crew supporters are saying you're welcome and thank
you at the same time. After 12 months of globe-trotting, McBride
is focused on the domestic life these days. His new MLS contract
pays him the league maximum ($275,000 annually) for the next
three years, with options for two more. He and his wife, Dina,
are expecting a baby next month. And his chances of winning an
MLS Cup are better than ever, judging by Columbus's Eastern
Conference-leading 3-1-2 record after Saturday's 2-0 win over the
Colorado Rapids.

At "a young 30," according to U.S. coach Bruce Arena, McBride is
at the height of his powers. "In the modern game there aren't
many players who are willing to stay up high for 90 minutes and
take the pounding he takes," Arena said before last Thursday's
scoreless draw against Mexico in Houston. "Brian gives us great
balance, and he's proved he can get chances in front of the goal
and finish them."

McBride is renowned for his heading ability, but against Mexico
he created the most dangerous threat with his feet, juking
defender Duilio Davino before firing just wide. "People overlook
Brian's skills because he does so much in the air and holds the
ball so well," says U.S. strike partner Landon Donovan. "But his
teammates see him all the time. We know better."

For years McBride has been a paradox, the rare player who's more
productive at the international level than in league play.
Limited by injuries, national team duty and confusion over his
role, McBride scored just 17 goals over his last four full MLS
seasons, as many as he did in 1996 alone. With the national team,
McBride explains, "I'm basically the guy to get in the box, while
in Columbus it's been more about me connecting the defense to the
offense." Arena says the Crew attack "may not be tailor-made to
Brian's qualities. Their other forwards [Edson Buddle and Jeff
Cunningham] like to play in the midfield, and a lot of times they
get in his way. The passing lanes aren't there, so he doesn't get
the ball in the same spots as he does for us."

That may finally be changing. On Saturday, McBride scored his
third goal of the young MLS season, a sharp left-footed drive
through traffic that tied him for the league lead and left him
only two shy of his 2002 total. In a post-World Cup year his gaze
is fixed firmly on Columbus, one of three MLS teams never to have
reached the league's championship game. "I've always been
thinking about the possibilities ahead," McBride says. "Now I'm
more focused on where we are." With a new wife, a growing family
and a first-place team, it's not a bad place to be.

COLOR PHOTO: JOSH MERWIN (TOP) Normally headstrong, McBride threatened Mexico with his feet.


The Cup Cometh Over?

If the U.S. hosts the Women's World Cup this fall, as is expected
following FIFA's decision to move it from China due to SARS, one
effect is clear: The Americans will have a much better chance of
winning. The U.S. has won both major women's tournaments held on
home soil--the '96 Olympics and the '99 Cup (left). Yet questions
remain. Will FIFA cover American organizers' losses, projected to
be as much as $10 million? (Probably.) Will sports fans divert
their gaze from baseball and football to watch? (Doubtful, unless
the U.S. makes the final.) And will the WUSA get a much-needed
jolt from the tournament? (Perhaps, though its fourth season
won't start until five months later.) Ultimately, it's a good
thing for American soccer that the tournament appears to be
returning to these shores. Just don't expect the spectacle of