BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – The fourth official raised his electronic board in the 88th minute of Saturday’s scoreless draw between the Chicago Fire and D.C. United and a bright No. 20 flashed across its screen: Brian McBride’s number.
McBride, standing on the opposite side of the field, looked up before jogging to the sideline. The 19,056 in attendance at Toyota Park rose as one, cheering the striker one last time. Players on both sides turned and applauded. Hugs were exchanged.
The Fire striker then crossed over the painted touchline to end his Toyota Park career. In the coming days, his 16-year professional playing career will come to an end, too.
Chicago forward Calen Carr – who grew up watching the 38-year-old McBride star for the US national team – subbed in for his boyhood hero.
“It was really cool,” Carr told MLSsoccer.com. “It was tough to remember there was still a game to play. Playing with Brian day in and day out has been a really unbelievable experience. To come on for him and to see the fans recognize him and all he’s done for the sport, it was awesome.”
McBride, who grew up in nearby Arlington Heights, Ill., played two-and-a-half seasons for the Fire, tallying 18 goals and adding seven assists. His long MLS career began in 1996 with the Columbus Crew. In all, he registered 79 goals and 55 assists in MLS play, and earned 96 caps during a storied national-team career. He also enjoyed a successful stint in England, where he became a fan favorite at Fulham FC.
Chicago midfielder Peter Lowry was one of the last players to hug McBride before he exited.
“It was great,” Lowry said. “I just told him it was an honor to have played with him, and that I’ve learned a lot from him, and that I hope that he’ll be around and be somebody that can help some of us younger guys. He’s been such a great role model.”
Sick and unable to play, Fire original C.J. Brown watched the scene from Chicago’s bench.
“I thought the way the fans and the way the Fire saw Brian out was very good, very respectful,” Brown said. “It was well-deserved. We’re going to miss a player like that, both in this locker room and in soccer in general. I’m glad we at least got a result out of this day for McBride. He’s going to be very missed.”
Fire winger Patrick Nyarko got a little broken up when talking about McBride after the match.
“I’m really, really sad that he’s leaving,” Nyarko said. “He was a great teammate and a great professional and I learned a lot from him. It was very emotional for me today.”
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.