Brian McBride has vivid memories of his first trip to El Salvador. It was 1993, the U.S. national soccer team was playing a friendly in San Salvador, and the then-20-year-old McBride was on his first international journey with the American squad.
"I remember warming up on the sideline with some of the other guys and all kinds of objects were flying at us," he recalled yesterday. "I learned pretty quickly what it's like to play in other countries."
Eleven and a half years later, McBride and the U.S. team are heading back to El Salvador, this time for a 2006 World Cup qualifying match tomorrow night at intimidating Estadio Cuscatlan. So much has transpired since McBride's first visit there: He has become the second all-time leading scorer in U.S. history with 25 goals and the team has become a regional power with growing expectations on the world scene.
No player has been more successful against El Salvador than McBride, who, after not playing in that away match against the Salvadorans in March 1993, has scored six goals in five encounters with them. He struck twice during a 4-2 qualifying victory in 1997, had a hat trick as part of a 4-0 triumph at the 2002 Gold Cup and added one goal during the 2003 Gold Cup.
Those numbers are part of the reason that McBride is a probable starter tomorrow in San Salvador.
"Any time you have a positive thing, you try to build on it, for sure," he said of his success against the Salvadorans. "But it's a new game, new opponents. Probably most of those guys for El Salvador are different than we've seen before. So I don't know if I can attribute it to anything. I just think we played well as a team on those days."
McBride made a late-game entrance the first time the United States and El Salvador met in this semifinal-round of qualifying, a 2-0 U.S. victory on Sept. 4 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. But the 6-foot-1, 170-pound forward started the past two matches for Fulham, his English Premier League club that is off to a 2-4-2 start, and seems a logical choice to play upfront against El Salvador's fragile back line. McBride and Josh Wolff of the Kansas City Wizards got the starting call in Wednesday's scrimmage against Georgetown University.
What has separated McBride from other U.S. forwards over the years has been his devastating efficiency on headers and dead ball situations. While players such as Wolff and Landon Donovan have brought blinding speed and deft foot skills to the American attack, McBride has handled the aerial assault and served as the bruising target man. The result has been many goals, but also three serious facial injuries.
"If anything, it has made me a little more carefree," he said. "I know now I'm going to get hit, I'm going to get elbowed quite a few times in the game, but it's not a fear because I know what to expect. It's no fun getting hit, but it's part of the game and part of playing that position."
McBride, who grew up near Chicago and played at Saint Louis University, joined Fulham in January after accumulating 62 goals and 45 assists in eight seasons with the Columbus Crew. He hasn't started as many English games as his American teammate, defender Carlos Bocanegra, who arrived at the London club around the same time, but he has become an integral part of Fulham's attack. His playing time is sure to remain steady with the recent three-game suspension of forward Andy Cole.
Following the U.S. qualifiers tomorrow and then Wednesday against Panama at RFK Stadium, McBride will immediately return to England for Fulham's home match against Liverpool.
"Games there are awesome to be a part of," he said. "To be in that atmosphere with all that history, it's an exciting day."
U.S. Notes: Goalkeeper Jonny Walker and midfielder Eddie Gaven returned to the MetroStars for tomorrow's game against Columbus and will rejoin the U.S. team Sunday. . . . Midfielder Pablo Mastroeni has a minor hip injury but will likely be available.