Chicago Fire: Brian McBride
Both players are retiring after memorable careers on the pitch. Brown has played for the Fire in all of their 13 seasons.
"Our guys played for the jersey and pride," Brown said. "It was a good effort all the way around."
On Saturday, McBride notched his 80th tally in MLS play, a back-heel shot in the 40th minute, as the Fire went on to score a season-high four goals. McBride was set up by Freddie Ljungberg, who had a goal and an assist for the Fire (9-12-9).
"Brian was a big player, a true professional," Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said. "All the players want to leave in the last match like Brian did tonight, scoring a great goal and helping the team win."
Ljungberg did the brunt of the work to set up McBride's tally, getting past a pair of Chivas defenders on the right side, then crossing the ball toward McBride. McBride made his run toward the near right post within the goal box against Chivas defender Carlos Borja. As McBride fended off Borja, he took Ljungberg's pass and back-heeled the ball with his right foot, finding the inside of the far left post for a 1-0 lead.
The Fire added to their lead in the 47th minute with a Ljungberg goal. Peter Lowry sent the ball up and found Marco Pappa on the left side. Pappa beat Chivas' Mariano Trujillo one-on-one and sent the ball toward the penalty-kick spot. His pass bypassed McBride and Ljungberg struck the ball to the right set of the net for a 2-0 lead.
In the 57th minute, Giancarlo Maldonado's header goal cut Chivas' deficit to 2-1. Sal Zizzo sent the ball in from the right side, where he had plenty of space, and Fire defender Deris Umanzor did not get there in time to pressure. Maldonado got behind Brown and received the cross, heading the ball to keep Chivas (8-18-4) in the match.
But Chicago maintained some distance the rest of the way. In the 68th minute, Logan Pause sent the ball forward as Calen Carr was ruled even with Chivas' back line as he made the run forward. Carr, who replaced McBride in the 51st minute, had a slightly strong touch on the dribble and Thornton decided to come out to challenge. But Carr maintained possession, faked like he was going to send to Pappa and instead dribbled around Thornton and shot the ball into the empty net for a 3-1 lead.
Second-half substitution Baggio Husidic capped off the scoring in second-half stoppage time with a header to take a 4-1 lead. Pappa had the attack and forced Thornton to make the save. But in typical Husidic fashion, the Libertyville native and former University of Illinois-Chicago standout was in the right place to head the ball into the empty net for his fifth goal of the season.
Analysis: The Fire's key players stepped up against Chivas -- Ljungberg was incredibly active from start to finish. McBride had a solid strike. Fire defender Wilman Conde's header clearances were crucial at times, though on some occasions early on Chivas was able to generate some long shots from these clearances because the Fire midfield couldn't progress the ball further.
Most of the focus was on the Fire's retiring duo. Chivas' Jonathan Bornstein also said farewell to MLS as he heads to Tigres UANL of the Mexican First Division.
Lost in the shuffle was the return of rookie Fire goaltender Sean Johnson, who had missed three previous matches because of an eye injury. Johnson made five saves on the night.
So the campaign ends much earlier than normal for the Fire. There is no postseason. There is no winning record. There are now a pair of veteran players who will not be back in the fold.
For a second straight year, a busy offseason awaits for Chicago. Clearly, missing the playoffs for only the second time in the organization's history is a huge disappointment.
The Fire went out the right way on Saturday, but plenty of important personnel -- and perhaps coaching -- decisions await.
The match is mostly for the sentimental as Brown caps off a 13-year MLS career and McBride a 17-year professional campaign that has spanned Arlington Heights and Europe. Other than that, the Fire (8-12-9) simply are trying to build for next season and close a disappointing campaign on a high note.
"For us, it's just trying to get the little things right," Brown said. "You've got to go into every game fighting for a position next year. You hope that's what everybody's doing. At least you want to go out in a little style. You're always as good as your last game. You figure if you can win the last game, then you can feel good about the offseason and go into next season with a little confidence hopefully."
Earlier this week, Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos had not determined which goalkeeper would be in the net. But with Sean Johnson training at 100 percent following an eye injury, it is likely that he will get the start over Andrew Dykstra, who filled in over the past three matches.
No matter who takes over in the net, the continual problem has been a Fire offense that has been shut out on 10 occasions this season. Chicago is coming off back-to-back goose eggs -- a 2-0 loss to the Kansas City Wizards on Oct. 12 and a scoreless draw against D.C. United last week.
De los Cobos has utilized rookie midfielder and 2010 first-round selection Corben Bone in the past two matches -- someone who has seen little playing time all season. So it would only make sense to continue to look at a few lesser-used players on the roster and see how they battle in a finale that has little meaning other than improving a sub-.500 record.
"It has been a frustrating year, so hopefully guys keep their heads up and keep pushing," Brown said. "If I were the coaches I would be trying to figure out who I'm going to keep. I'd definitely be using these games for that, so we'll see."
Chivas captain Jonathan Bornstein is capping off his MLS stint as he transitions to Tigres UANL of the Mexican First Division starting early next year.
Chivas will not be in the postseason, either, as the Goats have struggled mightily this year within the high-powered Western Conference. Chivas (8-17-4) is in last place in the West and has posted a 1-5-0 record over its past six matches, with opponents holding a 12-5 scoring advantage during that stretch.
It was appropriate in a way that the game had no bearing, because it marked the last time McBride will put on a jersey in a professional setting in Chicago. The sendoff did include a few technical glitches, but it did not get in the way of a memorable ceremony that included a video tribute, a few gifts, current and former teammates and family and friends who have watched McBride along the way.
"I was just humbled," McBride said. "That kind of pageantry I'm not used to. It was very nice for the Fire to do that, and my teammates, too."
"I thought the fans and the way the Fire saw Brian out was very good -- very respectful and well deserved," said Fire defender C.J. Brown, who watched the match from the bench. "You're going to miss a player like that in this locker room, in this club, in soccer in general. I'm glad that we at least got a result out of his day. He's going to be very missed."
In the 88th minute, McBride left the Toyota Park pitch for the final time as Calen Carr entered the match. McBride clapped to the crowd on each side of the park, and he shook hands and had a few hugs from Fire and D.C. players as he walked off the field.
It was a surreal gesture, and the moment had a trickle effect. Immediately after McBride came off the field, Carr had a good scoring chance that was denied, and the rebound to Freddie Ljungberg also was close. It would have been poetic to tally a winner immediately after McBride's sendoff, but both teams trudged throughout the match without a goal.
McBride was on the prowl for a goal, and he had several potential chances throughout the first half. The most disputed chance was in the 15th minute, when McBride appeared to be even with D.C.'s defensive back line as Bratislav Ristic provided the setup from the right side. McBride continued the attack, and placed the ball perfectly inside the far right post. But there was no goal. He was whistled offside.
"That happens," McBride said. "The last thing you're going to catch me with is commenting about refereeing."
"It's his last day -- even is [onside], or a little in front," Brown said.
The scoring chances continued after the play, though. In the 43rd, Patrick Nyarko provided a nice feed from the left, but McBride's attempt was blocked by the D.C. defense, and McBride slammed the ground in disgust. Then in first-half stoppage time, McBride headed Marco Pappa's free kick toward the left post, but United goalkeeper Troy Perkins dove to his right and maintained a scoreless half.
The Fire capped off their home slate with only four wins and are now 8-12-9 on the season. D.C. is 6-19-4.
Analysis: The match was difficult to watch as there was little flow from two struggling organizations. But one positive was Fire goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra, who had the clean sheet and four saves to his name.
In the 48th minute, Dykstra made a clutch reaction save against Stephen King. Danny Allsopp headed the ball toward the top of the box and King converged with some momentum on his strike. Dykstra deflected the ball into the air, and he then beat Santino Quaranta to the ball to preserve the clean sheet.
In the 86th minute, the Fire had a poor defensive sequence by allowing Carlos Varela to dribble the ball upfield. Quaranta wound up with a strong shot, but Dykstra kept the shutout intact with a key save.
Overall, it was a mediocre draw. But at this stage of an unsuccessful campaign, McBride's final home appearance trumped everything that happened on the pitch.
McBride said that a couple of times following the Fire's most recent 2-0 loss to the Kansas City Wizards.
From the public's standpoint, it is difficult to watch the Arlington Heights native's final year of professional soccer end without a postseason and a sub-.500 record. Nevertheless, McBride will not be able to escape the individual focus when the Fire properly recognize the U.S. soccer icon during Chicago's home finale against D.C. United on Saturday at Toyota Park.
The pre-game, halftime and post-game will be peppered with acknowledgment of McBride's soccer career. But in between, McBride is going to do what he has been doing for a 17-year professional career -- help his Fire squad win a match.
"This is about our team and trying to do things right so we're ending the season on the right note, rather than going in with our tail between our legs," McBride said after the loss to the Wizards. "On Saturday, we have to come out with a lot more energy from the very beginning, and be more focused."
The Fire will need to find some fluidity and cohesiveness that were sorely lacking during the Wizards match.
"The games where we come out fighting for each other and all 11 players are wanting to be out there and working for the team are the times where we do well," McBride said. "Some of those times during the season we didn't get our goal and that hurt us. But [the Wizards game] wasn't a day like that."
Midfielder and scoring leader Marco Pappa returns for the Fire following a stint with his Guatemalan national team. Pappa scored the game-winning goal during the Fire's 2-0 victory over D.C. on April 17 at RFK Stadium. McBride had the second tally off of an Andrew Dykstra assist.
The Fire (8-12-8, 32 points) are sitting on four home victories, looking to match last season's five-win total at Toyota Park. The only other team in MLS with fewer home victories this year is D.C. with three.
United sits at the bottom of the MLS table with a 6-19-3 record and 21 points. D.C. has netted only 19 goals in 28 matches, and the squad will be without long-time forward Jaime Moreno. He is serving a red card issued 8 minutes into United's previous 2-0 loss against the San Jose Earthquakes.
U.S. withdraws from 2018 Cup bid, focused on '22: On Friday, the USA Bid Committee announced that it withdrew its bid for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and is now squarely focused on 2022. "We have had an open and constructive dialogue with the USA Bid for some time now, after it became apparent that there was a growing movement to state the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Europe," FIFA secretary generate Jerome Valcke said.
Kansas City captain Davy Arnaud and forward Teal Bunbury provided the offense for the Wizards (10-12-6), who kept their faint postseason hopes alive. For the Fire (8-12-8), their performance was the polar opposite of their 2-0 victory over the Columbus Crew on Friday.
"We just didn't have the right attitude coming from the win against Columbus," Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said. "That should have motivated us to come into this game stronger. We just didn't come into this game with the right attitude."
In the 80th minute, Kansas City took a two-goal lead when Bunbury shot the ball almost straight at Dykstra. The hard strike went underneath Dykstra's left glove at the near right post.
The Fire offense was in shambles, especially during the first half. Chicago did not have a single shot on goal during the first 45 minutes.
"There wasn't really any fluidity throughout that part, and they broke free and scored their goal," Fire forward Brian McBride said of the first half. "It wasn't the performance we wanted."
The Fire's best scoring opportunity came shortly after the Wizards' second goal. After the kickoff, Freddie Ljungberg provided a cross from the right side and tried to find Brian McBride. But the ball deflected into Wizards goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen's gloves.
The post saved the Fire defense on a couple of occasions. In the 8th minute, Craig Rocastle had a deep shot that hit the right side of the frame near the corner and bounced away for a Fire goal kick. Then in the 58th minute, Bunbury took a deep strike and the ball deflected off Fire defensive midfielder Logan Pause and hit the left post. Dykstra was able to recover to take control of the ball.
Rookie midfielder Corben Bone made his first MLS start and fourth appearance of the season. But De los Cobos brought in Patrick Nyarko in the 38th minute to replace Bone.
"Corben showed very little in the time that he was on the field," De los Cobos said. "I understand that he's a young player. But when this opportunity is presented to the players, they need to understand that they need to have the right attitude to take advantage. And I just didn't see that attitude in Corben. I wish he could have played a full 90 minutes. But I just saw a very passive Corben Bone."
Among the Fire's rookie class, the first-round selection of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft has received the fewest opportunities to prove himself on the pitch.
"Take it for what it's worth," Bone said of the early substitution. "Got to keep my head up, keep doing what I've been doing and keep moving forward. It's the past now, so I can't really do anything about it."
Bone said he feels confident in the effort he has been putting in to prepare himself for matches.
"I think I've been working hard, and I think I've been training well," Bone said. "This was my first MLS start. I haven't played a game since SuperLiga, three or four months ago. So it's difficult. But I've just got to keep training well and hopefully the next time I get a start, hopefully I'll get more minutes."
Analysis: The Fire offense looked stagnant as Chicago took mediocre runs and did not look cohesive whatsoever on the pitch. Especially early on, the Fire did not create any type of constructive build-up in the offensive third, and they found themselves away from that portion of the field in many instances.
Kansas City, on the flip side, had some good room to work the ball and made regular crosses from both sides of the pitch.
De los Cobos' decision to take out Bone in the 38th minute probably would have been a proper move if this game had any significant meaning to it. But it didn't. The Fire are out of the playoff picture, and Bone has not even logged 90 minutes this year in MLS play.
The puzzling thing is, if the Fire are looking toward the future and trying new personnel, wouldn't you allow the youngster to work through a poor stretch like that? Why not, at minimum, have him finish out the first half? Saving the substitution might have been helpful, too, with center defensive back C.J. Brown hobbling throughout the final 20 minutes.
Bone was not the only Fire player who had a poor first half. You have to question De los Cobos' personnel decisions, because if he is looking to the future of this team, he has not given the Fire's top draft pick much of a chance to grind things out.
Midfielder Peter Lowry and forward Brian McBride netted goals as Chicago won for only the second time over a 12-game stretch. The Fire had the bulk of control on both ends of the pitch.
"Our concentration was good," McBride said. "We probably sat back a little bit too much at the end, but we bent and didn't break."
"It was very good -- because guys are moving off the ball. The ball's moving," Fire defender C.J. Brown said. "It's not just getting off their foot, dribble, dribble, dribble. When we dribble, dribble, dribble, we get in trouble."
For Lowry, who rarely has played since Chicago made its multiple midseason acquisitions, he netted the 600th goal in Fire history in the 30th minute for a 1-0 lead. McBride, the original No. 1 overall MLS Draft selection by Columbus, tallied his goal in the 53rd minute.
Lowry's goal originated when Fire defender Steven Kinney dished to Patrick Nyarko, who made a quick touch to lead Lowry on the right side. Lowry took a dribble to gain inside space on Crew defender Chad Marshall, and Lowry directed the ball past Columbus goalkeeper William Hesmer, just inside the left post.
Lowry's tally was the Fire's first home goal since Collins John's 88th-minute strike during a 1-1 draw against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sept. 4.
McBride gave the Fire (8-11-8) a 2-0 cushion when Nyarko made a clinical rolling pass from the right side. McBride simply had to put a foot on the ball for a textbook tally. The passing in the sequence was strong, too, with Kinney and Freddie Ljungberg putting touches on the ball before Nyarko set McBride up.
Nyarko has been dealing with an ankle problem and received an injection at halftime, but the team's assists leader gutted it out.
"Give the kid a lot of credit," Fire assistant coach Mike Matkovich said. "He stuck it out. He dug in deep, and that's a good mentality that the whole team needs. We need more guys like that."
The Crew (13-8-7) truly struggled in creating scoring chances, though they started to get their act together midway through the second half. The first legitimate opportunity came in the 66th minute when Frankie Hejduk took a deep, low strike as goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra made the kick save. Then in the 72nd, Dykstra dove to his right to halt a strike from Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
The Fire also dodged a couple of bullets when Schelotto missed a close chance in the 74th and Andres Mendoza hit the video monitor in the 76th.
In the 90th minute, Bratislav Ristic, playing at left defensive back, saved a sure Kevin Burns goal as Ristic cleared the ball in the goal box to preserve the clean sheet.
"The guy did great," Matkovich said of Ristic. "Maybe next game we'll put him in the goal, maybe the game after that put him at center back. The guy's done great. I can't say enough about him. The guy runs his tail off."
Dykstra made three saves as he filled in for rookie goalkeeper Sean Johnson (hyphema), whose status is still up in the air for Tuesday's match against the Kansas City Wizards.
"It's been a little while," Dykstra said of playing for the first time since SuperLiga earlier this summer. "Kind of feel a little rusty because you haven't seen that type of speed. You can't simulate something like that in practice. When you go against one of the more direct teams in the league that is very good at what they do, it made it a little tough on me. I feel like I wasn't perfect today."
The Fire defense did hold down the Crew's scoring chances, allowing only one shot through the first half.
"The defense was stellar tonight," Dykstra said. "All four of them, and if you include the midfield, they did a very good job keeping their positions, keeping everything in front of them."
Analysis: The Fire's concentration and improved play opened up the field on Friday, and they were able to maintain their slim mathematical chance at making the postseason.
It also has to be said that Chicago was facing a Crew team that has had a whopping six matches in 18 days, most recently coming off a Tuesday loss to Seattle Sounders FC in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup finale. The Crew hardly created an attack of substance in the first half, with a few crosses and corner kicks being the only outside threats.
Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos had to burn an early substitution in the 15th minute when Dasan Robinson injured his quad. Rookie Kwame Watson-Siriboe replaced him, and Watson-Siriboe had some low and high moments, but collectively the Fire defense held the Crew at bay.
Similar to the victory over the San Jose Earthquakes, this match falls in the too-little-too-late category looking at the grand scheme of things. But a home victory was a welcome sight for the Fire.
Former Chicago Fire and current U.S. head coach Bob Bradley's squad is coming off a 2-0 defeat to Brazil on Aug. 10 in New Jersey. The Americans are facing Poland for the first time since a 3-0 victory on March 26, 2008, at Wisla Stadium in Krakow.
Bradley has brought in 13 players who were part of the U.S.'s World Cup squad, including five who played in every minute of the Cup: goalkeeper Tim Howard, midfielder Michael Bradley, forward Clint Dempsey, and defenders Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo.
Also with the U.S. squad is Downers Grove native and Aston Villa defender Eric Lichaj, whose parents were born in Poland.
"Eric, for a young player, is physically strong, has good speed, good power, and I think that he continues to improve," Bradley said. "He's a young player that we have high hopes for."
Following up its disappointing showing against a young and lively Brazilian side in August, the U.S. needs to find its finishing touch and vastly improve its possession.
"The possession thing is interesting because I think that if you look at the last few years we all know there are games when we're able to dictate the terms a little bit more," Bradley said. "We now are able to have more of the ball, possess the ball, move the ball well, and we're more confident. And we've shown that. Yet there are other days when you play against an opponent and on that day they manage to win that part of the game.
"We've tried to be a team that understands on different days how we can win the game, but nonetheless continue to grow, continue to improve, to continue to improve technically and tactically."
Dempsey naturally will be a focal point on the attack. He has been vital both up front and in the midfield, and his dual roles with the national team and at Fulham are quite similar.
"He's an attacking player, comfortable of playing in the midfield, but also equally comfortable playing up front, playing underneath another striker," Bradley said. "The bottom line is Clint is an important player in terms of being a little bit different in his ability to maybe make a chance for himself or a teammate, where he can come up with a play that'll produce the unexpected and make it count for something big, for a goal."
As Bradley goes through the early phases of this four-year cycle in preparation for the 2014 World Cup, it is apparent that he is going to sort through any potential new talent with a fine-toothed comb.
"On one hand, there's a need to start the process with some younger players that we think potentially can help the team," Bradley said. "But at the same time, it's done with the sense that some veteran players continue to play really well. Carlos is a good example at St. Etienne this year. His team's off to a great start, he's played very well and he continues to be a very important part of our national team."
Recognizing McBride: Former U.S. and current Chicago Fire forward Brian McBride will be acknowledged on the field before the match. The Arlington Heights native, who tallied 30 goals for the U.S., announced that he is retiring following the Fire's 2010 campaign.
The defending MLS champs have created a remarkable home-field advantage in the higher altitude, and you need to go no further than RSL's stellar 9-0-3 record at Rio Tinto this year, and a seemingly endless home unbeaten streak that now stands at 22 matches.
With a win or a draw, RSL would establish the longest home unbeaten streak in MLS history.
On the other side of the coin, the Chicago Fire are in desperate need of a victory this Saturday when they face RSL on the road.
"They're a very good team," Fire forward Brian McBride said. "[RSL head coach] Jason [Kreis] has done an extremely good job with them and seems to have figured out what he needed to do for his team. He's done a great job, and he probably deserves a little more credit than he gets."
The Fire certainly are giving Kreis the credit after falling to the eventual champs last year in the Eastern Conference Finals at Toyota Park. RSL also posted a 1-0 victory over the Fire at Toyota Park on July 8, but Salt Lake's home invincibility outshines most of the team's other accomplishments.
"They have become one of the best teams in the league, and one of the most consistent teams," midfielder Logan Pause said. "Playing at home, they have created a home-field advantage, which is sometimes hard in this league. They're going to be a tough team. It is a big test."
The Fire (6-8-8, 26 points) are in the midst of a five-match winless streak and remain on the outside of the postseason picture with eight regular-season matches remaining. RSL, on the other hand, is in second place in the Western Conference with a 12-4-8 record and 44 points, vying with the Los Angeles Galaxy for the top spot in the West standings.
There are too many shortcomings within Chicago's recent play to specifically pinpoint the team's downfall of late. But one aspect of the team that Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos hopes to find some improved fluidity is in utilizing his two designated players, Nery Castillo and Freddie Ljungberg. In the second half of Chicago's 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union last week, De los Cobos went with Castillo pushed up and Ljungberg deeper in the midfield.
"I think we are trying to have a good connection between these two guys on the field," De los Cobos said. "We're trying to improve the situation and this connection. When I put Freddie deeper [into the midfield], he has more space and he has more time. He participated frequently with the ball and was very good for us. He was a very good distributor of the ball in the second half."
The Fire are catching RSL at one of its weakest moments health-wise, which probably is not saying much considering how dominant Salt Lake has been at Rio Tinto. But RSL is without midfielder Javier Morales, who was suspended for a match for his actions against Seattle Sounders FC's Osvaldo Alonso. Forward Fabian Espindola is a question mark with a hamstring strain. And defender Robbie Russell had concussion-like symptoms during RSL's CONCACAF Champions League match against Toronto FC on Wednesday, so his status is in doubt.
It is crunch time for the Fire, and every remaining match will be scrutinized as long as Chicago remains on the outside of the playoff line.
"When things aren't going well in terms of results, the magnifying glass becomes even that much more detail-oriented," Pause said. "When you're winning and things are going great, it's easy. Now's the time when true character comes out."
"I'm not someone that knows a whole lot about what a panic button is, but in terms of what our team is going through, it's a hard time," midfielder Logan Pause said. "It'll be a challenging next couple of weeks for sure."
Pending a massive breakdown from the Eastern Conference's top two teams -- the Columbus Crew and New York Red Bulls -- the Fire (6-8-8) most likely are shooting for one of the four wild card berths.
Chicago has a heavy workload starting with defending champion Real Salt Lake this Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium. At training this week, the word thrown around the most was "consistency," which the Fire have been lacking all season.
"It would be great to pinpoint all our problems, wouldn't it?" forward Brian McBride said. "We're definitely trying to figure things out and change a lot of things. We just need to be more consistent."
"I think that even if we haven't had a good season, many matches the team has good moments," Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said. "We need to have consistency. We have very good minutes with the ball, but sometimes we lose order."
If this team has an inkling of postseason ability, it needs to find a way to play a complete game. During the Fire's five-match winless streak (0-3-2), Chicago has lost or drawn in a variety of ways -- slow starts, poor finishes, bad touches with the ball in key situations, lack of offensive finishing and defensive marking lapses during set pieces to name just a few.
"The attention to detail becomes so important at this level," Pause said. "Sooner or later you're going to get burned off those mistakes. We're trying to minimize those. It's easy to talk about those mistakes that lead to goals. Sometimes it's difficult to talk about the mistakes that we get chances to score goals, but they don't result in scoring goals. So it's all over the field. It's from top to bottom, and we need to get things done here."
If there is a positive within this final eight-game stretch, the Fire do have a healthier roster compared to previous weeks. Only midfielder John Thorrington (hamstring) and defender Dasan Robinson (hamstring) are doubtful in this week's injury report, with outside defensive back Steven Kinney probable (quad contusion).
Regardless of the injury situation, De los Cobos continues to juggle his starting lineup, trying to find the right combination to string together some positive performances.
"I wish I could have 11 players all the time -- the same players playing each week in each match," De los Cobos said. "Sometimes the level of the performance is not good for some players, and I need to change [the starting lineup]."
If cohesiveness and fluidity are lacking, perhaps aggressiveness and sheer grit could do the trick to get over the hump.
"We've put ourselves in this position," McBride said. "It's something where we've got to get out of this by playing better. Even when we don't play well ... right now I think if we're not playing well and we win games, we'll take it. A lot of times that means determination and fight. But hopefully we'll start playing better."
The Chicago Fire target forward, U.S. legend and Arlington Heights native announced that he is retiring following the 2010 Major League Soccer season.
McBride without question has been a pioneer for soccer in this country, and with 17 professional years under his belt, the 38-year-old decided that this year would be the opportune moment to hang up his cleats.
"I feel very blessed to be able to announce my retirement in the city where I began playing this great sport," McBride said at a press conference. "Soccer has given me the chance to travel to so many amazing places and experience so many emotions. I know it has helped to form so much of who I am and how I would like to treat people. The interaction between your teammates at any level is a great experience. But to have these experiences for 17 years at a professional level was way more than I ever dreamt."
McBride thanked former coaches, teams and personnel from his storied career. And while McBride probably could grind through a few more seasons in MLS, his priority above anything else is the opportunity to spend more time with his family.
"You just envy a guy who has his priorities straight," Fire defensive midfielder Logan Pause said. "It's a lesson for all of us."
The Buffalo Grove High School grad and St. Louis University All-American paved the way for many soccer players in this country. McBride appeared in three World Cups (1998, 2002, 2006) and played for the English Premier League's Fulham from 2004-2008.
"There were people before me that were able to go over to Europe and do well and put their foot in the door," McBride said. "And going over there early on, even though people would say it was hard when I went, it was harder when they went. Those guys, just like with U.S. Soccer, there's been plenty of people that have been a part of the U.S. Men's National Team that really had to forge their way through, put some stones in the ground that allowed players like myself.
"And I think that's sort of the job you do," he said. "The players that are coming in now are going to be doing the same sort of thing for players after them. It's something you don't think about when you're playing."
McBride was the face of MLS at the very beginning as the first overall selection by the Columbus Crew in the inaugural MLS Draft on Feb. 6, 1996. McBride was playing for German side Wolfsburg at the time.
He tallied 62 goals in eight seasons with the Crew before heading to Fulham, where he netted 40 goals in 153 matches.
"Brian is, up to this point right now, one of the best strikers in U.S. Soccer history, for sure," Fire technical director Frank Klopas said. "I know he talked about players before that kind of paved the way, but I think he truly was one of the guys that had a great career in Europe. Forget about the respect he has here. The respect he has from fellow teammates, fellow coaches in the EPL, speaks volumes."
McBride returned to MLS in 2008 with the Fire, scoring five goals in 11 matches. In 2009, McBride led Chicago with seven goals in 22 games, though he suffered a shoulder injury and also a scoring slump for the better part of the season. McBride at one point was leading MLS with six goals in 2009.
For the better part of about five years, McBride signed one-year contracts as the thought of retirement did come up from time to time.
"Something I never wanted to have happen is to go into a preseason with not the same passion and desire that I've always gone into, and the preparation and the time that means," McBride said. "We talked about it more last year when I had my shoulder surgery, and it sort of came to the forefront earlier this season."
This season, McBride has four goals and two assists in 17 matches.
McBride was a fixture on the U.S. National Team, recording a cap in 12 different years and tallying 30 goals and 10 assists before announcing his international retirement in 2006. He was the first American to score in two World Cups, tallying a goal in 1998 and two goals in 2002.
McBride reiterated Friday that the job is not over just yet. He and the Fire (6-7-6) are preparing for a key match against the Los Angeles Galaxy (13-5-4) on Saturday at Toyota Park.
Obviously a run into the postseason and an MLS Cup would make for poetic drama as McBride's send-off. But McBride always has made it clear that the game is not the sole definition of his persona.
A fitting image of McBride would be netting a goal and kissing his wedding band, traveling back home after the final game and seeing his daughters run to greet him at the door as he turns the page to the next chapter in his life.
MLS has taken a back seat to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but the Chicago Fire have not gone away. They travel to the east coast to take on the New England Revolution on Sunday.
The Fire (3-3-5) had a little more than a two-week hiatus from league play, but they have been training and hope to make a heavier impact starting with Eastern Conference foe New England (3-7-2).
"We're starting out fresh," Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. "It's a new season for us and we need to be more consistent than we have been."
Chicago currently is in the middle of the pack in the East, so by no means should there be any immediate concern about making up for some disappointing early outcomes. But the Fire players are well aware that they need to improve when it comes to the momentary lapses they have had.
"Everybody understands the issues," Fire forward Brian McBride said. "What we need to do is play better and be consistent."
"It's up to the players," Nyarko said. "The coaches can say all they want. It's up to us to actually do it on the field, and it's just that discipline, that concentration. We need to hold ourselves responsible."
Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos continually is reinforcing this element because Chicago has dropped some key potential points. Particularly in the Fire's most recent match against the Colorado Rapids, a second-half stoppage-time lapse resulted in a 2-2 draw and only one point instead of a three-point home victory.
"Communication is very important," de los Cobos said. "All the time, I'm talking with the players. They need to learn that this is their profession. They need to take care of this situation. Communication gives you the opportunity to stay alert in games. I tell them the points that we miss or we lost, they're never returning. ... These next three points on the road this Sunday, we need to take them."
New England officially announced earlier in the week that Taylor Twellman is out for the season because of his ongoing battle to recover from a concussion sustained nearly two years ago. The Revs are used to playing without him, though. And New England, led by midfielder Shalrie Joseph, typically has a knack for making up for a slew of injuries.
"I think they're always a very organized team," McBride said. "[Revs head coach] Steve Nicol has them playing for each other every game. They're very hard workers. We need to make sure we out-work them and take our chances."
John's status uncertain: De los Cobos said Thursday following training that it was highly unlikely that forward Collins John will be available for Sunday's match. John is not on the MLS Injury Report, but he missed training Thursday and the Fire organization still is not divulging the exact reason for John's continual health setbacks. The offseason signing has one goal and one assist through nine league games, four as a starter.
"I'm remaining quiet right now because there are a lot of Americans in the locker room," Nyarko said. "I'm not talking that much. Come Saturday ... I don't know if we're going to watch it either because we're traveling. But I'll be cheering for Ghana."
McBride was on the wrong end of the last World Cup result against Ghana, but this year's rematch is much different. Both teams have advanced past the group stage, with the U.S. winning Group C and Ghana taking the runner-up position behind Germany in Group D.
"When you play in an elimination round, anything can happen," McBride said. "So you have that extra bit of excitement. I think there's a bit more tension, knowing that every possible mistake you could make could affect the outcome. It gets you more focused, and you get more excited because of the possibilities."
On Wednesday, Landon Donovan had a storybook ending during the U.S.'s 1-0 win over Algeria -- a second-half stoppage time tally that sent U.S. fans, area sports pubs, workplaces and households into a frenzy. The Americans went from nearly going home to winning their group in an instant classic finish.
"My wife and I were sitting on the couch, I raced home from [Fire] training of course and got there late," McBride said. "So I had to catch up through the tape. Finally at the 70th-minute mark I was fully caught up. We were just sitting on the edge of our seats. When [Donovan's shot] went in, I jumped up, ran around the couch yelling, my wife screaming."
Nyarko's satisfaction with Ghana was much more subdued. He believes his homeland has more room for improvement.
"I think we're better than that," Nyarko said. "We had a chance to win the group and had a chance of winning all three games, actually. In the Australia game, we just couldn't put it away, and we had a couple chances against Germany [on Wednesday] and just couldn't finish. Hopefully we start fresh. There is no room for error in the knockout round, and hopefully the boys can respond."
Nyarko predicts a 2-1 Ghana victory over the U.S.
One person Nyarko particularly is tracking is a buddy of his -- Kwadwo Asamoah. They played club ball together about five years ago before Nyarko headed to the U.S. to play for Virginia Tech.
"They've been using him on the left wing, but I think he's more dangerous behind the striker," Nyarko said of Asamoah. "I think he's a very good player. He can open up any defense. ... I'm just proud of him for the jump he's made the past couple of years. I hope he'll continue doing well. Hopefully I'll have a chance to play with him again.""
On the flip side of the ball, Nyarko has been impressed with Ghana's defense.
"I think our back line is our strength, all though qualifiers and up to this point," Nyarko said. "We can turn defense into offense any time we want. Hopefully we'll have our mentality right for Saturday. The Americans have the strongest mentality I've seen in this tournament. We've got to match that."
For as many missed chances as the U.S. has had through these three matches, the Americans' mental focus and team unity have been the resounding characteristics thus far as they hope to continue the growth of this sport in the U.S. at so many levels.
"It speaks volumes for them and how much work they've put in," McBride said. "I'm just like you guys. In fact, I'm probably further away from it. You guys are writing about it and have to see the ins and outs. The great thing about it now is I can be a fan. I'm not analyzing certain situations. We're not in team talks. The bad thing is the nerves are 100 times more because you can't do anything about it.
"It's the World Cup -- everything's magnified," McBride said. "When you do well, that magnification probably overextends what actually is the value of it. But when you don't do well, it goes the opposite [direction]. People start talking about how it hurts U.S. soccer, blah, blah, blah. ... As far as soccer growing and what [Wednesday's win] does for soccer in a general sense, I think it does immense things."
If the Fire's busy May schedule has taken its toll, Thursday showed some indications that there were some heavy legs on the Chicago side. The pace of the second half slowed down quite a bit Thursday.
"The first half was pretty lively. The second half, fatigue set in," Fire midfielder Justin Mapp said. "It's a lot of minutes for a lot of these guys. It's no excuse, but a little fatigue in the last 10 to 15 [minutes]."
Dallas (2-2-6) wasted no time taking advantage of some poor Fire defending in the 6th minute. Chicago's Wilman Conde attempted to take away the ball, one-on-one, against Dallas' David Ferreira. Ferreira won that battle, then made a strong cut inside to elude Fire defender C.J. Brown, struck the ball, and found the upper left corner of the netting for a 1-0 Dallas lead.
But in the 40th minute, the Fire (2-3-4) tied the score up at 1-1 with a McBride header. Mapp played a perfect ball that was away from Dallas defender George John and went right to McBride, who headed it over Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman. McBride went to Mapp right after the goal and said "excellent ball."
"I had the ball on the left and had some time, saw they weren't really close to him," Mapp said. "I just tried to put it in a dangerous area. Give him credit for getting on the end of that and finishing it."
The Fire had the brunt of the scoring chances in the first half. Dallas only put one shot on goal in the first 45, though on two occasions Dallas had a potential scoring opportunity but the squad was called offside on both counts.
The easiest scoring chance of the match for the Fire was in the 36th minute, though Chicago could not capitalize. Mapp had a cross from the left side that went through Dallas' defense and reached Fire midfielder Mike Banner on the far right post. Banner had beaten Dallas defender Jair Benitez and goalkeeper Kevin Hartman was away from the play. It was a perfect opportunity that needed to be a Fire goal, but Banner shot the ball over the net.
"That was a sitter," Banner said. "I missed it. It should have been a goal. I really don't know what happened."
Fatigue could have been part of the downfall in scoring chances for the Fire in the second half. But the strategy switched, too. Fire goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra played a lot more long balls from the back, and he felt slowing down the game was a good way to compensate for Dallas' speed.
"We kept losing the ball in transition, which was killing us," Dykstra said. "We had a little bit of the wind at our back, so sometimes you can slow the game down. ... They're a quick team. They like to transition. They like to keep the game pace high. So slowing it down -- whether it was fatigue or strategically -- it kind of helped us out."
Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos did not start midfielder Marco Pappa, but brought him in for Banner in the 68th minute.
"Marco hasn't had a good performance in the last few games," De los Cobos said. "A player has to play the full 95, 96 minutes. Scoring a goal doesn't mean that you had a good game. I know that Marco can give us the work I want."
Analysis: The Fire have one more chance to try and find a win this month with A.C. Milan coming to Toyota Park on Sunday. This has been a tough stretch for Chicago, and as usual there were some opportunities on the horizon.
De los Cobos' decision to take Mapp out in the 58th minute was a bit confusing because he was responsible for assisting McBride's goal and he would have had another assist if not for Banner's mishap. Mapp might not have had the smoothest of games, but his creation was there. Instead, Fire forward Collins John came into the match and had minimal impact.
John's only noteworthy effort was in the 75th minute, when he was on the receiving end of a good pass from Patrick Nyarko. John cut to the right side and tried to make a big turn to put the shot on goal. But the shot hit the right side netting.
Chicago heads into its seventh match of May this weekend. The Fire will need to find some energy to stay with the Italian club.
With their second straight victory on Saturday, the Chicago Fire jumped from 12th to eighth place in ESPNSoccernet.com's weekly power rankings.
Chicago (2-2-1) is coming off a dominant 2-0 win over the visiting Houston Dynamo (2-2-1, ninth in the power rankings). And for a second straight match, Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos went with a 4-5-1 formation on the pitch. As long as this set strengthens the team's midfield play, which was evident over the weekend, Chicago likely will maintain this approach.
Midfielders Baggio Husidic and Peter Lowry were the Fire's goal scorers, and having the extra midfielder in this setup was a huge benefit.
"It helps a lot. It takes a lot of pressure off the two center [midfielders] in there if we have another guy coming back to help us," Lowry said. "And it allows for freedom to make runs forward out of the midfield. It can be hard to pick up."
The one pitfall -- though their depth also could be seen as a huge asset -- is that Chicago has had to leave one of its former Fulham forwards on the bench in these past two matches. Against D.C. United, Brian McBride came off the bench late in the second half and had an assist and goal. Against Houston, Collins John entered in the second half for McBride, though neither player found the back of the net.
The chances were there, though. McBride regularly had scoring opportunities in the first 45 minutes against the Dynamo, and credit is due to some crisp cross passing and contributions from pretty much every position.
"The ball moved very well from side to side," McBride said of the Houston match. "I think we were able to catch them, especially in the first half, on some switches. And with Patrick's (Nyarko) and Justin's (Mapp) and (Marco) Pappa's ability to take advantage of one-on-one situations, it causes a lot of problems for the other team."
De los Cobos said after the game that he might go with a two-forward set somewhere in the future. As long as the team is getting winning results, don't expect that transition to happen so soon.