Midseason acquisitions have had big impacts on MLS races going back to D.C. United's Jaime Moreno in the inaugural 1996 season. In 2008, Brian McBride (Chicago), Darren Huckerby (San Jose), Nate Jaqua (Houston) and Jorge Rojas (New York) have boosted the chances of their respective teams as the MLS playoffs loom.
Fire gets its hometown hero
Within days of official notification that striker Brian McBride would be leaving Fulham FC, the English Premier League club posted a tribute to him on its Web site. Accompanying a compilation of diving headers, thumping volleys, joyous embraces, and standing ovations of was a Foo Fighters song, "There Goes My Hero."
That feeling is shared by fans of Columbus and the USA as well as the London club, and now his hometown team is getting its dose.
Twice named Fulham's Player of the Year, McBride left the Cottagers in June after scoring 32 goals for them in five and a half seasons. Each of the last three winters he and his wife, Dee, discussed a move back to the States, but each spring, Fulham had lured him back with another lucrative one-year contract that paid him more than $1 million per season.
"To be honest, we had a plan of two and a half years and getting back home," says McBride. "The way things turned out, it's been great, but we needed to make some decisions based on not necessarily monetary value."
Finally, last spring he informed MLS he wanted to play in Chicago - he was raised nearby in Arlington Heights, where his mother, Maddie, lives - and Fulham released him.
After nearly two months of wrangling, during which McBride played in the Olympics, the Fire traded forward Chad Barrett and its No. 1 pick in the 2009 SuperDraft to Toronto FC, which stood atop the allocation list and thus held his MLS rights.
He will make about $200,000 this year and the maximum salary ($335,000 in 2008) plus allocation money next season unless Chicago acquires a second Designated Player slot.
The prospect of Cuauthemoc Blanco serving up crosses for McBride while livewire Chris Rolfe buzzes around the goalmouth and rookie Patrick Nyarko contributes off the bench mitigates what the Fire gave up.
"I think Brian is a great teammate and a true professional," said Fire head coach Denis Hamlett. "He's come in here and shown our guys that he's capable of playing in big games and helping us do little things."
McBride believes his success in England and with the national team (30 goals in 96 appearances) stems in part from playing as a setup man as well as a goalscorer during his time in Columbus. Alongside Stern John (44 goals in 55 MLS games) and Jeff Cunningham (62 goals for Columbus), McBride learned how to play the final pass as well as polish it off. He logged 45 assists in his eight Columbus seasons.
"Probably then I started to try to figure out how I can best help the team," he says. "It was a good process for me, it helped me to understand more about the game and what I needed to do to help the team.
"It helps me not only score goals but get in spots to help my teammates, to get them into scoring positions or help us keep the ball. I'm not saying I know exactly where I'm supposed to be or know exactly what I'm supposed to do, but I'll try to."
(This article originally appeared in the October 2008 issue of Soccer America magazine.)