Home is where the heart is for McBride
RLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. -- Paris was practically at their doorstep when Brian McBride and his family lived in England. The rest of Europe, too.
Now there are cousins next door, with more just down the street. McBride's brother lives nearby, and wife Dina can make it to the home of pretty much anyone in her family within 10 minutes.
Major League Soccer may not have the glitz and the glamour -- not to mention the cash -- of England's Premier League. For one of the best players the United States has ever produced, however, it offers something far more valuable.
"We've been looking forward to it for so long, my wife and I, we've been able to just jump right in," said McBride, who signed with the Chicago Fire in July after spending the last 4½ years at Fulham in London.
"It just seems so normal and right. People ask, `Do you miss it? Do you think about your decision?' No. Not at all."
McBride was to face another big name who made the move from England -- via Spain -- to MLS on Thursday night, when the Fire played David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy.
That the McBrides would come back to this northwestern Chicago suburb was always the plan. Both Brian and Dina grew up here surrounded by family, and they wanted to give their kids the same experience. The couple have two daughters, 8-year-old Ashley and 5-year-old Ella, and are expecting their third next month.
When they would return, now that was another matter.
"I never quite believed we were for sure coming home," Dina McBride said. "The fans liked him so much and the [Fulham] chairman was unbelievable to him."
The McBrides originally planned to return to the United States after the 2006-07 season, but decided to spend one more year in England. And what a dramatic one it turned out to be.
McBride missed 5½ months of the season after rupturing his quadriceps and dislocating his kneecap while scoring in the third game. By the time he returned, the Cottagers were deep in relegation trouble.
With their captain back, Fulham staged a fantastic rally, winning four of its last five games to keep its spot in the Premier League.
Once again, the club asked McBride to put his departure on hold for another season.
"The way we finished, everything was on an extreme high. So of course I wanted to give Fulham a fair chance for us to talk to each other," he said. "It was a good conversation. They understood my point and I understood their points.
"Yeah, we could have stayed and made a lot more money, but it was time to get home."
McBride had first caught the eye of English scouts when he was still with the Columbus Crew. Tenacious, physical and supremely gifted in the air, he is able to create goals that most other players can only imagine. He still shares the Crew record for goals scored, and had 30 in 12 years with the U.S. men's team, including an American-record 10 in World Cup qualifying.
He is the only American to score in more than one World Cup, with goals in 1998 and 2002.
MLS loaned him out twice, first to Preston North End in 2000 and then to Everton two years later. He didn't disappoint, scoring five goals in 17 games. In January 2004, McBride was transferred to Fulham.
He quickly became a fan favorite, scoring a goal in his very first appearance, and his success on the field and character off of it helped open the door for other Americans in England. In his last season, he was made Fulham's captain, a rare honor for an American.
"I loved my time at Columbus, but I wanted the challenge and I knew I was prepared," he said.
Even with London calling, Arlington Heights was always the McBrides home base. They found a beautiful home with a big deck and a sprawling back yard on a quiet street that's close to all of their family and friends, and came back in the offseason.
But you don't live 4½ years somewhere without it making an imprint on your lives, too. Ashley was just 3 when the McBrides moved to London, Ella only a few months.
"They made friends there, did all their firsts there," Dina McBride said of their daughters.
As did the McBrides. The couple is delightfully down to earth -- family pictures fill their living room and a school calendar is prominently on display in the kitchen -- and aren't the sort to create fodder for the British tabloids.
They got involved in their daughters' school, and made friends with the other parents. They got to know London, spending time in the city when they could and enjoying restaurants there. When McBride had time off, the family often took trips to see other parts of Europe.
"They were in more places the first years of their life than I had ever been," Dina McBride said, laughing.
Said her husband, "During the third and fourth year, we were very comfortable with our routine. The last year, we were looking around (the girls' school) and we're like, `Wait a second, we're one of the longest-serving people here.'
"There was a part where it felt like home, but in our minds, we all knew it wasn't home."
Leaving England didn't mean leaving soccer, though.
The first pick of MLS' very first draft, he had always said he hoped to end his career with the league. At 36, he is still one of the best at what he does -- he had two goals and an assist in his first six games with the Fire -- and wants another shot at the MLS title he never got with Columbus.
Though Toronto FC had the initial rights to sign him, the McBrides really wanted to be in Chicago. Finally, in late July, a deal was worked out that brought him to the Fire.
"It was such a good feeling to know we would be here," Dina McBride said. "Finally, I could start to enjoy it."
They started unpacking their boxes -- ones from London AND Columbus. They signed their daughters up for school and activities; Ashley is in dance and cheerleading, while Ella takes dance, too, and just started playing soccer.
Most of all, they're enjoying being close to those closest to them. When the Fire hosted Dallas last weekend, more than 50 people joined Dina and the girls at the game.
"It sounds cheesy, but we're really happy," McBride said. "We're now at a place where we want to be, and we feel very blessed and fortunate for that."