Saturday was deeply disappointing but, almost as soon as the final whistle went at Hull, there was an opportunity to look forward to a bit of nostalgia. Two former Fulham forwards were linking up Stateside on the opening weekend of the new MLS season.
I’m frequently asked – as a regular watcher of both sets of domestic football – how the top flight of American ‘soccer’ and the English game compare. The only answer I can conclusively give is that they don’t. There are two big differences that make an attempt at drawing parallels utterly futile. First, the pace of the game is much quicker in England. That’s the same as in a lot of leagues. Second, the standard of defending isn’t exactly high in the MLS.
Since he left Fulham after that glorious day in the sunshine at Fratton Park, Brian McBride has been plying his trade at his hometown club, Chicago Fire. Given that Chicago didn’t have a MLS ‘franchise’ when McBride was included in the first draft, this is a rather fitting way to wind down his career. True to form, the former Fulham skipper has had to fight his way back of a couple of serious injuries, but there he was again, leading the line with distinction on Saturday.
Managers must love McBride. You know exactly what you’re going to get from him week after after week. Tireless running, determination, a combination of aerial presence and an underrated touch that will ensure defenders know they’ve been in a game and plenty of guts. The ultimate professional, McBride’s a lot better in front of goal that many people give him credit for. Witness the way he struck the post with an astounding bicycle kick from the edge of the box when a defensive clearance deflected towards him. How many other 37 year-old’s are that agile?
Collins John is, in many ways, the opposite of McBride. Speaking to a friend of mine over the weekend, we reached the conclusion that the Liberian-born, one-time Dutch international was immensely talented. He had pace and an eye for a goal as well as extraordinary belief in his own ability (that last attribute might have been his undoing). The trouble was his attitude. John had a flying start to his Fulham career, cracking in a few goals after joining as something of a teenage protege from FC Twente in January 2004. The following season, whilst still largely used as a substitute, John scored 13 goals and finished as the club’s top scorer.
That’s where the problems started. He obviously felt he had made it when he still had to cement a first-team place. While Chris Coleman has been blamed for the abject manner in which many promising players regressed on his watch, plenty of other managers struggled to get anything approaching the best out of CJ. He staggered lazily the pitch, seemingly always interrupted by an offside flag, and his attitude apparently put paid to his Fulham career.
It was such a shame given how good John’s start had been but, considering that he didn’t impress Charlton on trial and infuriated the coaching staff at NEC Nijmegen whilst on loan at the Dutch side, you couldn’t argue with the decision. If there was ever a model professional from whom John could learn, it would be McBride – next to whom he enjoyed his best moments at Fulham. He made a fleetingly debut as a substitute against the Red Bulls but was often the target of hopeful punts downfield as the Fire attempted unsuccesfully to avoid a narrow defeat.
Following the progress of these contrasting forwards over the course of the American season will be intriguing but, if the Fire fans become frustrated by John’s ability to acquaint himself with a linesman’s flag, don’t say I didn’t warn you.