The response to Brian McBride's return to Major League Soccer this summer was befitting for a favorite son coming back home.
McBride's signing with the Chicago Fire was greeted with a general level of delight around the league and touted as an example of his desire to put something back into U.S. soccer in the twilight of his career.
However, strange as it seems, all the well-wishing and praise of McBride's generous character is in some ways selling him short.
That's because the 36-year-old's return to the U.S. is far from being a farewell tour or a chance to collect some back-slapping before slipping off into retirement. He wants to win.
"I came here because I want to win a championship," said McBride in a telephone interview with Yahoo! Sports. "First and foremost, that is what I am here for. If the other stuff comes with it, like putting something back into the game over here, then that is fantastic.
"But most importantly, I am still as hungry as ever. If I didn't still have that desire to be successful there is no way I would be here."
McBride has seen the league from its inception, having been the No. 1 draft pick of the Columbus Crew in 1996.
A popular figure in Columbus before departing for Fulham and the English Premier League in 2004, it was no great surprise when the Arlington Heights, Ill., native finally returned to familiar territory.
However, things weren't so familiar anymore. The face of MLS has been altered drastically in the years he has been away, and McBride admits he was surprised at the level of progress that has been made.
"It is pretty much unrecognizable now compared to how things were," he said. "MLS really seems to have found its spot now and there is some solid infrastructure in place. A lot of teams have their own specific stadiums which gives the fans a place to call home.
"Everything is better organized, the standard of play is better (and) it has all become more sophisticated. I always hoped to have the chance to come back, and to return to a situation that has grown and continues to do so is special."
McBride is a pillar of the North American soccer community due to the way he has conducted himself throughout his career.
On the field, his professionalism and work ethic sets a fine example to any emerging young player, and during his time in England he was a source of support for fellow professionals, especially Americans trying to make their way in a foreign country. Players like Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Jonathan Spector have all spoken of how much support and assistance McBride offered when they moved to England.
Now he is back home, McBride can keep a closer eye on how MLS and the U.S. national team is progressing and is keen to see both make great strides forward.
As one of three overage players on the U.S. Olympic team in China, he was able to get a first-hand glimpse into the future of the national side by playing alongside Michael Bradley, Sacha Kljestan, Jozy Altidore and Freddy Adu.
"We have got some talented kids and there are quite a few who can have a real impact on the senior team," McBride said. "We have already seen Bradley and Kljestan doing good things and the talent level is huge.
"Guys are making big moves to big teams and will get the chance to grasp other aspects of soccer. They will realize that you need to put the work in, even on the days when it's not going your way. The way you excel is to be completely together and working as one.
"It might happen in the future when a player comes out of the U.S. who can change games on their own. In the meantime, everyone needs to work towards a common goal."
For now, McBride will be working towards his own goal of winning the MLS Cup. One of his most enjoyable aspects of playing in Chicago has been the opportunity to link up with Mexican superstar Cuauhtemoc Blanco.
Blanco retired from international soccer this week, meaning there will be nothing to distract him from the Fire. The two veterans form arguably the most dangerous attacking threat in MLS.
"His ability is amazing, but it is all about how much he still wants it," McBride said of Blanco. "There have been just a few guys in the league like that – Carlos Valderrama was one – and he brings a lot to our team.
"It is important for the league that the international players who come in on big salaries have that kind of attitude. He leads by example."
- Major League Soccer