Seven months ago, Fulham forward Brian McBride got hurt against Middlesbrough while scoring his first goal of the season. It appeared to be his last.
McBride suffered a dislocated knee and a damaged thigh tendon, prompting many to wonder how the American, at 35, could perform after such a serious injury and if he could even recover physically.
After a grueling rehabilitation to get back on the field, McBride has answered such uncertainty with good showings since February. But the best indication so far that he is close to his best form came Sunday against Everton.
Thanks to McBride's 67th-minute winning header, Fulham and its U.S. contingent pulled off the upset of the weekend in a 1-0 victory at Craven Cottage. McBride's spirit and commitment epitomizes the new hunger that is visible in the West London club as it fights its way out of the Premier League's dreaded relegation zone.
The win, against an Everton side challenging for a Champions League place, has given the Cottagers hope that things can still turn around for them.
"It was a good game for us all round," McBride said. "The back four were so strong right from the beginning, and we need to continue that every game now.
"It's pleasing to get my first goal since the injury. Simon Davies laid a great ball across and I just happened to be in the right spot. But most importantly we got the win we needed today. We needed a great attitude from the beginning to play against a team like Everton because they're very organized.
"We've got to focus on the next game against Newcastle. That's the next important one. We believe we can stay up (in the Premiership) … so hopefully we do."
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson will rely heavily on McBride. The Cottagers found goals far too difficult to come by while depending on midfield player Jimmy Bullard. Against Everton, Hodgson left Clint Dempsey out of the starting lineup, deciding that Eddie Johnson is a better central striker to partner with McBride and that Leon Andreasen can operate better on the wing.
Still, fans of the sport in the U.S. can take pride in the fact that all five Americans – Johnson, McBride, veteran keeper Kasey Keller, defender Carlos Bocanegra and Dempsey, as a late substitute for McBride – all played a part in Sunday's crucial victory. And it appears a safe bet that the all-American Johnson-McBride combination up front will remain in place when Fulham heads to St James' Park next weekend for a game that could have a major say in which of the two combatants – if either – will remain in the Premiership.
"Brian McBride is an experienced player," Hodgson said. "He is a talismanic figure and captain of the club. He is also one of the crowd favorites, alongside Moritz Volz. They are the two the crowd would have in every time because of their big heart and effort."
McBride's first stints in England took him to Preston North End in 2001 and then Everton in 2003 where, during a brief loan spell at Goodison Park, he managed four goals in seven starts. He is still highly regarded at Everton.
"I don't like anybody scoring against me but if anybody I'm glad it's Brian," Toffees manager David Moyes said. "He is a great player, a great professional and deserves everything he gets."
So those who have written Brian McBride off and were expecting him to return to Major League Soccer for a swansong at the end of the season will now be forced to rethink. Likewise, anyone who believes Fulham is already preparing for life in the Championship should stay quiet … for now.
WINNER AND LOSER OF THE WEEKEND
Winner: Fernando Torres, Liverpool – His 20 league goals make him the first Liverpool striker since Robbie Fowler to hit that mark.
Loser: Bolton Wanderers – And not just because of the defeat at Wigan. Victory for Fulham leaves Gary Megson's team deep in trouble.
Shane Long's reaction after being substituted at Anfield had the Irish forward in trouble with his manager Steve Coppell. After listening to managers complain week after week over the level of refereeing, give the Reading boss credit for his response to his player's tantrum.
Long threw down his shirt at the Reading bench as he came off the field in the 63rd minute of the 2-1 defeat and was quickly put in his place by a finger-wagging Coppell.
"Long was frustrated with the officials. He was playing a centre-half six inches bigger, yet every time they challenged, the lineman's flag was on a spring, giving Liverpool a free kick," Coppell said. "Shane is young, but I told him I never want to see it again and it won't happen again."
CHANT OF THE DAY
"Can we play you every week?" – Derby County fans enjoy a near-upset against Manchester United.
• Carlos Bocanegra, Fulham defender – Came on as late substitute to help Fulham hold on against Everton. Rating: 6 out of 10.
• Bobby Convey, Reading midfielder – Not involved against Liverpool.
• Clint Dempsey, Fulham midfielder – No time to make an impact as a late sub. Rating: 5.
• Benny Feilhaber, Derby midfielder – Not involved against Manchester United.
• Brad Friedel, Blackburn goalkeeper – Had no chance with either goal and prevented Rovers falling to a worse defeat at West Ham. Rating: 7.
• Marcus Hahnemann, Reading goalkeeper – Made crucial saves. If it wasn't for him, Reading would have been overwhelmed at Anfield. Rating: 8.
• Tim Howard, Everton goalkeeper – Only had one save to make all afternoon and failed to do so. Rating: 5.
• Eddie Johnson, Fulham forward – Worked so hard but his technical ability is not up to Premier League standard yet. Rating: 6.
• Kasey Keller, Fulham goalkeeper – Another comfortable performance as he proved Roy Hodgson was right to pick him ahead of Antti Niemi. Rating: 7.
• Eddie Lewis, Derby defender – His cross should have been converted by Miller to give Derby a shock lead against Man United. Rating: 7.
• Brian McBride, Fulham forward – Captain Marvel. Front man led by example and took his goal brilliantly. Rating: 8.
• Jonathan Spector, West Ham defender – He was poor again against Blackburn, showing why he is struggling to establish himself as a permanent feature in the Premiership. Rating: 5.
Ian Edwards covers English football for the Wardle Agency.