On Friday morning, Fulham FC completed their final training session before the Sierra Mist MLS All-Star Game at Columbus Crew Stadium. The practice was long, physical and intense, proof positive that the Cottagers are here with only one goal -- to win the game.
Fulham manager Chris Coleman said that his team's quest for match fitness and tough competition were motivating factors in the decision to visit Ohio for the showcase, but he also expects his side to compete at the highest level and come out on top.
"It's going to be a tough game for us tomorrow," said Coleman. "That's the reason why we picked these games. We wanted stern opposition and there's no doubt we're getting that. We want to win the game, it's as simple as that."
His squad will need to show better than they did on Wednesday night, though, if they are to accomplish that goal. The Columbus Crew defeated the English Premier League side 2-1 in a closed-door scrimmage, but that contest was more about preparation than results and Fulham never had their full first-team lineup on the field.
"It was more important that we got the 90 minutes," said Coleman. "We had three of four players that had only played 45 minutes previously to that, but we were a bit disappointed that we lost."
Coleman knows a good deal about U.S. soccer and has been further impressed with the level of play throughout MLS, as evidenced by his side's loss earlier in the week and strong showings by the Chicago Fire against AC Milan and D.C. United against Chelsea, winners of the English Premier League last season.
"There are some good players here, we know that," he said. "I watched the game last night between D.C. and Chelsea and D.C. looked like a good team. The standard of soccer in this country is very, very good. It's probably better than I expected. The game tomorrow will be a very tough test for us."
Captain McBride: Coleman said after Friday's workout that former MLS golden boy and Columbus Crew legend Brian McBride will not only start Saturday's match against the All-Stars in his former home stadium, but that he will wear the captain's armband as the team's on-field leader.
"I think it's fitting for him because he's a legend, obviously, in Columbus," said Coleman. "I went with him to meet the mayor yesterday and Brian is highly regarded in Columbus."
Coleman also remarked that soccer fans' appreciation of what McBride can do on the field as also made the jump across the Atlantic.
"It's the same at Fulham," he said. "You ask any Fulham fan -- they love Brian. He's a 100 percent total team player. He's not fully fit yet, but I think it's only fitting that he lead the team out tomorrow."
The U.S. striker is poised not only to start in preseason matches, but could find himself in the starting 11 when the English Premier League kicks off on Aug. 13 when Fulham will host Birmingham City.
"If Brian shows the form that he showed at the end of last season then he's going to be in the starting lineup against Birmingham City, but I told him that already," said Coleman. "The last dozen games (last season) he played a massive part."
Assuming McBride does, in fact, keep that starting spot, Coleman will need to find a partner for him and Saturday's match against the MLS All-Stars is the perfect opportunity to see if he develops the necessary chemistry with any of the club's other attacking options.
"You're looking for the big guy and the small guy," said Coleman. "We've just bought Heider Helguson, who's very similar to Brian. He holds the ball up well, he's very, very good in the air. Ideally, you want Heider and Collins (John) and 'Radi' (Tomasz Radzinski) or Brian and Collins John and Radzinski."
McBride, however, is not ready to ink himself into a starter's spot just yet.
"I'm definitely not guaranteed a place and that's part of soccer," he said. "I think right now (Coleman) is saying those nice things because there's a lot going on and he's a really good guy. But I know that it's going to come down to the way that I play. There's a lot of good players on this team. By no means am I counting on starting or anything like that."
What he can count on is walking out of the tunnel tomorrow at Crew Stadium as a both a local hero and the opposition.
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.