Chicago Fire 0-0 D.C. United

This is exactly how Brian McBride wanted to say goodbye.

Well, almost.

McBride, whose scoring touch and tenacity earned him fans on both sides of the Atlantic and helped open doors for other U.S. players in England, had a goal waved off in the second half Saturday. The Chicago Fire settled for a scoreless draw with D.C. United in his final home game.

”Happy. Friends have come up and said, ‘Do I congratulate you?’ For sure,” said McBride, who announced last month that he was retiring at the end of the season. ”I was able to make the choice, and I feel very blessed to be able to do that.”

He left the field to a standing ovation when he was substituted in the 89th minute, waving to fans and exchanging hugs with teammates and D.C. United captain Santino Quaranta. The Fire’s last game is next Saturday at Chivas USA.

With both teams eliminated from playoff contention, the attention Saturday centered on McBride, one of the best forwards the U.S. has ever produced. He ranks third on the U.S. national team’s scoring list, still shares the Columbus Crew record for goals and was so beloved at Fulham that the English Premier League team named a Craven Cottage bar after him.

Tribute videos from former teammates were shown on the scoreboard throughout the afternoon, and he was joined on the field after the game by wife Dina, their three daughters and other family members and friends. McBride walked around the field with his daughters — all wearing McBride’s No. 20 jersey — saying one last goodbye as fans chanted his name.

He and his family then stood at midfield and watched a highlight reel of his biggest goals from college, club and country. More tribute clips followed, including thank yous from Landon Donovan, Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber and former U.S. coach Bruce Arena.

”You get choked up a few times when you see guys thanking me,” McBride said. ”It’s not something you’re used to seeing.”

All the tribute lacked was one last goal.

In the 64th minute, McBride collected a pass from Freddie Ljungberg at the edge of the goalkeeper’s box and buried a right-footed shot into the far corner of the net. But play had already been whistled dead because McBride was offside.

”That happens,” he said, smiling. ”The last thing you’re going to catch me (doing) is complaining about refereeing.”

Even at 38, there’s no question McBride still has the skills to play — his five goals this season are second-best on the Fire. But he wants to spend more time with his family.

He leaves as one of the best players the U.S. has ever had, and one who helped show the rest of the world that Americans can play the beautiful game.

”You’ve been a massive inspiration for all of us,” Donovan said, ”we’re going to miss you.”

McBride had three goals in three World Cup appearances for the United States, and was the first American to score in more than one tournament (1998 and 2002). His 30 goals in a U.S. uniform trail only Donovan (45) and Eric Wynalda (34). McBride retired from international play after the 2006 World Cup, though he returned as one of the United States’ three older players at the 2008 Olympics.

But he’s known as much for his grit as his goals. The enduring image of the U.S. team at the 2006 World Cup is of a bloody McBride after he took an elbow to the face from Italy’s Danielle De Rossi. He has titanium plates in his face, souvenirs from hard tackles over the years.

McBride, an All-American at St. Louis, was the No. 1 pick in MLS’s first draft. He scored 62 goals and had 45 assists in eight years with the Crew, and his ability to create goals seemingly out of nothing caught the eye of English scouts. He was loaned out twice by MLS, first to Preston North End in 2000 and then to Everton two years later, scoring five goals in 17 games.

He left Columbus for good in January 2004, transferring to Fulham, and endeared himself to fans immediately by scoring in his first appearance for the Cottagers. He had 40 goals in 4 1/2 years at Fulham, and led the team in scoring in 2006-07. He was named captain in August 2007, a rare honor for an American, and his return from injury is credited with sparking a remarkable late-season rally that saved Fulham from relegation.

McBride missed most of the 2007-08 season with a ruptured quadriceps and dislocated kneecap. After ”Captain Courageous” returned, the Cottagers won four of their last five games to keep their spot in the Premier League. Though Fulham wasn’t able to lure him back for another season, it renamed a spectator bar ”McBride’s” as a tribute to his contributions.

”At the end,” McBride said, ”I was just kind of humbled.”