Place 10 American soccer fans in a room together and within minutes you’ll get about a thousand different opinions on the sport, MLS, how to grow the game in America and what’s expected from the National Team, among all other topics. One consensus almost all U.S.-based fans can agree on: Brian McBride was awesome.
The Illinois native retired professionally in 2010 and stopped playing for the National Team in 2006. He remains an all-time fan favorite, thanks in no small part to goals at the 2002 World Cup against Portugal and Mexico, both proving to be the decider in their respective games.
McBride clinched legend status after receiving an elbow from Italy’s Danielle De Rossi during the 2006 World Cup, which left him bloodied and bruised. McBride remained in the game to help the Americans notch a 1-1 draw against the eventual tournament champions.
Now 41, McBride works part time for Fox Sport 1 as an analyst on Champions League and Europa League games, as well as chipping in on Fox Soccer Daily. McBride’s resume includes being the first-ever draft pick in MLS history as well as 30 international goals. From 2004-08 he played a key part in keeping Fulham in the Premier League, scoring 33 goals at the club — twice earning its Player of the Year honors. They liked him over there so much a bar inside the club’s Craven Cottage is named “McBrides.”
The Big Lead caught up with him last week and chatted on a variety of U.S. Soccer topics.
TBL: You played at Fulham like Clint Dempsey and then came back to play MLS like he did. Do you think it was a good move for him?
Brian McBride: It’s great. The nice thing that Clint has as far you look at the growth of the player, he has a great understanding how to improve yourself … not to taking a day off … doing the right things on and off the field. What’s helped, on the outside looking in, that MLS is willing to make a commitment to the Americans, that we want to bring back our top players. That Clint is bringing so much knowledge at an age where he can have influence, compared to an older player like myself is important.
TBL: You played a long time at Fulham. The way the EPL is set up, there’s almost like a ceiling for how high up the table a team like Fulham can finish in any given year. As a player how did you approach it when you knew, likely no matter what you did, you weren’t going to win the league?
BMB: If you’re just talking about the Premier League itself, it’s tough. But the nice thing is you have two Cups. Those are one-offs, if you’re on top of your game you have every chance of winning. It’s a long road and you have to be at your best at that run but it’s still a chance for silverware. The pride of where you finish and if you can finish higher than you’re supposed to, drives you. You’re well aware of it as a player. With the fans you know what’s going on and how important it is to get as high as possible. You have to have the motivation inside you.
TBL: You spent a couple years at Everton (home to U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard), which has developed a fairly sizable fan base in America. What stood out for you during your time there?
BMB: What stands out was the immediate, not acceptance per say, but the want and desire to have everybody succeed. That transfers on to new players coming in. The fans want to see you working for the team. Those were the things, as a player, you can feel right away. You don’t have to go down and score three goals in the first game or create great opportunities. They respect the other side of the game. Even though I scored some goals, having the fans understand the little things that happen in a game and clap for it, it keeps you mentally driven to do those things. I saw that at Everton first and at Fulham it continued on. That passion and able to get some roots there, made that connection so much better.
TBL: At Everton (and Preston North End) you played for David Moyes. Did you get the sense he would be able to manage a club like Manchester United one day?
BMB: I definitively did. I knew Sir Alex (Ferguson) wanted him be his assistant. He turned it down at Preston. I know a lot people don’t see how he coaches. He has every part. He understands it technically. He can communicate to players individually or as a group. He works his tail off. He tries to cover every bit of information that he can. I could definitely see him doing great things.
TBL: The U.S. National Team plays a couple qualifiers coming up. They’ve qualified for the World Cup. Are you as high on the work Jurgen Klinsmann and the team as everybody else seems to be?
BMB: I don’t know how you can’t be positive. The results, in my opinion, of what would be the hardest (CONCACAF Hexagonal) ever, have been exceptional. (Klinsmann’s) dealt with adversity well. He’s got the group believing. There’s a closeness with the players. A belief in each other.
If there’s a conceit you have to shore up in the back. It’s not that the players aren’t good enough, we have to figure out the communication. Some players may have to drop deeper. Overall, have to be pretty bullish.
This is world soccer. It’s changed. It’s no longer the world powers are the only teams you can look to. There’s quality around the world.
TBL: You were a big part of the 2002 World Cup team. Did you ever think you’d go as far as you did, making the quarterfinals and pushing Germany to the brink?
BMB: (Then U.S. coach) Bruce Arena expected it. The second he walked into our January camp he said, ‘We’re going to beat Portugal.’ We’d go away, first thing he’d say we’re going to beat Portugal. He got us believing. It wasn’t the free-flowing one-two touch, but it was figuring out when to go long. The work we put in defensively allows you to get to those heights.
TBL: A game like that, you’re up 3-0 in the blink of an eye. I remember watching the game at like 2:30 in the morning and couldn’t believe what I was watching. Is it all a blur? Does time slow down when it’s happening?
BMB: It felt like a game where everybody was on top of everything. If the game had gone 10 minutes longer we might not have won it. (The final score ended 3-2.) I felt my preparation physically was so good. Our strength and fitness coach got us right and ready for the game. I can remember plenty. The second half was more of a blur. It’s not something you can forget. The Portugal game stands out. It set the tone for us. We knew we had to come out like that every game.
TBL: And people forget you guys lost the last group game to Poland and almost didn’t make the knockout rounds until South Korea scored late to beat Portugal.
BMB: If you want to be serious, the integrity South Korea showed to go on and beat Portugal when we’re down 3-0 to Poland is incredible.
TBL: By the same token, everything that seemed to go right in 2002 went the other way in 2006 in Germany.
BMB: Yeah, fast forward to 2006 we don’t’ come out and play against the Czechs (the U.S. lost 3-0) and we’re up against the wall. We played better than Ghana, we just couldn’t score. What can you do? That’s the World Cup.
TBL: What does the future hold. Are you interested in getting into coaching?
BMB: I’ve got my B License.
TBL: Soccer in America is much different than when you were coming up. What’s been the biggest difference?
BMB: We’re starting to get the athletes to stick with soccer. When I was young, the best athletes would rarely pick soccer. They’d pick football or basketball because there was a future. Now there is. You can set your goals.
It’s up to the people who played to make sure the talent is nurtured and taught and not given. If you’re given it, you tend not to fight through.