Today, I spoke with soccer legend and 2014 Hall of Fame nominee Brian McBride about the changing roster for the U.S. Men's National Team World Cup squad and the incredible progress in the American game since his debut for Columbus Crew as the No. 1 draft pick in Major League Soccer's inaugural 1996 season.
In his long and storied playing career, McBride scored 30 goals in 90 appearances for the U.S. National Team, scored goals in two of the three different World Cups in which he played (1998, 2002, 2006), led EPL Fulham in goalscoring in his tenure, captained the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team and retired in 2010 with the Chicago Fire.
Now, McBride works as a FOX Soccer and FOX Sports analyst, runs McBride's Attacking Soccer Academy and Saturday will appear at the sold-out USA-Korea Republic friendly at the StubHub Center in the Allstate Fan Zone. Tonight, he's leading a surprise Allstate Good Hands soccer clinic for some lucky youth players.
"I get a chance to not only shake hands and meet everybody, but sign autographs, take pictures and answer questions at the tent itself," said McBride. "I’m also really excited about tonight because we’re going to surprise some local youth kids at a clinic and I’ll get a chance to do some coaching with them and talk and Good Hands FC will also provide them with some soccer equipment. It’s a really fun day for me and at the end, you get a chance to see the U.S. Men’s National team play."
LE: Which players are you expecting to impress at the USA-Korea Republic game on Saturday?
McBride: You have so many faces trying to impress, it should be pretty interesting to see who really wants to step forward. Of course, Landon Donovan, I expect him to do extremely well. One of the players I want to see is Mike Magee, he's someone I’m really anxious to see in the set-up because he’s an extremely smart soccer player. He’s got an understanding of when to get the ball off his feet and what position he needs to be in and really helps your team. A player like that can always have a big influence and be a big help on a World Cup team.
LE: Mike Magee was my next question because he made a remarkable impact on MLS in the past few seasons. What does Magee have to do to translate that impact to the National Team?
McBride: He has to continue doing exactly what he has been doing for both the Galaxy and the Fire. He’s certainly a player that's a very good passer of the ball and his soccer brain allows him to get into space and free himself up and free his teammates up. When you’re at the international level, you need players who have that understanding because sometimes it’s not going to be about him, it’ll be about his run for someone else. That’s certainly the case in MLS and this past year, he was scoring goals for fun. He has a lot of positive attributes a team can use and if that means Jurgen Klinsmann needing someone to come off the bench and do the right things and possibly get a goal, but more importantly, not make mistakes in pressure situations, I think he can put his foot forward into this team.
LE: What are your recollections of your first call-ups to the U.S. National Team?
McBride: My first call-up to the National Team was back in ’94 and it was more of a courtesy call-up because back then, the whole team was based out of La Joya, so most of the guys weren’t playing overseas. There were a few, but for the most part the other guys were at camp and doing two-a-days for nine, ten months straight. So this one time, coach decides to give them time off and I get called in. My first recollection was the flight into Honduras and it was the first time I felt that yup, we were going down. We played El Salvador first and I didn’t play. With Honduras, I came in when we were down 3-0 and we lost 5-0. My first true call-up wasn’t till ’96 when we played Scotland and that’s when I felt that I was there with the possibility of being a part of this team. Those memories are very hard because there are people who are a part of that team and part of the ’94 World Cup and you looked up to them.
LE: Now, the U.S. is facing the Group of Death in World Cup Brazil and I’m not optimistic about this. Who were the most ominous opponents you faced in major competition that resulted in a positive outcome for the USA?
McBride: The thing that pops into my head first as the most important and ominous game was 2002 in Portugal and ’98 when we were playing Germany in the first game in France – that was definitely looming large. At the time, Portugal was fourth in the world. The first time the National Team got into camp, Bruce [Arena] got everyone in for a meeting and the first words out of his mouth were, ‘We’re going to beat Portugal.’ It’s something that always stuck, just stuck in our heads. That ominous side of it sort of dissipated and we really started believing and that belief showed true. We won that game 3-2. We went up 3-0 and they scored two goals in the second half and we were hoping for the full time whistle.
LE: I was surprised U.S. Soccer scheduled a friendly with Ukraine on March 5, considering the violent protests in that country right now. Are they considering rescheduling that match?
McBride: That’s a good question, I don’t know. The one thing I do know about security and U.S. Soccer is they take everything very seriously. It doesn’t matter if there are protests or any unsettledness wherever they go, they’ll be very diligent in finding out of it’s the right thing to continue with. There will always be security on the ground to take care of the team itself.
LE: You’ve been nominated to the Hall of Fame this year, which is a huge honor, but there isn’t actually a Hall of Fame destination right now. What is U.S. Soccer’s current progress in establishing a physical Hall of Fame that people can visit?
McBride: I wish I had the answer, I really do. Having somewhere for the fans to go and see what the past of U.S. Soccer has been and the tradition that’s been built by its players, I’d love to have that.
LE: You scored more headers than any other American player, but given all those headers, have you experienced residue from concussions?
McBride: I haven’t, I’ve been very fortunate. I don’t know if it’s because I have calluses or calcium deposits on my brain – that’s a joke, though it’s nothing to really joke about. I’ve had tens of head injuries and cuts and stitches, but to my knowledge I’ve only had one concussion and it was a minor concussion, so I’ve been very fortunate in that realm.
LE: You were the No. 1 pick in the inaugural MLS draft in 1996. How has the draft changed since then?
McBride: It’s changed drastically, it’s immense. They’ve done a great job of putting it with the U.S. Soccer Convention to promote the draft and the importance of it.
When I went, I got a phone call the day before that I needed to fly out and be in New York for the draft because I was going to be the first draft pick. I was the only one there. Now you see how far they’ve come because you have tens of players, their families, fans, all the teams are there picking and it’s very professional and exciting to watch.
LE: You were the only one there?
McBride: I was the only player. They only flew out the first round draft pick. There were ten teams I think, but at that time the team needed to make up the whole roster. This year, there were two or three rounds and then two more a couple days later, but back then they had 12-15 rounds.
LE: Now, what’s the best way for players to transition to the pro leagues - college or straight from an MLS academy?
McBride: That’s more of an individual question. To say one way is better than the other, I don’t think that fits. The individual has to be mentally strong enough, physically they have to adapt to the physicality and the pace and they need to be smart enough. If you’re not all three of those things as a young player, you’re going to struggle to find playing time. When you come out of college you’ve been in a setting where you’re away from your family, you don’t have the support system, so you’ve got to have that independence and make sure you use your time correctly. When you go right from high school to play, you haven’t had that, and not only are you going into a professional environment that’s - not cutthroat, but very difficult. You’re also trying to live on your own. The ones that are Homegrown, it’s a little bit easier, but still it’s a big jump, so individually you have to make sure it’s what you’re prepared for and what you want.
LE: Are you familiar with FIFA’s development transfer fees and what do you think of applying them in the United States? How would those fees affect the quality of development and the economics of soccer in the U.S. and what must be adjusted to implement those fees?
McBride: First off, it would only work if the professional teams had youth systems. The reason they’re in place in Europe is because these big clubs would go to these smaller clubs and if a kid was 16 or 17, they’d say we’ll offer you this to come play with us. Now that smaller club that spent all that money providing education for the child or player and made them who they are, they’re getting nothing. It’s taking something without the club getting something back. So these smaller clubs are losing their investment without any financial gain. That’s why it was put in place and I think it was correctly put in place, so smaller clubs can grow and they can see value in putting money into their youth system because even if this player does move, they will get something from it.
Now, for the U.S., it’s not set up that way. But now, we have academies, so these 16, 17 year-old players come out of the academy. I think there has to be something worked out with the unions and with the government because we’re talking about money for someone who’s underage. Certainly there would be pitfalls ahead, but yes, as U.S. Soccer and MLS clubs get into having greater presence in youth clubs and teams and those players start being brought over to European clubs, sure, there would need to be some sort of payment.
LE: How do you enjoy being a broadcast game analyst and what are the biggest challenges?
McBride: I enjoy it because it keeps me involved and interested to the point where I have to be analytical. It keeps my soccer brain moving and sharp. The challenges for me are making sure I get my points out, that they’re succinct and poignant without going on a different tangent and done in a certain amount of time. That part is a challenge because we can have a conversation on the phone or a dinner table and the conversation goes so many different areas and talks about so many good things, but you can’t do that on TV. You’ve got to make your point and get out, but I enjoy it.