Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Brian McBride Interview


(Published in print in the United States – February 2000)

Striker Brian McBride found himself a player with a massive choice to make last September.
The 27-year-old Columbus Crew stalwart faced the decision most of the best American players encounter at some point: Stay Stateside and help the sport grow or travel abroad to prove yourself on the playing fields of Europe.
McBride, an Arlington Heights, Ill., native, chose the former, signing a contract with Major League Soccer that keeps him with the league through the 2002 campaign.
"I was weighing my options. It was a difficult choice," McBride told me during a telephone interview Friday from Columbus, Ohio. "There was a big European club really making a push for me, but I looked at the situation from all different angles."
Pressed further, McBride revealed the name of the club: German giants Bayer Leverkusen, who also count American Frankie Hejduk as part of the squad. Hejduk has seen the majority of his action during UEFA Champions League play; the club takes a different direction with its Bundesliga lineup.
In the end, McBride, who had previously played with and scored a pair of goals for German side Vfl Wolfsburg, wanted the most time possible on the field.
"In evaluating, I realized how my time spent starting in MLS had made me a better player," he said. "The league has also given me financial stability, and I knew that my best chance of keeping a spot with the national team was by playing here."
That familiar club vs. country battle is rearing its ugly head throughout Europe and South America more than usual, so much so that FIFA president Sepp Blatter is heavily pushing for a standardized soccer calendar.
McBride's commitment to the U.S. men's national team has rewarded him recently. Last summer, he scored vs. New Zealand to send the Americans well on their way to an eventual third-place finish in Confederations Cup. Then, the 6-foot, 175-pound forward picked the Miami-held Gold Cup quarterfinal match vs. Colombia (a 2-2, 2-1 PK loss for the U.S.) to shine.
McBride took a Cobi Jones aerial feed in the box and headed the ball into the upper right corner of the net to give the U.S. an early 1-0 lead. McBride later headed the ball to Chris Armas, who put the feed away for a second-half goal and a 2-1 U.S. lead.
The Crew striker nearly bagged his second goal 10 minutes later, when he stretched, right-footed, in vain for a through ball in front of the prone Colombian keeper.
The U.S. team faces a long, tough 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign, but McBride says the team is in good hands under new head man Bruce Arena, the ex-D.C. United and University of Virginia coach.
"There's a vast difference now," McBride said, referring to the shambles the team faced under disgraced coach Steve Sampson, whose skippering faltered at France '98, where the team finished 32nd, and last, in the field.
Somewhat ironically, McBride scored in a 3-0 romp over Austria in Vienna leading up to that World Cup. Sampson used the resounding victory to validate his controversial 3-6-1 system as well as his decision to drop team captain John Harkes, a Kearny, New Jersey, native, from the squad. But the thud was loud and hard in France.
McBride says that tired finish is well behind the team now.
"One of the most important things Bruce does is instill confidence in everything we do," McBride said. "He makes us want to go out and play for him. We're playing a style that takes the game to the other team and makes them play us, instead of reacting to what they're doing."
Only three teams from CONCACAF, now known as The Football Confederation, will travel to South Korea and Japan for the 2002 World Cup. The U.S. will battle, among others, Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and upstart Canada, today's surprise Gold Cup finalist vs. Colombia (2:30 p.m., Univision), for a spot to play on the global stage.
McBride is confident the Americans will qualify.
"We have a good team," he said. "I think what other countries are seeing now is the quality of depth we have. Our goal is to make the quarterfinals at the World Cup. We want to do well."
McBride knows well the grandeur associated with the event. His late header vs. Iran in a 2-1 loss at France put him in some heady company, as he joined Ernie Stewart and Eric Wynalda as the only Americans of their generation to have scored in a World Cup match.
Yet, at the time, McBride was indifferent to the tally and its significance.
"We were losing the game and I really didn't think about it at the time," McBride said. "It wasn't until I got back home and was able to enjoy it with friends that it became completely thrilling. Then, it became special, but at the time, we were worried about getting a positive result."
McBride enjoys the prestige of playing for the one MLS outfit that built a soccer-specific stadium. The significance isn't lost on him.
"It's tremendous," McBride said of the venue. "I watched a few matches from the stands last season (while recovering from a fractured cheekbone) and it makes all the difference for the fans, having a facility like this.
"I wish every team in MLS would do the same. It's really the future of the sport in this country."
McBride, who shattered scoring records while at Saint Louis University, has seen his exploits recognized by some non-soccer sources. The Baseball Writers of America cited McBride with the John C. Wray award for "accomplishments in sports outside of baseball," and he wiggled his way twice in 1996 into CNN's "Play of the Day" for spectacular goals.
McBride, whose favorite soccer player is Liberian and Chelsea striker George Weah, even finds time to keep up with his favorite hockey team, the Chicago Blackhawks.
"To say I'm a big fan would be an understatement," he said. "But we miss the days when (Jeremy) Roenick and (Ed) Belfour were here. There are some hard times for the club now."
Speaking of difficulties, McBride was forced to miss the opener of the Gold Cup vs. Haiti when he experienced an irregular heartbeat. A battery of medical tests found nothing to fret about.
"It's genetic," he said. "My mother and sister have experienced the same problems. It's not a big deal. I'm a fit person."
And McBride also deems as fit the five-year-old American league he has committed his near future to.
"We're having a great preseason," he said. "The quality of play has gone up, especially with the number of younger players that have come in. Considering the new (Saturday) TV schedule, it's exciting to be a part of it."