Brown: 350

Milestone looming, CJ looks back on long career

C.J. Brown has played in a lot of games over the years: 276
regular season matches, 35 in postseason, 24 in the U.S. Open Cup, 10 in
CONCACAF Champions Cup play and four in last year’s SuperLiga.

Math wiz’s and
soccer nerds of the world unite!

What’s the total? Games played: 349.

Two weeks off from marking his 275th regular
season match for the Fire, Brown will hit another career milestone Saturday
afternoon if he takes to the field in Toronto. The last remaining Fire Original
will see his all competitions odometer roll over to 350 competitive matches for
the club since 1998.

The mark ranks Brown third all-time for MLS players with one
team across all competitions. He trails only D.C. United striker Jaime Moreno
(415) and retired Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder and current assistant coach Cobi
Jones (392).

Not one to monitor his statistics, Brown was informed of the
milestone following Tuesday’s training.

“It’s kind of shocking,” said the veteran center back. “I
don’t really pay attention to those things -- I only knew I had 275 because
they told me a few weeks ago. “It’s awesome though -- a really good feeling to
know that I have that many games in me. To be honest, I’d rather have a few
more championships.”

Brown may have been a bit spoiled when he won his first and
only MLS Cup as a rookie in 1998. Though the Fire have been back to the
league’s penultimate match twice since then, they came away empty handed both
times.

“I think we’ve always put ourselves in pretty good spots to
win but often came up just short. When you look back at the loss to Kansas City
in 2000, we pounded their goal but couldn’t put the ball in the net. We had a
very talented group, with the right mix of players and we showed it throughout
the game – at the end it just wasn’t our day.”

Injured for the club’s third trip to MLS Cup in 2003, the
Fire fell 4-2 to the San Jose Earthquakes. While there were opportunities for
the side to come out victorious, this writer has always wondered if Brown’s
presence in the middle might have kept the Earthquakes from tallying four goals
– to this day, the most by a team in MLS Cup history.

“We had a good group but I think we were a little young. The
maturity level needed to play in a championship game wasn’t there but the
individual talent was. That was a tough loss because had we been a bit more
seasoned I think it would have been different.”

Looking back on losses is easier when you can rely on the
fact that you’ve won before. As the only Fire player to win an MLS Cup, Brown
could certainly gloat among his teammates. Despite his decorated club career,
his biggest regret is not having been more involved with the U.S. national team
over the years.

Though capped 15 times from 1998-2003, Brown was often
overlooked in what was a pretty deep U.S. defensive pool, featuring Eddie Pope,
Jeff Agoos, Gregg Berhalter and Carlos Llamosa.

“When you talk about things you still want to achieve or
something that’s still on the ‘docket’, for me its playing for the national
team. It’s still there, I’m never going to do it again though. Above
everything, I always wanted to be in a World Cup Qualifier. Every player wants
to be in the World Cup, but just playing in a qualifier would have been a
milestone. I was able to put the jersey a number of times which I was honored
and proud to do, but I always wanted to be in one of the important games. The
friendlies are important, but its not the same feeling as a qualifier. I think
each type of game has a different level of intensity to it and I didn’t get to
experience some of that.”

Though he never appeared in a U.S. qualifier, Brown was part
of the U.S. squad for the 1999 FIFA Confederations Cup in Mexico, helping lead
the team to a 2-0 upset of Germany and third place in the tournament. At that
point, it was the best finish the men’s national team had achieved in a FIFA
competition since falling in the semi-finals of the 1930 World Cup.

National team aside, the Eugene, Oregon native has become a
legend in the lore of Chicago soccer, faithfully serving the club and community
throughout his time in the Windy City.

“From day one when I first got here I felt welcome both with
the club and in the city. Fan’s that I’ve met over the year’s have become
friends that I regularly hang out with. I’ve established this as my home and
I’ve formed my family here. The 350 games played is a good marker for
reflection to looking back at all the great things that have happened for me
here.”

Still active, Jaime Moreno seems out of reach, but Cobi
Jones isn’t too far behind. With the L.A. Galaxy assistant now in his third
year of retirement, Brown would need to play past this season to pass the most
capped U.S. player of all time.

Do you think you could do it C.J.?

“No chance,” laughed Brown. “You’re talking about 40-some
games to catch up, I’m not sure that’s going to be possible.”

Then he paused and thought about it.

Possibly an Open Cup run here, a few SuperLiga games there,
deep travels into the MLS Cup playoffs and good health through the end of the
league season would put the 34-year-old defensive rock within a handful of
games of the American legend.

Like that, his answer shifted.

 “We’ll see. I’m
working hard every day and still playing well. If I can stay healthy things
could look good for that to happen.”