Four years ago, Chicago Fire fans were fortunate enough to see the swan song on the career of one of the greatest American soccer players of all time when Brian McBride returned to MLS after a fruitful stint with English Premiership side Fulham FC.
Upon his return, the legendary American striker helped the Fire to within one match of MLS Cup in both 2008 and 2009 before ending his illustrious career in 2010. All told, the former Fire captain’s 18 league goals in 59 regular season games rank him 10th all-time on the club’s goal scoring chart.
In this Q&A, I talk to Brian about closing out his memories from closing out his career with the Fire, his new foray into television with Fox Soccer Channel and his recent F.A. Cup run-out with English side Wembley F.C.
Jeff Crandall: Brian, since your retirement we’ve seen you pop up here and there as an analyst for broadcasts on ESPN and Fox Soccer Channel. How did you decide on your post-career foray into the realm of television?
Brian McBride: The more I got out of the game, the more I became interested in it. I actually reached out to Kyle [Martino] who helped me make some connections at Fox Soccer. From there, I just had a few meetings and it worked out.
I’m really enjoying it. It’s a completely new challenge for me. Talking soccer is always enjoyable but being succinct, getting your points out and being poignant at the same time is a new challenge. It gives me the opportunity also to really be a part of the sport at a high level still. It requires me to do a lot of fact finding, watch games, breakdown teams and styles of play, the importance of individuals. I get to sort of be a fan at the same time and be a part of the whole international soccer picture.
JC: The Fire are proud to have two alums be part of the Fox Soccer in-studio panel. How ironic is it to work with your former teammate on the U.S. Men’s National Team (and former Fire player), Eric Wynalda?
BM: It’s great. It’s funny because Eric and I didn’t get the chance to play a lot of games together but when I was first getting into the national team, he was around a lot. I know Eric very well and to have that sort of comfortability -- yes I made the word up, I’ll take credit when it gets into the dictionary – to have that with him and Rob [Stone] always being around soccer, it makes the transition a lot easier.
JC: Another post-retirement activity was your involvement along with former greats Ray Parlour, Graeme Le Saux and Claudio Cannigia with lower-tier English side Wembley FC in the FA Cup. Talk about how that opportunity came about.
BM: To me I viewed it as a chance to be involved with a great company [Budweiser], one that I’ve been involved with before and their desire to be involved in grassroots soccer. That meant getting the opportunity to take part in some training sessions, as far as the coaching side and then training sessions on the mentoring side and then playing in one game. For me, that was the extent.
I know some of the guys based in Europe had things in place where they would play as long as Wembley was involved in the FA Cup but that was really intriguing to me. I got the chance to meet some really good people that are a part of Wembley FC. The owners Brian and Jean are really family-oriented, the head coach there is actually married to their daughter (that’s not why he has the job he’s actually a very good soccer player) and you just see the passion – at all levels it’s there.
Sometimes people don’t get the shots at the right time and so the opportunity Budweiser gives Wembley in the infrastructure and ability to grow with what they want to grow with is a great thing I think. I would love to do it again because it was a really good experience all around.
JC: How much attention have you had on the Fire since your retirement in 2010?
BM: I’ve always said I’m a Chicago sports fan. I follow the Fire not just because I played for the club but because I want to support them. I unfortunately haven’t had a chance to see a lot of games recently. I’ve seen bits and pieces but I follow the scores, I catch the highlights and see how they’re doing.
Of course it’s great to see the Fire back amongst the top of the Conference. I know they’re in second place now and have had a good string of games recently. It’s a good thing to not only have the Fire doing well but progressing forward and I’m happy to see the way my former teammates are progressing.
JC: You came back to Chicago after a very successful stint with Fulham FC. How do you remember your two-and-a-half seasons with the Fire?
BM: It was just a great opportunity for me to spend the last part of my career with my hometown club. It was easy to get settled in, I knew quite a few of the players early on and I really enjoyed my role in the team. Missing out on making the final and winning a championship were big disappointments [in 2008 and 2009], and after that, the last season was a strange one. It definitely didn’t pan out the way I would have liked.
I know there were a lot of changes and with that you have to adapt and try to make things work. When they don’t, you need to plot on. I think we probably plotted on during the middle part of that season. The guys tried to get through some different challenges and for me, physically, the middle part of that season was probably too much to ask for the amount of work we were doing.
Unfortunately it made it not as enjoyable as it should be. Anything anybody does, they want to enjoy what they’re doing and there are times in this career where you have to put your head down and get to work and hopefully the people that are leading you are pushing you in the right direction. Regardless of how little control or how hard it is sometimes, you’ve got to do the work. The greatest part about that 2010 team was that we had guys that were workers and unfortunately, probably too much so. We were too honest and come game day, we were fatigued, not sharp and when that happens you’re not going to win games in MLS.
JC: What do you count as your greatest memory from your time with the Chicago Fire?
BM: Looking back on my career, I always look at sort of team experiences. From that, I sort of draw my favorite experiences as a person. There’s not one that really jumps out at me as far as favorite or greatest.
I think on a personal side it would be my last home game there in Chicago. It was obviously a very memorable moment in my overall career. The reception I received from the fans and seeing my teammates out there with me, the ownership group with Andrew [Hauptman] and everybody there, that showed a lot of support to me. I was very proud and honored to be on the field with the club at that time.
Looking back, that was probably the thing that stands out. Leading up to that last year, I think there were a lot of missed opportunities that I’d love to have back, but that’s soccer, that’s sport. You can’t look back, you have to look forward and the things you want to change, you have to make sure to change immediately and adapt. When it doesn’t happen, you can look back with regret but as a player, the ones that are still playing get a chance to move forward.
I think that’s what the guys that are still there [from 2010] have done – they’re pushing forward. It was a good group of guys that were tight and fought together.
I’d love to be able to say my favorite memory was lifting MLS Cup but we didn’t get there.
JC: It was great catching up with you Brian. Thanks!
BM: Always a pleasure!