For MLS and US men’s national team fans of a certain age, Brian McBride is a living legend, an icon of the game’s modern era on this continent.
It’s now been nearly a decade since the rugged striker played his last competitive match, however. So with the collective memory of his exploits on the pitch rapidly fading, it’s worth sharing a quick overview as he takes up the USMNT’s new general manager post.
Born on the cusp
McBride came of age in the dark days between the death of the old NASL and MLS’s birth, so he continued his career at the top option otherwise available in the United States at that time: St. Louis University, at the heart of one of American soccer’s oldest hotbeds.
The Billikens were an NCAA power, and McBride showed his quality by setting program records for goals (72), assists (40) and points (184), then continued scoring by the bucketload in a brief stint with lower-division club Milwaukee Rampage.
That’s around when German side VfL Wolfsburg came calling, offering him a spot among the contingent of American players at the club at that time. Though the experience no doubt helped prepare him for what was to come, it was on the whole a difficult one. McBride suffered a long scoring drought as he labored to come to grips with the demands of the professional game in a foreign land.
An MLS pioneer
The new league starting up back home – a legacy of the 1994 World Cup – offered him a fresh start, and McBride was the consensus No. 1 pick of the 1996 Inaugural Draft, the enormous (and unprecedented) exercise that built out the first 10 MLS rosters. The Columbus Crew, by rights the league’s first official member club, picked him.
Dubbed “McHead” for his dominating aerial ability, the Chicagoland native was a complete No. 9 who also showed dedication and class both on the field and off. He netted 62 goals and 45 assists in 161 league games over his eight seasons in Columbus, earning eight MLS All-Star nods and a spot in the MLS All-Time Best XI named as part of the league's 10th anniversary in 2005.
A Yank in London
English clubs had taken notice of McBride’s mentality and skillset, perfect for their bruising, hectic style of play, and his cachet grew via productive loan stints at Preston North End and Everton. It took Fulham FC a reported $1.5 million transfer fee to convince MLS and the Crew to part with him in 2004 – no small potatoes in a time when outbound sales of such amounts were rare.
The big man won the hearts of Cottagers supporters as they battled for survival in the Premier League, leading the team in scoring in ‘06-07 and finishing with 33 goals over four and a half years at Craven Cottage. He also called his countryman Carlos Bocanegra and Clint Dempsey teammates during a time in which FFC were dubbed “Fulhamerica.”
Perhaps the most enduring symbol of his Fulham love affair: The pub inside Craven Cottage is named “McBride’s” in his honor.
As he rose in the pro game, McBride quickly became a core member of the USMNT pool, earning a place on the 1998 and 2002 World Cup squads and scoring in both tournaments, the latter still the best performance the US have ever produced in the event.
McBride netted in the stunning upset of Portugal in the group-stage opener in Korea, then banged home the epic opener in the dos-a-cero defeat of Mexico in the round of 16. Even when Bruce Arena & Co. failed to reproduce that magic at Germany 2006, McBride provided the most enduring image of the tournament, stolidly shrugging off an elbow from Italy’s Daniele De Rossi that left blood streaming down his face.
He retired from international play after the USMNT went three and out. He was later convinced, though, to return for one last cameo as an overage player and captain on the 2008 Beijing Olympics squad that battled impressively, but ultimately missed advancing by the skin of their teeth in a “group of death” alongside Japan, the Netherlands and Nigeria – and the US haven’t qualified for that event since.
McBride also bid farewell to England in the summer of 2008, returning to MLS for a final two-and-a-half season stint with his hometown club, the Chicago Fire. He continued scoring at a steady clip, bagging 18 goals and seven assists over 59 appearances, helping the Men in Red mount playoff runs in his first two campaigns.
McBride moved into the corporate world after his 2010 retirement. But he always kept a foot in the beautiful game, working as a part-time pundit for ESPN and MLSsoccer.com, doing appearances for U.S. Soccer and founding his own youth academy. And now he’ll work alongside former teammates Gregg Berhalter and Earnie Stewart to steer the USMNT forward.