The Legacy Series spotlights individuals who have had a hand (and foot) in shaping St. Louis into America’s first soccer capital.
Brian McBride: Achieving More than Goals
Written by Michael Haffner
The best players in the world make scoring a goal look easy. A slight chip here. A soft touch from inside of the boot there. Maybe just a simple redirection off the head on a set-piece. There are countless ways to score a goal, and regardless of the match outcome, each one is a minor victory given how hard it can be to achieve. Multiple studies over the years reveal that only 1% of all attacking plays and only around 10% of all shots taken end up as a goal in professional soccer. Scoring a goal is never just scoring a goal.
On paper, Brian McBride is known for his ability to score goals far and above most who have played the game for the U.S. Men’s National Team. He’s in an elite group of the all-time leading goal scorers where he currently sits 5th with 30 goals in 95 caps. It’s an accomplishment that’s nothing short of miraculous and impossible to ignore when you talk to a former player of his caliber. And yet, it’s only a part of his great story. While each goal was a challenge in and of itself, there were countless other challenges that have helped form the man he is today.
So many aspects of soccer are measured to create statistics, goals being just one of them. But what about all the things you can’t measure? The intangible benefits that a player offers to a team are what makes Brian McBride a “soccer great”. He exudes traits that show the intangible value that he contributed to his teams as a player and what he now offers to young players as General Manager for U.S. Men’s National Team. You can’t measure leadership. You can’t measure discipline. And you can’t measure dedication. It’s these intangibles and many more that are not only necessary to score goals but to achieve the bigger goals that Brian McBride has reached off the field.
Developing the Full Person
When you talk to McBride, you learn that the person off the pitch defines the player. The line between the player and the person isn’t as easily defined as the markings in the grass, and there’s not a switch that signals a transition between the two. What has been a staple of McBride’s career as a player and his career now is developing the “full person” – a person that’s defined by more than the game.
Since stepping into the role in January 2020, McBride’s job as General Manager for the USMNT has involved many conversations. Communication is key to his success in the role – much like the role of Captain he served as for nearly every team he played on in his professional career. He’s constantly facilitating conversations with Sporting Director Earnie Stewart, Head Coach Gregg Berhalter, each player on the National Team, along with the different club teams each player plays on. If that weren’t enough, he also oversees the Youth National Teams, including hiring Mikey Varas as the head coach of the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team just last year.
McBride will be integral in shaping the future of the USMNT by having an active role in the Youth National Teams and the people that help lead those teams. While talking about the hiring of Varas, he speaks about selecting someone that offers more than a winning track record. “What’s their personality, knowledge, and education? How do they communicate and see development? It’s really about understanding the full person.
The idea of the “full person” is something that’s evident in McBride’s demeanor and approach to life. He’s focused on making sure that the culture is correct and that the coaches have what they need to develop their players. “I want to build relationships with the players and coaches that aren’t just focused on soccer.” But the importance of developing players with a winning mentality and reaching their maximum potential is never lost. “With our Youth National Teams, we have a style of play that’s in place and a system of play that I’m excited about.”
“Doing what’s right” is a phrase that McBride touches on in relation to when a player has the ball. Knowing the smart play to make at any moment and not choosing to be selfish. And yet, it’s a life lesson that Youth National players learn about through the actions of coaches like Varas and mentors like McBride. But as McBride knows all too well from his own career, sometimes you have to learn from your own mistakes. “Much of this comes with experience. But it also helps to have a support system to guide you. Because the journey of a soccer player is not easy. There will be setbacks, but there will also be continuous growth.”
The Right Place at the Right Time
“There were so many things that happened in my life that happened at the right time.”
It’s an observation McBride makes that feels accurate to a fault. His journey to being GM for the USMNT and one of the leading goal scorers in the history of the organization was not easy. Finding a support system – a role that he now serves as for the National Teams – was crucial for McBride being able to excel.
“My dad wasn’t in my life. My high school coach was basically my dad… I still call him dad sometimes.” He explains how his coach was there for him at a point in his life where he admits, “I was all over the place.” He didn’t want to go to school or do homework. The only thing he wanted was to play soccer. “He cared enough about me that he didn’t care what I did on the field. He was more concerned about me as a person.” It was through soccer that McBride discovered how to be an all-around good person – the full person.
After high school, he made one of those decisions at the “right time” of his life that shaped his entire career. Many schools were interested in McBride playing for them, but he chose St. Louis University and instantly became a star for their soccer program, setting a record for the school with 72 goals over 4 years. “St. Louis University was the best place for me,” he says with confidence and an easy smile as the nostalgia washes over his face. “I remember it like it was yesterday.” He explains how SLU instilled not having a “closed mindset” and not being dismissive of other teams or rival players. It was at SLU where he learned to understand opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, and maybe, just a few of his own.
We live in the modern era of soccer where it’s hard to imagine a USMNT that didn’t have a star in the spotlight. For more than 30 years, there has been a face for the team that fans, broadcast announcers, and reporters always focus on. Whether it’s Christian Pulisic, or Clint Dempsey before him, or Landon Donovan before him, there’s always been that one attacker in the spotlight for the United States. Prior to the 1990s, the USMNT really didn’t have that. In fact, the team wasn’t just missing its star power, they were, frankly, missing out. The rise and eventual fall of the North American Soccer League in 1984; not getting selected to host the World Cup in 1986; then ultimately getting knocked out of qualifying in 1986, all created a dark period for the organization. Following that up was a team at the 1990 World Cup that failed to not only get out of their group but failed to win a single match.
By the mid-90s, Brian McBride was poised to be the name that would change the face of American Soccer. After a record-breaking college career and a brief stint in a minor league club in Milwaukee, the American signed to play with German club Wolfsburg. Meanwhile, he was beginning his start with the USMNT in 1993. Everything seemed to be lining up for the future star. And yet, maybe it wasn’t the “right time.”
“The most difficult part of my life was when I went to Germany.”
His humility breaks through as he admits, “I wasn’t prepared for it.” Part of it stems from the fact that for the first time in his life, he wasn’t a starter despite being a leading goal scorer in the preseason for Wolfsburg. Perhaps it was just for the opening match, he thought as he sat on the bench. But then the next match – he didn’t start, again. McBride was devastated, and now alone in a country without friends or family. Yet, there was a silver lining. Not having a support system around him, coupled with the mental pressure he placed on himself, made it one of the most eye-opening moments of his career. Given McBride’s Christian faith, you might even call it an epiphany. “I realized in that moment I wanted to start a family. I wanted to be a great dad. And then secondly, I wanted to be the best soccer player I could be.”