11614_isi_mcbridebrian_xl_usmnt052705106 John Todd/isiphotos.com
Alumni Q&A

Brian McBride Discusses Fulham, MLS & Klinsmann

The United States national team icon and Fulham legend spoke with ASN's Brian Sciaretta about a wide variety of topics including the Cottagers' search for a new coach, MLS, and Jurgen Klinsmann.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
November 06, 2014
10:15 AM
BRIAN MCBRIDE REQUIRES very little by way of introduction. A stalwart for the United States national team and a legend for Fulham, the Illinois native built his reputation on hard work, soccer smarts, and being one of the nicest guys in the game.

Recently McBride was named to Fulham’s official search committee to hire a new coach following the dismissal of Felix Magath. In the end, Kit Symons was promoted from within the Fulham organization and McBride was both excited by the hire and was happy to help out his former club.

In a wide-ranging interview, ASN’s Brian Sciaretta spoke with McBride about numerous topics including Fulham, MLS, the U.S. national team, and his future plans in the game.

BRIAN SCIARETTA FOR ASN: As we all know, Fulham had a very difficult start to the season. Felix Magath was fired on September 18 and youth coach Kit Symons was named interim manager. The search committee then named Symons the full-time head coach. How do you like the direction of the club at the moment?

BRIAN MCBRIDE: I think what Kit has done is come in and change the morale of the group. He really got everyone playing for the team. I think there were a few people who didn’t get on with the former manager. Sometimes when that happens, it's kind of tough to bring those players back from the mindset of really thinking they're not going to be a part of the team. Kit has done a great job in doing that. Not only that, he’s just turned things around almost 180 degrees. I know there are some games we tied recently that we would have loved to have won but he deserves a lot of credit.

ASN: What has been your relationship with the club since you left to return to MLS? Being named to the committee suggests that a strong bond between you and Fulham still exists. Are you still involved?

McBride: Since I left, I was much more on the periphery than involved. Still, I was just like a lot of ex-players who played at Fulham—feeling very passionate and paying attention and always checking to see how they’re doing. While I’ve been in the States, I had contact with a few of the people who are on the staff. When Clint Dempsey was there, I’d talk to him a little bit more often.

Recently, it became a little bit more—of course with them asking me to be part of the committee but even before that with [American owner] Shahid Khan’s group. It was them reaching out to say hello and getting to know me a bit better. I’m getting to know a lot more about the ownership group from the dealing of what is going on. I’ve really enjoyed it.

ASN: Did being part of the search committee and having an official role for the team remind you of how much you missed the club? What were your emotions towards the process? Did it take you by surprise that they asked you?

McBride: It’s always been there. I’ve always wanted to be a part of it. In fact there were times I reached out and said, “If there is any way I can ever help or do anything for the club, please reach out to me and I will gladly help if I can.”

ASN: You were part of some memorable moments for Fulham and you helped the club fend off relegation a few times including that amazing 2007-2008 season when the Cottages escaped relegation. How much of a setback was it for the club to get relegated last season and what are the club’s plans to make a quick return—if not this year than in the next few?

McBride: It was a huge disappointment, of course, for everybody who was ever at the club or more so for the people who were there to experience that. Having been in that situation and staying up the last season I was there, it pulls at your heartstrings a little bit more. But there definitely is a very big commitment from the ownership group, from what I’ve seen, to try and do everything they can to get back into the Premier League. By no means is it a short-sighted thing. I think they definitely have a vision to push the club back there and really be a club that matters in the Premier League.

ASN: It seems like a huge part of the push is the club’s youth movement which has achieved some impressive results in England in recent years.

McBride: It has. Of course it’s always a more gentle transition that you’d rather have with some of the young and talented players you have coming through. You sort of want to have the Scottie Parkers, the leaders on your team, and having the veterans showing the way of how it is to be a good professional and to really grow into your career. But certainly, there’s definitely a huge amount of talent in the youth side. It speaks loudly for what the youth program has done.

ASN: Fulham has tremendous ties with American players, including you, Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, Carlos Bocanegra, Eddie Lewis, Kasey Keller, and Marcus Hahnemann. As someone who was such a key part of that, was American influence coincidental or did the club perhaps believe in the American player more than other teams?

McBride: It was a little bit more coincidental than anything else. Chris Coleman, the coach who brought me over, could see a lot of attributes [in American players]. During the time I was there, if we finished midtable, it would be great; the top half of the season would be amazing, More than likely, you’d be fighting to stay in the league. I think [Coleman] knew that he needed players that were willing to put in the hard work—and not just Americans.

ASN: While you said it is a coincidence, Emerson Hyndman is continuing that tradition today. Have you had a chance to watch him much this year or speak with him?

McBride: I haven’t reached out or talked with him but I’ve certainly seen him play a few times. Yeah, you can see the talent is there. Of course the history with his family is very soccer-oriented. There is a lot going for him. At Fulham right now, especially with Kit being the coach, he understands the strengths and weaknesses of all the players breaking in right now. He has a lot of positives happening right now in that movement.

ASN: Since you’ve retired, you’ve had your academy and you’ve also been commentating on television. Is this what we should expect from you in the future, or do you have any longer-term goals in the sport?

McBride: That’s a good question, a very relevant question. I certainly will be making some decisions here. I have made a few already made but I’d rather not bring them up now. There definitely will be some changes in a very positive way for myself. But long term I want to stay involved in high-level soccer.

ASN: The U.S. national team will be playing Colombia at Craven Cottage later this month. Will you be in attendance?

McBride: At the moment I’m not planning to attend. I would love to, of course. But I think it’s a great opportunity. I am very excited for the current players on the U.S. national team that are going to get a chance to play such a great stadium. When I say great, it’s not this huge 80,000 seat stadium. It’s a stadium with a lot of character and tradition and history that you can just feel when you walk into it. I’m looking forward to hearing what some of the players have to say about it.

ASN: Your reputation at Fulham is so strong that the pub inside Craven Cottage is named after you. I’ve been told that the American Outlaws are planning a big pregame event at McBride’s. What do you think about that?

McBride: Really? Wow. Well, it’s a long bar. I’m not so sure what kind of food they have, but there’s plenty of beer. I want them to enjoy themselves like they always do and continue with the amazing support that give all the national teams.

ASN: What are your thoughts on the U.S. national team since the new cycle began?

McBride: I think it’s going to be a transition period before qualifying starts—which is something that always has to happen after a World Cup. Certainly Jurgen has a vision and he’s had a vision for a very long time of where he wants U.S. Soccer to go. I think it’s a good vision. There’s times when people question some of the decisions but the one thing you can’t question is his knowledge and his understanding of what he wants to get out of the players. Having that foresight into the longer term is only going to help.

Of course there are question marks of who is really going to be mainstays but I think we’ve got a great base with Matt Besler in the centerback position, which is always important. Omar Gonzalez actually had a very good World Cup and he continues to show growth. Clint still has a lot to offer alongside many other players who will continue to make an impact. Jozy is still very young.

I think it’s a bright future. When you look at it, you certainly want to be able to call on depth in case of injuries. The nice thing gain is that you have a year-and-a-half before qualifying. I don’t expect anything less than getting to go the World Cup. Once you’re there, getting out of the group is always going to be your first goal but I think that the results leading up to that will determine what the expectations are.

ASN: You had two stints in Major League Soccer—with the Columbus Crew and the Chicago Fire. There has been a lot of talk recently about how the league prepares players for the next level. How satisfied are you with the direction of the league and how do you think of it as a place for younger players?

McBride: I think you have to view it as very positive growth. Certainly the talent among players that are not necessarily marquee names is better because they have a better understanding of the game. I still think that is probably going to be our biggest necessity to growing—to have players that understand the game. When they’re in a certain position, they should be doing this, or if they are in a certain position on the field, they should be doing this. The more players we have who are smart, it's only going to help us improve the league. We know we have players who are athletic, players who are technically talented. It’s now combining that with a soccer brain. That is really going to make the next step for MLS.

ASN: You were able to make a successful transition from the Crew to Europe. I know you had an initial stint in Germany as well as loans to Preston and Everton before Fulham, but how difficult is that transition? We see some players like Geoff Cameron make while others struggle. Why do you think it is so tough for Americans? What did you have overcome?

McBride: I think it’s easy to say it was successful for me but it was a transition the first six months—being in and out of the team, not necessarily playing some part in every game. Mentally that is the hardest part. For me, I was fortunate because I had already been to Europe right out of college for a year with Wolfsburg when they were in the second division and we had a good team.

But mentally I was just not prepared. It really affected me. It affected my ability to play. That’s such a huge part of being able to make a transition from one place to another. It doesn’t even have to mean between countries. It can be one city to the next city or one type of team to another. Fortunately I already had that experience and I knew what that would be about. Plus, I went on loan two times. So I had a good base. That’s good and international soccer helped me before I made the move. Some players don’t have that when they move over.

So the initial shock of everything outside of soccer is big. Then, of course, trying to adapt, step up, and prove yourself will always be difficult one. The ones that do it are probably just a little bit more prepared mentally and maybe even more physically.

ASN: It’s a different time right now with MLS. When you were in the league the first time, the best MLS players seemed to eventually find their way overseas. Now the best American players in Europe are finding their way back to MLS during their prime years. Did you ever expect you would see this trend?

McBride: I think for the league to be considered one of the upper echelon leagues, it eventually had to do that. But I still think it’s a ways off from that. Gradual growth is good. I’d like to see, of course, an increased salary cap for the players. One of the biggest differences is players have a lot of power in Europe. I don’t know when you’re going to have that here, but there will have to be some drastic changes in MLS. Some of those could good. Some of those could be bad. I’m not debating that. Certainly for the league to be considered upper echelon, you are going to need to have more players wanting to come here in their prime.

Thankfully, we’re seeing some of that, but were also seeing some of the younger players who are talented international players who perhaps aren’t necessarily brand name players willing to come, and that only helps the league.

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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