Brian McBride has an odd legacy among Fire fans. Plenty of supporters loved him during his two years at Toyota Park, the last of his professional playing career. Yet some maintain his coming to the Fire at the tail end of his long and successful career, coupled with his time in Columbus, taints his otherwise admirable term of service for the Men In Red.
However fans feel about him, McBride himself looks back on his time with the Fire fondly. I caught up with him at the celebrity beach soccer event as part of MLS’ All-Star Week festivities. After a rollicking game of footvolley with former MLS great Brian Ching and La Liga legends Christian Karembeu and Gaizka Mendieta, McBride sat down to talk about the MLS All-Star Game and how much the league has grown since he was a player. Along the way, the Arlington Heights native shared some thoughts on the Fire squads of years past, and how they measure up to the 2017 team.
On the current state of MLS:
“The league’s definitely going in the right direction. I think they’ve done some things to implement a lot of growth in being able to bring back the high-level US soccer player that felt like they had to go to Europe. There’s no doubt that MLS is getting better and growing. At the same time, they are adding teams, so there’s going to be this period where some teams aren’t necessarily as competitive. But I think the way this league is growing, it’s been gradual growth. Some would say a lot of teams have been added, but then I’d say, look at what those teams have offered off the field and on it, with the atmosphere and the ability to fill stadiums. So you’ve got both aspects, the soccer’s growing and now the popularity and the attendance is growing. So, a lot of positive things ahead.”
On a possible future in coaching:
“The reason I didn’t want to get into it right away after I retired is because I took my family everywhere. They’ve been to England, to Columbus, back to Chicago. You know, being home on weekends and being able to coach some of my daughters’ things, it’s precious to me. So, as soon as they get a little bit older, I’ll look into that a little more seriously.”
On playing with Cuauhtémoc Blanco and which Chicago Fire team was the best:
“I think the Fire’s best offense is when they won [the MLS Cup in 1998]. Peter Nowak, he ran the show, you had Lubos Kubik who would almost play a sweeper and spray balls, you had Wolfie [referring to Josh Wolff] and Ante Razov up top. So, I’d say that when [Blanco] was there he was definitely, he was able to pick something out out of nowhere. And that made it pretty special. It’d be tough to say that the ‘98 group wasn’t more talented and more of a threat to score. It’s tough to do generational [comparisons], I understand that. I certainly loved being part of the Chicago Fire.”
On how MLS stacks up with La Liga:
“The biggest thing you always have is the history. Right now we’re building our history, so La Liga’s light years ahead of us. Over time we hope to have the sort of setup that every La Liga team has.”
On Bastian Schweinsteiger’s impact on the Fire and MLS:
“If you look at when Schweinsteiger signed, people were questioning it. And you can see the difference it makes when someone can pick out a pass early, and see runs. And [Nemanja] Nikolic, I’d like to see a stat [that shows] how many times he was offside before Schweinsteiger came and how many times now. Because he would be making the same runs and he had the vision, it’s just the pass didn’t come soon enough. And now you’ve got Dax [McCarty] sitting in the hole freeing up Bastian Schweinsteiger to be a little bit more offensive. It’s just mixed very, very well.”
On Zlatan’s possible move to MLS:
“First of all, Zlatan would do amazing here. The biggest thing I think when players and goalscorers come [to MLS] is the physicality, because of the amount of holding that’s allowed in this league. You’re not going to be able to hold Zlatan. So, he would be amazing in this league.”
On coaching in the MLS Homegrown Game and expectations for the players:
“For me personally, it’s just a joy to be able to coach a group of professional players in my hometown. And to do that with Mike [Magee] makes that even more enjoyable. I think the expectations are pretty low from my standpoint. I want [the Homegrown Players] to experience what an All-Star Weekend is like. So, maybe a couple years down the road, they’re actually playing in the real All-Star Game, so they know what to expect. The enjoyment side is very important. We only have a day to practice. [...] We understand that this is going to be a good game, a competitive game, but I don’t want them to get lost in the sense of not understanding what All-Star events like this are like.”