Brian McBride once led the line for the U.S. men's national team through its glory years. Now he's hoping to do so again, albeit in a far different role.
McBride was named the USMNT's new general manager on Friday, with the three-time World Cup veteran and member of the 2002 quarterfinal team stepping into the role vacated by now-U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart. As general manager, a big part of McBride's duties include building and massaging relationships with clubs around the world where U.S. players are employed, all while having oversight over the men's national team.
McBride's deal runs through the 2022 World Cup, Stewart revealed Monday on a conference call with reporters. Stewart initially indicated that McBride would have hiring and firing power over the men's national team head coach before backtracking some and indicating that, while McBride will be responsible for directing that conversation, ultimately it's a collaboration between the general manager, Stewart and U.S. Soccer's board before a decision is made. What Stewart did make a point to say, though, is that "soccer people" will be making that choice, a veiled nod to the past, when that decision appeared to come solely from U.S. Soccer's executive level.
McBride emerged first from a list of 20 names submitted for consideration and then from five finalists for the job, Stewart said. All of the five conducted phone interviews and some reached the in-person stage with Stewart and U.S. women's national team general manager Kate Markgraf. Stewart's recommendation was then passed along to the technical development committee, where it was met with full support before being ratified by the board of directors.
Despite never holding a management or front-office role within a federation or club before, McBride won out for a number of reasons. His knowledge of the global game and success as a player–both for his country and clubs at home and abroad–and connectivity throughout the sport were all key elements that played into his favor.
"Captaining various teams was an important part of the job," Stewart said. "There's some innate qualities that a person has and that you need to have as a manager. When I look at Brian and those unique interpersonal skills that he has, they are outstanding. When it comes to that relationship-building and making sure that we're collaborating with clubs, players and coaches ... those are skills that are going to be very important for this job. The one thing that I've learned is that he has an amazing growth mindset and a very strategic mind in the way he views things for the future."
The timing was right for McBride, who said that he had spoken with his wife nine months ago about wanting to get back into the sport on an active, professional level. While he indicated that he had exploratory talks with Jurgen Klinsmann about a potential role with the national team during the manager's time with U.S. Soccer, that was for a role that never wound up existing. His new job is very real and very immediate. He's spent time with the U.S. men at January camp in Florida–where they'll be until relocating to Los Angeles Jan. 25 for the week leading into a friendly vs. Costa Rica–and has taken on the job in the same manner in which he used to score a plethora of his goals: head-first.
He'll be in Berhalter's ear as his superior, and while he said he won't get involved in player selection or running practices, he said he would step in if he saw something that was a concern. When asked if he'd prompt Berhalter to simplify a tactical plan or alter a strategy that was not appearing to work, he said that was within his purview.
"Part of my job is definitely to communicate with Gregg if there's an issue," McBride said.
From his own observations–in past years connected to the Columbus Crew, last year from the outside and the last few days as a newly minted insider–he noted the complexity and organization that is involved in Berhalter's operation.
"Having watched Gregg coaching the Crew and having a close eye on Columbus of course being an alumnus, you could always see how organized Gregg's teams were," McBride said. "That was there to be seen this past year. The other thing you don't get to see, it's a complex way of shaping your team. Sometimes it takes a little bit. You have to have a good soccer brain and understand what the ideas are. Sometimes maybe there wasn't always that connection in some games."
McBride lauded Berhalter for getting the U.S. to the Concacaf Gold Cup final and the Nations League semifinals but also noted that during the 11-5-2 year sometimes there appeared to be a lack of pride, effort and fight–qualities that were hallmarks of McBride during his playing career.
"Experience is vital in everything," McBride said. "You get experience through play but also through listening to people who have gone through it. Hopefully that is something I can provide and help."
The success of the national team ultimately depends on the availability and health of its players and the quality of the player pool, and that appears to be where the bulk of McBride's duties will fall. Between courting dual-nationals and remaining in close contact with clubs regarding not only player availability during all camp windows, but also as it relates to their advanced analytics and medical staffs, the thinking is that McBride can foster a pipeline of cooperation that ultimately benefits the national team and its players–regardless of whether he hasn't done anything like it before.
"If I didn't think I could make an impact, I wouldn't be the right person," McBride said.
"It's a challenge I'm excited to take on. I look forward to helping the men's national team getting to where we all want it to be."