The U.S. men's national team is heading abroad in late March to play friendlies against the Netherlands and Wales, in what will be the squad’s first trip to Europe under coach Gregg Berhalter. Those games will be preceded by a month by a visit from new USMNT general manager Brian McBride, who departed Monday evening for a week-long swing through London, Amsterdam and Germany.
It seems that a lot of McBride’s job will revolve around creating or strengthening connections—those between the senior team and the rest of U.S. Soccer, and those between the federation, its players and their clubs. Earnie Stewart held the GM role for a year before his promotion to sporting director. It now falls to McBride to breathe life into the nascent position, which he’ll be doing at an accelerated pace this week. To clubs, he’ll become the increasingly familiar face and spokesman for American men’s soccer. To players, he’ll aim to be a conduit, sounding board and resource as they navigate their careers.
“It’s something I look forward to doing. The trip isn’t just two-fold. It’s probably four- or five-fold. But for the most part, it’s about me making sure I start building relationships with some of the clubs I haven’t talked to yet or been a part of. And more importantly, to start building relationships with some of our European players,” McBride told SI.com just before departing Chicago.
Getting in front of as many teams and players as possible in just a few days presents a scheduling challenge and multiple moving pieces. McBride will begin in London, where he’ll visit with Christian Pulisic–who remains out injured–on Tuesday and see Chelsea face Bayern Munich in their UEFA Champions League round-of-16 opener. On Wednesday, it’s a short trip to more familiar ground–Craven Cottage–where the Fulham icon will watch the Cottagers (and Tim Ream) play Swansea City.
From there, McBride will head to Amsterdam, where he intends to chat with newly-minted senior international Sergiño Dest and attend the Ajax-Getafe Europa League match on Thursday evening. Then it’s on to Germany, where McBride will meet with Schalke 04 and Weston McKennie (the club also employs reserve team player Nick Taitague), before going to games at Fortuna Düsseldorf (home to Zack Steffen and Alfredo Morales), FC Köln (which has U.S. youth goalkeeper Brady Scott and plays against Schalke), and Werder Bremen (home to Josh Sargent). The trip will conclude with a visit to RB Leipzig and Tyler Adams.
McBride said he’s looking forward to meeting the likes of Pulisic, McKennie and Sargent for the first time. And he said he wished time and logistics were more forgiving.
“There are a ton of games, and a ton of games in short order, then things can change because we have a few injuries. I wish I could meet with every single player, meet with every single club,” McBride said. “The names [of individual players] aren’t really the important part. They’re all important to the national team.”
What matters going forward, he said, is establishing processes and lines of communication that didn’t exist before Stewart joined U.S. Soccer in June 2018. The national team coach couldn’t monitor every player, their club situations, career trajectories, fitness, potential dual-national issues and place in the national team pyramid from a broader, long-term perspective all while planning for specific camps and opponents. It just wasn’t done to any significant length. Likewise, talking to clubs about players’ health, availability and progress couldn’t be as frequent. Stewart, McBride and women’s GM Kate Markgraf are responsible for changing that.
“I want to create a level of comfortability. It’s more making sure we’re there for the player,” McBride explained. “If there’s something we can provide them, then we want to do that. If they need to express something of concern, we want to be there for them. If there’s something they’re building on, we want to make sure we help them build on it.”
One player he’ll miss in person this week is Borussia Dortmund’s Gio Reyna, whose promising Champions League debut whet the appetite in the USA while reminding others how many countries he’s potentially eligible to represent at the senior level. It could be as many as four. The Athletic UK reported Sunday that there are “steps being taken” by the English FA to see if Reyna, 17, might be interested in representing the country of his birth. He was born in Sunderland while his father, Claudio, was a midfielder for the Black Cats, but Gio doesn’t have a British passport.
“Gio has been a great representative of our youth national teams. His father was one of the best players to have ever played for the national team. Those are factors,” McBride said. “We think extremely highly of him, and I think you’ll see that soon.”
McBride’s other priority in recent weeks has been helping Berhalter and U-23 coach Jason Kreis prepare for the Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament, which runs March 20-April 1 in Mexico. The fact that it starts earlier and ends later than the upcoming FIFA international window is one headache, and that almost surely will rule out the likes of age-eligible players like Pulisic and McKennie. The other is that clubs aren’t obligated to release anyone for youth national team duty. This is where the sort of relationships McBride is trying to enhance come in handy.
“I’ve been working with Jason, Gregg and Earnie to communicate to the clubs the importance of qualifying for the Olympics in this country and the experience you get from playing at the Olympics,” said McBride, who participated in the 2008 Games as one of three overage players. “We’re grateful to the clubs that have been somewhat receptive. Jason and Gregg have worked tirelessly to put the pool together and right now it looks pretty positive. Certainly some clubs have said, ‘We’re going to hold on to our players,’ and we’ve got to understand things like that.”