Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 2. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer. For more essays, click here.
Brian McBride has never been one for making headlines. For one, he's an American soccer player, which pretty much precludes him from ink in most of the mainstream media. But as an athlete he has accomplished more in his career than the majority of our sporting heroes.
He has played in three World Cups and is No. 3 on the all-time list of the U.S. national team's top goal-scorers. He spent four seasons in the hard-knock English Premier League, where many of the best soccer players on earth ply their trade. More so, he was voted captain at London club Fulham FC, the rarest of accomplishments for an American playing soccer in the big leagues of Europe.
But in this era of Ocho Cincos, Jose Canseco tell-alls and contract holdouts, McBride has made an entire career out of doing something increasingly rare for an American athlete: He keeps his mouth shut.
You could write a book on the number of times McBride could have spoken out as the drama unfolded around him. He watched as Steve Sampson gutted the core of the U.S. squad before the 1998 World Cup. He stood by idly eight years later, when Bruce Arena led the Americans to believe they were better than they actually were. (The U.S. went winless in both those tournaments.) He watched Fulham crumble around him season after season, as the flailing team blew through managers in the hope that some new hero could rescue the Cottagers from relegation.
Over and over, McBride could have criticized his coaches, slammed team management and called his teammates' commitment into question. Given the same scenario, most of us surely would have. But he never said a word. He just played the game and let the big mouths do the jawing.
This past summer, when it might have been easiest to break character as a wizened 36-year-old striker with nothing left to prove, McBride still played the good soldier. He was one of three overage players selected to the U.S. Olympic team in Beijing, marking his return to the national team jersey for the first time since the '06 World Cup. Here was one of the most accomplished players in U.S. history surrounded by kids at least 13 years younger than he was. Sure, the young Americans looked up to him, but whether they truly accepted him into their ranks was another story.
Perhaps predictably, the U.S. went three and out yet again, failing to advance past the group stage in a major tournament. McBride didn't score a single goal, and his young teammates showed little passion in the dying moments of their run. Worse, whispers began circulating that they were so cocky that they were already talking about facing eventual gold-medal winners Argentina in the quarterfinals.
What did McBride have to say about the bitter experience? Nothing. He thanked the U.S. Soccer Federation for the opportunity to represent his country one last time and went home to Arlington Heights, Ill., to finish his club career with his hometown Chicago Fire.
His reward for all this was a strong MLS playoff performance in his first year back in America's league and a step from the championship game. But if you ask him, he's just making good on a promise to his family: that he and his wife could raise their three daughters back home.
"Regardless of the good, bad or indifferent, I always have them," he recently told me. "They're the thing that drives me, and having them close by allows me to concentrate on soccer. You have to the leave problems off field to the people who are better equipped to handle them."
A family man, a good soldier and a guy who wants nothing more than to be remembered for serving his country. Sounds to me like the Sportsman of the Year.