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Brian McBride talks USMNT, MLS growth and challenging young players

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The U.S. Men’s National Team completed the first half of its task on Friday night after pulling off a convincing win over Panama in World Cup qualifying, but their job is far from done.

Bruce Arena and Co. will have the next part of their challenge on Tuesday night when the Americans travel to Trinidad & Tobago.

[ MORE: Previewing the USMNT’s final WCQ against Trinidad & Tobago ]

Pro Soccer Talk caught up with former USMNT forward Brian McBride ahead of the crucial CONCACAF qualifier, while he works closely with Dove Men+Care and the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) to present the Dove Men+Care “Caring Coach” Award to a youth coach in December.

The 45-year-old, now an analyst for ESPN FC, also discussed his time in MLS, the league’s progression over the past two decades-plus and much more.


PST: Tell me about how you got involved with this Dove and PCA Alliance campaign and about what you’re trying to accomplish by introducing the “Caring Coach” award.

McBride: It all starts with these coaches for young players, and I think it’s really important to recognize them because youth soccer wouldn’t be possible without them. The youth level has had such a huge impact on my life. I really enjoy the relationship that I have with the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA).

PST: Just from talking to other players in the past, it always seems like there’s a coach or mentor along the way that leaves a lasting impression on them and really finds a way to get the best out of them. Did you ever experience that?

McBride: I certainly had that. I think the coaching that I’ve had on the soccer side has been pretty awesome, but for me, the one that really stands out is my high school coach. It wasn’t necessarily the soccer coaching that made an impact. He made an impact on my life and talking through what’s important. He got me to think about things other than just sports and it’s something that will always stick with me.

PST: You’re someone that had the ability to play in 3 World Cups. What would be the ramifications of the USMNT missing out on a World Cup?

McBride: It would be a tragedy. I don’t want to think about the men’s national team not qualifying for a World Cup. I’m staying positive and thinking that they’re going to get a result tonight and make it.

PST: There have been comparisons to Landon Donovan and other former American players. First off, what have you seen from Christian Pulisic that excites you? And second, is it time to start acknowledging him not only as a top USMNT player but also on a global scale?

McBride: I think there hasn’t been a player like Christian Pulisic at the age he’s at that U.S. Soccer has produced. I say that knowing that to compare when Clint [Dempsey] was coming up versus when Landon [Donovan] was coming up to now Christian that these were different times. Soccer has grow to such an extent, not just in the United States, but across the globe where the comparison should always be to where he is at personally.

PST: We’ve seen trends throughout the years where we’ve had MLS-heavy and then European-heavy rosters with the USMNT. With many of the top players migrating back to the U.S. recently, what do you think that does for the long-term complexion of the squad?

McBride: It’s a good question because I believe there are things you learn from playing in Europe that are extremely important. It goes beyond playing to actually experiencing the culture and doing different things day in and day out during practice and then in your personal life. You’re under a magnifying glass and it makes you ultra-focused. The nice thing about guys like Clint [Dempsey], Michael [Bradley] and Jozy [Altidore] coming back was that they had been there long enough to experience it. They’re the types of players that have the ability to come back and create a European-type culture here in MLS.

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PST: How important is it for young players like Tyler Adams and recently Matt Miazga to break out of their MLS academies and into the European soccer scene

McBride: It’s tough because for me the question I’d look at is: ‘Are you ready?’ And when I say ready I don’t just mean physically, but the mental side of things, too. Many of these guys are going to countries where they speak a different language and you already have the cultural differences to overcome. If you have a support support system, you’re mentally prepared and you’re capable of pushing through the hard times to get past the initial trepidations then I think the player should go.

When I first went to Wolfsburg I wasn’t mentally prepared for what was going to happen. I had no idea what I was getting into. It affects you. It affects the way you play. You just have to be prepared for everything that comes with the challenge of moving like that.

PST: You had the chance to see MLS up close from the league’s inception. To you, how drastic has the growth been from when you started playing to here in 2017

McBride: It’s been immense. The MLS has grown a lot bigger than I thought for sure in terms of the teams we have and are going to have in the future. The biggest thing is the infrastructure that has been set up. When we started, we were training on a extracurricular field at Ohio State University. The grass wasn’t cut above our boots and then there were places where we didn’t even have grass. Now, you have immaculate facilities like Atlanta. It’s going to be a huge help in terms of growing the game and the growth of our players. The question of having too many clubs won’t really exist because you have the ability to pull up young players.

PST: Previous expansion sides have enjoyed success out of the gate, but does Atlanta United have the formula for future expansion sides to follow?

McBride: There has been so many teams, but certainly Atlanta because they didn’t have the ability to pull players up from a team that already has a following, like Portland and Seattle did. I think those two organizations were sort of the leading light in terms of expansion and then Atlanta took it one step further by building the team themselves. Adding guys like Carlos [Bocanegra] does wonders for the growth of the club. They’re doing all the right things and their owner is very involved, which reflects well in the view of the public. I think they’re a great example for future teams.

PST: I know you’re from the area and had the chance to play with the Chicago Fire during your career. How impressed are you with their turnaround this season and the additions the club has made to compete in the East?

McBride: It’s huge for the city. In my opinion, and maybe I’m a bit biased because I’m from here, Chicago is the best sports city in the United States. New York and Philadelphia and Pittsburgh won’t like me too much, but I grew up here so this is what I know.

I think that there’s a willingness in the city to support the club when it’s a winner and Andrew [Hauptmann] — club owner — deserves a lot of credit for their success now. He’s had his share of missteps in the past, but he’s righted his wrongs and now he has Nelson [Rodriguez] who understands the league and a coach that really understands the structure of the club. You can’t deny that Dax McCarty has been the most impactful player that has come to this team.

PST: How has the Premier League evolved since your time playing in England? Especially when you see teams like Leicester and Burnley making significant noise over the last few years, instead of the top six always dominating headlines.

McBride: I think that’s more of an anomaly. They have coaches that have a vision and a group of players that execute. You look at what Leicester did and they had every single player closing down the ball. You have to understand how to play together. Burnley has done that so far this season. I don’t see them sticking up there, but we said that about Leicester and look what happened.

The other thing I’ll say is that the money inside the Premier League right now is immense. That does carry a lot of weight. Look at Stoke pulling Jese this season. That’s huge for a club like them. Back in the day that wasn’t going to happen.

PST: What are your thoughts on how the PL title race is shaping up? 

McBride: I picked Manchester City before the start of the season and they’re playing well enough right now to do it. I’m going to ride with them the rest of the way. Sometimes you change throughout the year, but I’m going to stick with them.

Allardyce not interested in Leicester City, Dyche the early favorite

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Amid plenty of calls for Leicester City to shoot for the moon as they search for a new manager, a more realistic name has emerged as an early frontrunner.

Craig Shakespeare, the man rumored to have engineered the downfall of Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City to take the reigns himself, was canned after just 26 games in charge. That has left a managerial opening at a club that to this point nobody can quite figure out how attractive a position it truly is.

There are calls for a run at top managerial names without a job, such as Carlo Ancelotti and Laurent Blanc, but instead the choice could come from within the current Premier League ranks.

Journeyman Sam Allardyce has ruled himself out of the running, saying on Talksport, “As big a club and as much as I would love to manage Leicester I don’t think it is time for me to manage yet. I’m not ready I don’t think. Having been in the game so long and done it so long, and looking at how I felt at the end of last season, I feel I am enjoying my life too much. Yes, it would have interested me and yes, I would take the Leicester job, but not at this time.”

Those quotes should also do much quell rumors of a USMNT stint for Allardyce as well.

Next in line for the Leicester opening is Burnley boss Sean Dyche, who according to the Daily Mail is “interested” in the position, whatever that means. However, the catch is that due to his current post at Turf Moor, the Foxes would owe Burnley $3.4 million should he break his contract and move positions, a number which comes along with Dyche’s new Burnley contract signed this past summer.

Other names mentioned include the likes of former Borussia Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel, Huddersfield Town’s David Wagner, and Wales boss Chris Coleman. Tuchel would be a stretch with the German likely looking for a bigger name, while Wagner would be tough to pry from Huddersfield after their solid start to the Premier League season plus likely competition from the United States national team. Coleman seems the most likely of the bunch, with his time in charge of Wales proving rocky in the recent past, especially as they narrowly missed out on World Cup qualification.

Chelsea facing lineup nightmare as they limp into Champions League play

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With the 2017-18 campaign just two months old, Chelsea has been rocked by injuries, potentially ruining Antonio Conte‘s ability to piece together his famed 3-5-2 lineup that saw the Blues storm to the Premier League title last season.

N'Golo Kante‘s absence thanks to a hamstring injury has seen his midfield torn apart at times, including against lowly Crystal Palace as Chelsea slumped to defeat to the then-pointless Eagles. Fellow former Fox Danny Drinkwater also sits, having yet to make his Chelsea debut with a calf injury vexing the England international thus far.

Wing-back Victor Moses, who has become a star at a position nobody could have seen him excelling at, is also sidelined with a bum hamstring and must be replaced. The Italian boss could call in deadline day signing Davide Zappacosta to fill the role, but it’s not that simple.

[ WRAP: A complete rundown of Tuesday’s Champions League action ]

Complicating matters greatly, Conte has the opposite situation to navigate along his back line. A pair of poor performances in league play has his defense suddenly under fire, thanks to the good form of his replacements who are pushing for more time on the field. With both Antonio Rudiger and young Andreas Christensen putting in solid performances when called upon, there is suddenly increasing chatter that they should be given starts ahead of Gary Cahill, David Luiz, and Cesar Azpilicueta.

Thankfully for Conte, he can once again call upon the services of talisman striker Alvaro Morata, not worrying about the poor form of Michy Batshuayi who had such a bright start to the season.

[ PREVIEW: A full look at Wednesday’s Champions League slate ]

So, his options are thus: he could either call in Davide Zappacosta to fill Victor Moses’s role without changing the base 3-5-2 with Morata and Pedro up high, leaving Rudiger and Christensen on the bench while hoping that Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas can manage in midfield better than against Crystal Palace. Or, he could shuffle the deck completely and shift to another formation.

Another option presented is a 3-4-3, with Morata by himself in the middle flanked by Willian and Pedro, leaving the central midfield pairing even more exposed. However, that option allows the possibility of patching that midfield by pushing David Luiz or even Rudiger forward, allowing another defender to see the field likely in place of Fabregas. That puts more creative duties on Bakayoko’s plate, or sees the Frenchman fall to the bench, although swapping the defensive midfielder for a central defender seems to have little benefit.

These lineup choices are of the utmost importance as Chelsea meets AS Roma in Champions League play on Wednesday, because a victory would give them a perfect nine points out of nine, leaving them with tons of wiggle-room with three matches remaining. That five-point cushion would present the Blues with the ability to rotate the squad moving forward, a luxury so desperately needed with the injury problems and questions to sort out at the back. That could be invaluable not only to Chelsea’s Champions League standing but also their increasingly questionable Premier League health as the Manchester clubs continue to show stunning form at the top of the table.

Watch Live: Ghana and Niger meet, Brazil takes on Honduras in U-17 World Cup

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The United States has made its way through the U-17 World Cup Round of 16 in triumphant fashion, but there’s still plenty more to be decided.

[ LIVE: Stream U-17 World Cup ] 

Mali is already through to the quarterfinals, and they await the winner of another all-African matchup in Ghana and Niger. Ghana topped a hotly-contested Group A with the United States and Colombia, while Niger made it through via the third-place table after finishing behind both Spain and Brazil in Group D.

The Brazilians won that group, and they face Honduras who finished third in Group E but advanced, collecting enough points behind France and Japan. Brazil went a perfect 3-0 in the group stage, conceding just one goal while scoring six.

Tuesday’s U-17 World Cup Round of 16 games

Ghana vs. Niger – 7:30 a.m. ET
Brazil vs. Honduras – 7:30 a.m. ET

Wild day in American soccer: Crew relocation, NASL LOIs, USL reserves

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The top three soccer leagues in the United States of America are dealing with varying bits of turmoil this Tuesday in October.

It began late Monday with reports that Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt aims to take the MLS founding member to Texas, seemingly only paying lip service to the idea of investment keeping the team in Ohio.

[ MORE: Leicester sacks Shakespeare ]

Some have said Precourt’s goals have always been to find a way out of Ohio, and the Crew owner was asked what has changed in the four years he’s owned the club (From ColumbusCrewSC.com):

Q:When we read your story about your purchase of the team, this was back in 2013, part of that was that it was very important to the Hunt family that the Crew remained in Columbus and you said at the time that you were committed to that. So what’s changed?

AP: I was committed to that and I believe that I demonstrated my commitment through significant investment in infrastructure, in personnel, in the quality of our product on the field. What has changed? Our League has grown leaps and bounds, it’s been unprecedented the improvement we’ve seen year over year and new markets that have come in the League have shown dramatic attendance. Let’s look at Atlanta with over 70,000 fans over their last few games, with Orlando building a new facility and averaging over 30,000 fans a game, with New York City FC. The list goes on and on. Our peers get stronger and stronger, year in and year out and I have to get back to our ambition as a club. This is key: our ambition as a club is to be a standard bearer in Major League Soccer, to be respected on and off the field in terms of our soccer operations and our business operations and to operate world-class, soccer-specific infrastructure. We’re going through growing pains now. It’s time for us to explore building a world-class, soccer-specific stadium so that we can be celebrated and successful and sustainable.

So, yes, barring a king’s ransom — word use intended — from the Ohio business community, it’s not being cynical to read Precourt’s intention to leave Ohio as very strong. The idea is very sad for the league, and makes every pro/rel honk’s argument against the closed model.

Then there’s the NASL, where it’s almost head-spinning to keep abreast of the future of the league. New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso has taken the wheel in an attempt to not only see the NASL rise, but remove Sunil Gulati from power at the United States Soccer Federation in the hopes of a complete overhaul. In what should not be read as a footnote, the NASL is currently suing the USSF.

There are reports that the league could have as many as 17 teams next season in a bid to regain sanctioning from the Unites States Soccer Federation, including a series of teams from the fourth-tier National Premier Soccer League.

According to SocTakes.com, the NASL has letters of intent from NPSL clubs in Boca Raton, Boston, Detroit, Arizona, New Orleans, and Virginia Beach. Additionally, there’s interest in Hartford and it may not be the NPSL club.

Then came this Tweet:

Now here’s a league, the USL, whose only issues have been perception-related. Growing well and instituting a D-3 companion, the biggest concern has been the mentioned MLS Reserve sides creating a minor league feel for the league.

All of this is manageable, and you could argue that the disappearance or at least rebranding of most of these reserve sides would be a boon for the league.

Taken in a vacuum, any of these stories has the potential to carry a day’s news. Together, and in the wake of the United States men’s national team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, they give Tuesday one of those Soccer-USApocalyptic feelings.