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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.

Suspended Villar says Spain in danger of missing World Cup

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The suspended president of the Spanish soccer federation, who is under investigation for corruption, tried Monday to stoke up fears that the country could be kicked out of the World Cup because of government interference.

Angel Maria Villar, who is free on bail, spoke at a news conference in Madrid and again denied any wrongdoing. He also blamed the government for meddling in the federation’s affairs by suspending him.

“This government is putting Spain’s participation in the World Cup at risk,” the 67-year-old Villar said in his first news conference since being arrested in July along with his son, Gorka Villar, and two other officials.

[ BLANC: I turned down USMNT talks ]

“The risk is serious,” Villar said. “The only party responsible for Spain not going to the World Cup will be the Spanish government.”

Villar spoke three days after FIFA said it was concerned about the independence of the Spanish soccer federation and that it would soon send a delegation to analyze the situation. FIFA made no mention of a possible suspension of the federation, which could keep Spain out of next year’s World Cup in Russia or even knock Real Madrid and Barcelona out of the Champions League.

Villar, who has spent time behind bars to impede the possible destruction of evidence, and the other three officials are being investigated for alleged improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

Villar resigned his vice presidencies of both FIFA and UEFA following his arrest. But he tried to stay on as the head of Spanish federation, a post he held for three decades.

His refusal to listen to pleas for him to step down led the Spanish government to suspend him from the post for one year pending the outcome of the investigation. Court documents allege that besides misappropriated funds, Villar is suspected of corrupting several regional federations by offering favors in exchange for votes.

Villar fired back at the government, saying his suspension had broken FIFA rules since it represented interference in the federation’s management.

“It’s easy to see that the source of concern was my arbitrary and unjustified removal from the presidency of the federation and for not respecting the presumption of innocence,” Villar said, adding that other teams are ready to take Spain’s place at the World Cup.

“Be careful. There are other powerful countries that didn’t qualify like Italy that are waiting to pounce and take our place,” Villar said.

Spain, which won the World Cup in 2010, is considered to be among the favorites for next year’s tournament.

Blanc: I turned down USMNT talks

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U.S. Soccer has not been inactive when it comes to the USMNT coaching search, despite its uncertainty with an impending presidential election.

Le Parisien has an interview with Laurent Blanc in which the ex-Bordeaux, France, and Paris Saint-Germain boss says he was approached by the United States Soccer Federation, but was not interested in the gig.

[ MORE: Making sense of the PL table ]

Blanc said an international job would have to touch his roots, and he’s most certainly not American. The tall 52-year-old had a glittering playing career with Saint-Etienne, Barcelona, Marseille, Inter Milan, and Manchester United amongst other stops.

More important, it shows that Sunil Gulati and his men have to some degree moved forward with keeping their imprint on the national team.

That’s a little worrying on any team: A hierarchy that may not be around much longer may be working to fill a position arguably more important than its own. It’d be nice to have them commit to not hiring anyone until after February’s election.

Premier League Preview: Everton vs. Swansea City

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  • Everton leads all-time 15W-9D-3L
  • BUT Swans unbeaten in 7 vs. Toffees
  • Toffees go ninth with win
  • Swans four back of safety

Everton hopes its up-turn in form can end three seasons of futility against visiting Swansea City when the two sides meet at Goodison Park on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Gylfi Sigurdsson gets a chance to face his former club for the first time, while longtime Swans man Ashley Williams may also feature for Sam Allardyce.

Swansea has no time to focus on the past, as Paul Clement‘s men sit deep in the drop zone. The last place Swans are four points shy of safety.

What they’re saying

Everton’s Ashley Williams on facing his former club (again)“The game is a little bit more important to me, I would be lying I said it wasn’t. You always want to play against your old teams and it’s a fixture you always look for.  I have been looking forward to this one and it will be nice to see old faces and old friends. It is a game we want to win and to keep a clean sheet in, especially at home, in order to keep our momentum going.”

Swansea City’s Roque Mesa on the match“This is a massive game for us. We need to pick up points because we are bottom and we need to improve our position. Everton have a new manager and their players have done very well under him – you can see their confidence has grown since he joined. But we did well against West Brom and picked up three points, which was very important. Then we faced Manchester City and they proved too good for us. They are the best team in the league, and unfortunately, we couldn’t match them on the night.”

Prediction

Swans need to move past that Man City loss and build on a 1-0 win over West Brom a few days previous. That may not be possible at Goodison, and the Welsh side would be thrilled to escape with a draw. It seems unlikely. Everton 2-1.

Report: Man City, Guardiola to discuss new contract this summer

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Manchester City does not want to let Pep Guardiola start the third year with the club without signing on for longer term.

Guardiola enters the third and final year of his deal in August, and the BBC reports that Man City plans to negotiate a new deal with the Catalan wizard this summer.

[ MORE: Making sense of the PL table ]

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given City’s outstanding sophomore season under Guardiola.

Unbeaten City has an 11-point lead on the Premier League table after 18 weeks, with one draw and a PL record 16-straight wins. They have 56 goals scored, conceding just 12.

They’ve won five of six UEFA Champions League matches, only losing a match their opposition needed and they did not, 2-1 to Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine. City faces Basel next, and visits Leicester City in the League Cup quarterfinals Wednesday.