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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.

MLS 3 Things: Resurgent Zardes, Toronto up, New England down

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A busy Saturday in Major League Soccer sees three interesting results bolstering the story lines of the final few months of the season.

[ MORE: Unstoppable Josef | Zlatan, too ]

1) Imagine a world with the reigning champs as your reward for finishing first.

With 14 matches to play, Toronto FC has Jozy Altidore back in the fold and has pulled to within eight points of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot after a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday.

Sebastian Giovinco looks like Sebastian Giovinco in scoring another outstanding goal, just his fifth of the season, while Jonathan Osorio also scored in the win.

Before you watch Seba’s goal, picture you’ve won the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Now picture TFC as your semifinal reward.

2) New England is well and truly slumping

Brad Friedel‘s Revs are slipping after losing a third-straight league match, and New England has gained a solitary point since the calendar turned to July following a 2-0 loss at Red Bull Arena.

Fourth through ninth in the East are separated by nine points, and New England is very much in that mix now. Friedel is certainly at the most trying time of his tenure.

Second half goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Daniel Royer did the trick for RBNY, who have claimed 15 of the last 18 points available to them (The lone blemish is the Hudson River Derby).

The Red Bulls are now 8-1-1 at home this season, while New England is 1-4-4 away from Foxboro.

3) Gyasi Zardes’ return to form is surprising and wonderful

Columbus has its second win since May 19, and will be feeling much better about itself following a 3-2 comeback win over Orlando City which included a pair of equalizers.

One of those came in the 88th minute, as Gyasi Zardes completed his brace by converting a penalty won by new arrival Patrick Mullins.

The Crew won late via a rare Wil Trapp goal — the USMNT midfielder has just two in 161 matches — but let’s focus on Zardes.

Zardes’ 13th goal of the season continues an amazing turnaround under striker whisperer Gregg Berhalter. It’s Zardes’ second double-digit season, and his first since 2014. He is firmly in frame for another USMNT look, this time as a center forward, but first there’s plenty to like about the big man.

Surging Galaxy ride Ibrahimovic magic to 3-1 win (video)

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a man on fire, and the LA Galaxy are rounding into form.

The Galaxy overcame an early deficit in Chester to clobber the Philadelphia Union 3-1 on Saturday behind a goal and an assist from their world-class striker.

[ MORE: Neymar on diving ]

Romain Alessandrini had two assists, while Michael Ciani and Ola Kamara also scored for LA. CJ Sapong scored for Philly, assisted by Borek Dockal.

Unbeaten-in-seven LA moves into fourth in the West with the win, while Philadelphia remains three points back of sixth in the East.

Ibrahimovic has now scored in six of his last seven matches, and has 12 goals and two assists in 21 matches overall.

Let’s start with the assist, which we must’ve seen two dozen times when the big Swede was with Paris Saint-Germain.

Ibrahimovic takes a difficult pass out of the air with absurd touch, then waits for the right time to send an impeccable through ball into the path of Kamara.

As for the goal, you almost feel for Mark McKenzie.

The Union’s Homegrown defender has to choose between Alessandrini darting into his box and allowing Ibrahimovic a lick of space.

He gives it, understandably, then rushes to close down Ibrahimovic.

It wasn’t fast enough. Boom.

Americans on both sides, Weah scores as PSG fall to Bayern (video)

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Two hopes of the USMNT’s future — one more immediate than the other — squared off in the International Champions Cup on Saturday.

Paris Saint-Germain teenager Timothy Weah, 18, went 90 minutes and scored his side’s only goal in the 3-1 loss in Austria.

[ MORE: Neymar on diving ]

On the other side of the field was 62nd minute substitute Chris Richards, far less known to the American supporter.

Richards is on loan from FC Dallas, where he’s a Homegrown Player. The 18-year-old center back is going to play for Bayern’s U-19 side following a successful trial in April.

Both Bayern and PSG were without key pieces, as Weah went up against a decent Bayern back line of Juan Bernat, Javi Martinez, Josip Stanisic, and Rafinha.

Arjen Robben, Sandro Wagner, and Franck Ribery were the biggest names in Bayern’s XI, while David Alaba, Kingsley Coman, and Serge Gnabry came off the bench.

For PSG, Gianluigi Buffon started as did Adrien Rabiot.

Weah’s goal is below, and here’s what he had to say about it:

“It’s an amazing feeling and getting a well-done job. Me scoring goals, I was really happy to get my first goal for PSG and first goal in this competition. We’re going to Singapore with our head on our shoulders. We’re going to be really humble and keep playing.”

Klopp talks Pulisic, Liverpool’s spending

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Jurgen Klopp admits he’d love to work with Christian Pulisic again, but isn’t going to butt his nose into Borussia Dortmund’s business.

Speaking ahead of Liverpool’s International Champions Cup match against BVB, Klopp was asked about his interest in the American teenager.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez bags 3 more ]

Klopp was quick to point out that Pulisic is under contract to Dortmund and not for sale, as much as he’s aware.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“He had not his best season last year but he was still a decisive player but it’s important in that age group that there’s no rush. He still has 14 or 15 years to play in his career and that’s good and he wants to be the best Pulisic he can be. For this, there is still space for development.

“If – at one point – he will join us, I don’t know. I like him, it’s not that that could be the problem, but we respect contracts still and there’s no market I know about at the moment. We did our business and Dortmund are doing theirs. All good.”

Also all good? Klopp’s evolution on spending after blasting other Premier League clubs for big money buys in the past.

Klopp said he would quit football if transfer fees like Paul Pogba‘s became the norm. Well, they have, and no club has spent as much money as the Reds this summer.

“That’s the problem these days, hey? Whatever b.s. you say, nobody will forget it. On the other side, it’s still kind of true. I couldn’t have imagined since then that the world would change like it has. Two years ago £100million was a crazy number. Since then the world has changed completely.”

He said he’s going to do whatever it takes to make Liverpool successful, and Klopp now has the world’s most expensive goalkeeper and most expensive defender in his squad.