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Return of the Striker: An Interview with Brian McBride

During the U.S. Men's National Team's current training camp in preparation for the team's Dec. 9 match-up with the Korea Republic, forward Brian McBride has returned to the team after a five-month layoff due to a recurrence of a rare blood disorder.  McBride was a part of the 1998 World Cup side in France, and was instrumental in the United States effort to qualify for 2002 Korea/Japan prior to his illness.  We sat down with Brian after training earlier today in the secluded, serene hills of Chula Vista, California, to talk about the effect his illness had on his life and his future role with the national team.

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On his recent injury:
Listen to audio clip

On returning to National Team camp this week:
Listen to audio clip Day one complete.  Tired?

Brian McBride: A little bit, yeah.  The good news is I’m fully cleared to play, and I’m excited to be back. You’ve had some rather strange and serious injuries over the last couple years.  Do you ever start to feel snake-bitten?

BM:  Not at all.  I actually think I’ve been pretty fortunate that most of the injuries have been things that were sort of fluky, rather than something to do with ligaments, muscles or things like that have an overall effect of my ability to play. Take us through the time when your condition was diagnosed.

BM: As soon as I was diagnosed I went into the hospital right away.  They did a venogram and then angioplasty to try and remove the clot.  That became more of an ordeal than the first time, so I was in the hospital for three days.  I saw a specialist in Chicago, who said I needed to have surgery right way, so I left for Denver and the next day I repeated the procedure and then had surgery. They also had to put in a chest tube, because they thought they might have nicked a lung during the procedure.  Those first ten days afterwards were the most pain I’ve ever been in. It was pretty crazy how everything happened so fast.

I didn’t do anything athletic for a month.  It was a big change, but the time off actually helped me focus a bit more. Having gone through this type of ordeal more than once, and with the changes in your personal life (Brian is about to be married), has your perspective on life and your career been effected?

BM: I actually think it’s made things easier to get focused on soccer.   A large part of that has been my fiancée and our future family.  Right after the injury, it was hard for me because I wanted to spend time with her and her daughter, but at the same time I wanted to be focused on training. Initially it was tough to sort out, but now it’s great.  It’s actually a benefit.

US Soccer: Having been forced to watch from the sidelines, have you become a better student of the game?

BM: You certainly learn more.  I watch soccer games all the time, as my fiancée will attest (laughs).  You definitely get a better understanding. Having said that, what you see is not necessarily what you can do.  You can certainly try to incorporate more things into your game, but the most important thing you gain from watching is knowledge.  There is a big difference between knowing and doing, and I think that’s the hardest part of being a professional.  For me, it’s getting better at taking players on one-on-one, and also trying to shoot better and strike a pure ball.  Now it’s just a matter of putting it in games.

US Soccer: The U.S has had an influx of new attacking talent in the past couple years, strikers that bring different dimensions to the team.  Josh Wolff and speed, Clint Mathis in one-on-one scoring ability, and a couple others.  Has that challenged you to try and expand your game?

BM:  I think what it does is expand the competition for spots on the team.  I’ve always tried to become a better player from when I learned that there is always going to be someone better than you are.  For me, a large part of this team is knowing your role.  So if I can add a little bit more, that is certainly a positive. But I’m not going to go out there and try and run by people.  I’m not going to be able to do that half as well as other guys. Do you think the team is most improved in the attacking end of the field?

BM: I think our whole team has gotten better.  The competition to get a spot is much more difficult.  For me, even when things were going really well and I was strong part of the team, I still never took it for granted.  Nothing’s taking for granted.  With Bruce, he’s always going to present you with competition.  He’s going to give guys chances that deserve chances.  As I player, I like that.  It pushes you and keeps you on your toes.  If you’re not good enough to be on the team I don’t think you should be. Clearly one of the qualities you bring to the team is your ability in the air, both on set pieces and as a target man.  To what extent does that give you an advantage in the competition?

BM: I think it gives me a different aspect, sure.  I know that alone is not going to get me to be a part of this team.  I have strengths and weaknesses, and I need to improve my weaknesses. Your weaknesses being?

BM: Being able to break players down one-on-one.  At times I hurry my shots, and I certainly don’t have the greatest speed.  I just try to be smart, hold the ball, connect good passes and see the field well.  I think defensively I help out as well. This is your second time around being involved in both qualifying and the run-up to a World Cup.  How does that experience benefit you in trying to make the team, and how will your experience benefit the team overall?

BM:  I think the most important lesson for me was learning how to deal with the pressure of trying to make the team, which is very intense.  I remember I had one of my worst games ever as a pro when we played away to Belgium - a 2-0 loss on Feb. 25, 1998 - I got on for about 15 minutes, and I was so worried about making a mistake that I made a mistake every time I touched the ball.  I realized that I can’t go into games thinking that way.  Ever since then I’ve told myself to play soccer like I normally do.  If you’re good enough to be on the team, you will be.  If I am fortunate enough to make the team, I think during the camp in May when everyone is together I’ll be able to help guys focus on preparing for the different things that are coming up before the tournament. Let’s talk about personal goals for this camp.

BM:  First, I’d like to get sharper.  Of course, I need to try and get to match fitness.   And I’m going to enjoy being back.  Having said that, I want to perform well.  Bruce has told me that I have to earn a place on the team going to South Korea next week, and I’m looking at it that I want to go.  I want to push to be a part of the roster, and hopefully get some playing time. So you feel like you could step on the field tomorrow?

BM: I totally feel like I can play.  If I didn’t think I could, I wouldn’t. When everyone talks about Brian McBride these days, it seems all the focus is on the misfortune and setbacks you’ve had over the last few years, and how it has affected you.  Everyone except you …

BM: (laughs) The setbacks are going to happen.  The injuries and such… as I said, I feel pretty fortunate that way.  As far as enjoying things and being grateful, I’ve always felt that way.  I get to do something as I love for my job.  God has blessed me with enough ability to be a part of the national team, and there’s no way I’ll take that for granted.