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A Head Above

Brian McBride on life back in Chicago

By NADIM ILBAWI M.D.
    One of U.S. soccer’s most prolific players, Brian McBride, is home in Chicago. The 37-year-old striker rejoined Major League Soccer this year as a member of the Chicago Fire. His soccer career has taken him around the world, living in England and Germany, where he played club soccer between stints with the U.S. National Soccer team.  He has had more than his share of injuries: multiple concussions, ankle injuries, a dislocated kneecap, facial fractures requiring 7 titanium plates and a recent shoulder surgery. Like many of Chicago’s historic athletes, he is tough and hardworking, having literally bled for American soccer. But behind the fearless on-field competitor is a humble and appreciative man. When asked what he is most proud of outside of soccer, “my family, of course,” he says.
    Born in Arlington Heights, McBride grew up playing many sports, but leaned toward the camaraderie of his soccer team. He excelled at the collegiate level and was an All-American, scoring 72 goals during his time at St. Louis University. After playing briefly for the Milwaukee Rampage, he traveled to Germany, where he joined VfL Wolfsburg.
    “Germany was a very good learning experience on a personal level,” he says, adding that he learned a lot about himself and what it takes to be a professional athlete. “It was also a time for me to put things in perspective.”
    Part of that meant returning to the United States and joining the Columbus Crew for the inaugural season of the MLS.  He was the first player drafted in the new league. After eight seasons with the Crew, McBride transferred to the English Premier League’s Fulham United, where his resilience and work ethic were elemental to the team’s play.  Now back in Chicago as a member of the Fire, McBride says he could not be happier. “I have always hoped to have the opportunity to come back and play in Chicago.” Here, along with his wife and three children, are many members of his family.
    McBride has been an ambassador for the game of soccer in the United States. “There are many great young athletes in this country, but many still choose to go into other sports,” he says, adding that he is “very proud of the steady growth of the MLS” and that “the infrastructure is strong.” The newest generation of soccer parents in the United States have themselves been more familiar with soccer than previous generations. “Moms and dads will be better coaches for their children,” leading to a higher pool of talented youth.
    With all the injuries that McBride has sustained over his years of soccer, his resolve to play at the same level and his appreciation for the ability to continue playing seem to parallel the way he approaches life. He is not dissuaded by pain, disappointment or failure—he does not live in fear of making mistakes.
    “If you change things that work, you change it for the negative.”

Published: October 11, 2009
Issue: November 2009 Sports Issue