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25 Years of Crew Soccer: A look back at club legend Brian McBride

As we enter into the 25th season of the Crew and MLS, we take a look back at one of the pillars of both club and country, U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame inductee, Brian McBride.

San Jose Earthquakes v Columbus Crew Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

To celebrate the 25th season of Major League Soccer and Columbus Crew SC, a retrospective of the Black & Gold’s history is warranted. Today, we will look back at the impact of the Crew’s inaugural draft pick and team cornerstone, Brian McBride.

Brian McBride

Brian McBride
Crew Career: 1996 – 2004

From Columbus to the Global Stage and Back

Brian McBride was a catalyst for the Crew’s ingress to the Central Ohio market. For some of you younger or newer Crew fans, McBride may merely be a player of the past, but he was undoubtedly the embodiment of the club during its first decade. He was the club’s original Frankie Hejduk or Federico Higuaín. He was not only successful for the Black & Gold of yesteryear, but he was a mainstay on the U.S. Men’s National team over the span of three World Cups.

McBride’s ability on the field and willingness to shoulder the brunt of the Crew’s marketing efforts during the early days, were essential for the club to gain stability in the market. From 1996 through the mid 2000’s, McBride was synonymous with the Crew. When Central Ohio natives heard “the Crew”, it wasn’t Crew Cat or hard hats they conjured up in their mind, it was Brian McBride. In one of the first transactions of its kind for Major League Soccer, McBride transferred to Fulham in 2004 for $1.5 million dollars. McBride went on to find great success across the pond, scoring 40 goals during his four and a half year run in England. It came as no surprise to anyone who knew the midwestern native’s game that McBride quickly became a fan favorite and team captain in London. By the time he exited Fulham, McBride had established such a legacy, they renamed the stadium pub in his honor. So, next time you find yourself in merry old London, have a delicious pint of your favorite adult beverage at “McBride’s.”

The forward returned stateside in the summer of 2008 and suited up for his hometown Chicago Fire, playing two and a hallf seasons before concluding his career after 2010. As a longtime McBride fan, I can’t believe he has been retired for 10 years. It seems surreal. While donning a Crew kit, he tallied 62 goals and 45 assists in eight seasons, departing as the Crew’s all-time leading scorer. His contributions to the club on and off the pitch led to him earning the distinction of being the inaugural member of the Circle of Honor.

During the tumultuous time in 2018, where Crew fans, including myself, believed the team would be taken from them, McBride was the one voice I wanted to hear from, given his pulpit on ESPN as a soccer analyst. He and fellow Crew alum Alejandro Moreno both spoke candidly about how the Crew belonged in Columbus. McBride even returned to town to play in the “Save The Crew” match with other Crew alumni near MAPFRE Stadium at the end of the 2018 season.

McBride Today

McBride has continued his legendary impact within U.S. Soccer, as he was named general manager of the United States Men’s National Team just last month. Working closely with Ernie Stewart and Gregg Berhalter, McBride’s primary areas of focus will be overseeing the development and management of the player pool, building and guiding the culture within the USMNT, and managing relationships with domestic clubs. Prior to embarking on his USMNT management role, the U.S. Soccer Hall of Famer spent much of his time after retirement working at the youth level, overseeing a youth sports company called Tipevo, and managing a soccer academy named after himself.

McBride Memories

Given the impact McBride left, not only as it pertains to soccer in Columbus, but across the globe, he has left a lasting legacy on so many soccer fanatics. Longtime Crew broadcaster Dwight Burgess chimed in with his thoughts on McBride. In summing up McBride as a man, Burgess emphatically described him with one word: “Class.” He elaborated further by gushing that McBride’s most impactful moment cannot be summed up so easily, though he did evoke his most enduring memory of McBride: “Brian dropping to his knees in tears at the end of the U.S. Open Cup win in 2002 ranks among the most significant to me. Like Lebron in Cleveland, Brian wanted desperately to bring a championship to Columbus.”
CD 102.5 morning show host and Massive Report Podcast host, Brian Phillips, echoed much of Dwight’s sentiments:

“The thing about Brian McBride is he may well be the humblest star athlete on the planet. Here’s a man who starred in World Cups and was so beloved by his English club Fulham that they named a pub after him in the stadium.... Whenever I’ve brought these things up to him over the years it’s almost like to him I’m talking about someone else. He’s certainly not rude about it, he just doesn’t like talking about himself very much. He’d rather break down Pearl Jam songs than anything else with me.

Part of Bri’s self-deprecating nature is his wonderful sense of humor about himself. I remember giving him a hard time about the thin headbands he was selling back in the day. He’d just laugh (and count his money I’m sure!). One time for an April Fools gag I got Bri and the late great Coach Fitzie to both go on the air to confirm that the Crew’s star striker had been traded to the Galaxy because his girlfriend had been accepted to the USC School of Law. A total fabrication that both men were kind enough to see through to the end. He played it totally straight. He may well have a future in acting if he wants one!

Along the way McBride would show me his gnarled feet (totally gross) and I’d worry about his fractured cheek bones. A testament those were to his boundless toughness and willingness to do the dirty work. I’d put his work ethic up against anyone’s.”

As for me, during my adolescent years, I grew up idolizing the man for his vigor and tenacity on the field. He was one of my main catalysts for entrenching myself into the sport of soccer over the last quarter-century. I was blessed to have a post-match meet up with the man when I was a young 14-year-old scamp, back during the old Ohio Stadium days. It was a true thrill in which I still recall fondly. He was every bit the class act you would expect and incredibly friendly. He thoughtfully answered my questions and was gracious enough to pose for a photo.

Brian McBride and one of his biggest fans in 1998. Excuse the very 90’s hair.

I grew out my hair with the part down the middle, for no other reason than it was what McBride did. I wore the shoestring headband, for no other reason than it was what McBride did. I played the sport with the intent of mimicking his play, even though I lacked the height and aerial prowess, I made it a point to emulate McBride’s toughness, team-first attitude and will to compete against anyone at any time.

He embodied the Columbus Crew for so long and still remains a stalwart of the franchise. His highlight-reel goals were things of beauty. Whether it was his diving header goal in the 2002 World Cup versus Portugal or his side-winding volley at Ohio Stadium, his ability to find the back of the net with his head or his feet was second to none.

Even more so, his toughness and willingness to sacrifice his body for the betterment of the team will go down in the historical scouting reports as his most notable traits. Who could forget the golf-ball sized protrusion above his eye in the original “Dos a Cero” game at Crew Stadium? Or the blood streaming down his face versus Italy in World Cup 2006. Those two images encapsulate Brian McBride phenomenally. The man has metal plates in his face for crying out loud. Metal plates! He became partially a cyborg while representing our country. Talk about sacrifice.

Soccer - FIFA World Cup 2006 - Italy vs. USA
McBride earned himself a metal plate in his face after this aerial battle with Daniele De Rossi.
Photo by Wade Jackson /Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

I can go on and on about the effect McBride has left on soccer in Columbus, U.S. Soccer as a whole and even myself, but I want to hear from you Crew fans. What are some of your favorite McBride memories? Leave a comment down below and let us know.

McBride in a Nutshell

  • 5th all-time leading scorer for the USMNT with 30 goals
  • Earned 96 caps with the USMNT
  • Member of the USMNT 1998, 2002, and 2006 FIFA World Cup squads
  • First American player to score at two World Cups
  • U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame Inductee: 2014
  • MLS All-Time Best Team: 2005
  • U.S. Open Cup Champion: 2002