Always a fan favorite and one of the most gifted scorers in U.S. men's soccer history, retired forward Brian McBride put plenty of smiles on American faces with his hard-nosed play and knack for finishing throughout his career.
On Thursday afternoon, he had Baltimore soccer enthusiasts smiling as well.
In conjunction with the U.S. men's national team playing in the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal round Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium, the 43-year-old McBride served as soccer ambassador by hosting a community event at Patterson Park. Working with Gold Cup sponsor Allstate Insurance, he signed autographs, posed for photos (the Gold Cup trophy was also on hand), had a Q & A session and participated in a soccer clinic for nearly two dozen youths in the inner city. At the end of the outing, soccer bags and uniform kits also were passed out for the youngsters. McBride's message to the group was simple and direct: Develop friendships, work hard and respect each other and the game.
"In this group, they all knew each other, so you had the fun aspect to it and the challenging aspect to it. But really, just the ability to spend time and when you get a chance to talk about experiences and talk through what they are doing, I really enjoy it," McBride said.
Minyimkuck Odolaa, a 17-year-old Patterson student from Ethiopia, may have left the happiest, winning the shooting challenge that was part of the clinic.
"It was very good, a lot of fun and really great to meet someone like that. I learned to be friendly to others, support and work hard," he said.
On Saturday, Team USA will take on Cuba at 5 p.m. The Americans, who are defending champions and in search of their sixth Gold Cup, claimed Group A with a 2-0-1 mark, while Cuba finished third in Group C. McBride believes the U.S. side is primed for a repeat.
"The [United States] has put themselves in a really good spot to match up against a team that, on paper, should be easier than the games they've already played," said McBride, who has done analyst work for Fox and ESPN since retiring as a player. "But this is the knockout stage, so you have to make sure that you get the business done. I expect them to come out and really put a lot of pressure on Cuba from the get-go."
One of McBride's finest performances representing the country came in the 2002 Gold Cup. Expected to miss the tournament because of blood clots, he returned three months ahead of schedule and made the most of his early comeback. He scored four times to be named the tournament's Most Valuable Player and claimed the Golden Shoe Award for most goals. But, more importantly to McBride, the United States won the title. The tournament was played in the winter back then, and it served as a catalyst for a strong showing at the 2002 World Cup that summer.
McBride was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame last year. He made 97 appearances for the United States from 1993 to 2006 and his 30 goals rank fourth on the all-time list. He appeared in three consecutive World Cups (1998, 2002, 2006) and was the first American to score in two straight (1998 and 2002). In 1996, McBride was the first selection in the inaugural Major League Soccer draft, picked by the Columbus Crew. He spent eight years with the Crew, totaling 62 goals, before going abroad to play for Fulham in the English Premier League. After four successful seasons in England, the Arlington Heights, Ill., native returned to the MLS to spend two seasons with his hometown Chicago Fire before stepping down in 2010.
McBride is considered to be one of the finest to play for the American side, but he downplays the notion.
"It's crazy to be thought of that way. It's not something I ever thought about just because it's not an individual sport, it's a team sport," he said. "Anybody who knows me and has seen me play, I certainly needed all the help I could from my teammates. So I'm honored. I definitely cherished my career and enjoyed every bit of it. But it's something I never thought I'd be looked at that way, so I'm certainly thankful for people even putting me near that."