Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
When the Chicago Fire's season comes to a close following this weekend's match against Chivas USA, so too will the career of one of the club's most recognizable faces.
And his name isn't Brian McBride.
C.J. Brown is retiring at season's end after a 13-year career with the club that saw him win an MLS Cup, four Open Cups and a Supporters' Shield. Brown believes his time in the league is up as a player as he is looking to dedicate more time with his family.
"I want to be able to have some free time to play with my kids now," Brown told SBI. "I just feel like this is the time and that this was one of my chapters of being a professional soccer player, and now I need to move on to my career that is going to hopefully allow me to take care of my family in a different way."
Brown admitted that he is interested in coaching, with MLS being his preferred destination to land a job. Currently helping with the Fire Juniors – a youth club in the Chicago area – Brown said he would enjoy continuing his career with the Chicago Fire, but that no discussions for a coaching gig have taken place.
"Right now I don't think there's much of an opportunity there. They have their coaches that they've spent a lot of money for," said Brown. "They just hired Carlos (de los Cobos). They have their own coaching staff now. Maybe I'll get an opportunity, but every body's there and every body just got there so I don't see much of a change right now."
The former U.S. national team defender hasn't ruled out accepting a coaching position elsewhere should another club come calling, but even if he were to leave, Brown looks back at his rare 13-year stint as a player with the Fire with fond memories.
"It;s been great," said Brown of his career. "Obviously you have your ups and downs wherever you're at, and as long as I've been there I've seen good things and bad things. But I have to say I'm fortunate to be able to play my whole career at one club.
"I think that I made sacrifices to be back, whether it be money or playing, but I think they also made sacrifices to keep me too."
Having accumulated near 300 caps for the Fire in his 13-year career, Brown also is fully aware of the highs and lows one can go through. Brown points to this season as one of the lowpoints to his career, as the Fire is set to miss on the playoffs.
But he also looks back at the MLS Cup and US Open Cup titles in his initial season in 1998 as one of his top moments, and something that set the tone for the remainder of his career.
"We set our standards really, really high the first year and that was hard to compete with," said Brown. "We've been back to the MLS Cup two times after that. We've won four Open Cups. We've been to the Eastern Conference title four or five times.
"There's been a lot of steps. Look at all the players that have come through here. The DaMarcus Beasleys, Carlos Bocanegras, Chris Armases, Peter Nowaks, (Cuauhtemoc) Blancos. I've played with so many great players. (Brian) McBrides now and (Freddie) Ljungbergs. A lot of that are the high points for me being here in camp and playing with great players."
Playing against great players will come to a close this weekend for Brown, who already understands the significance of his final match. With McBride also set to retire at season's end, Brown already started to feel the importance of his career finale when McBride received his final farewell during the Fire's last home game at Toyota Park (a 0-0 draw vs. lowly DC United) this past weekend.
"It kind of hit me there. I was like 'Wow, this is it you know,'" said Brown. "I sit at home and think about it at times, but I don't think it'll really truly hit me until the preseason of next year when the guys are getting together and they're off to train and I'm going to be back at home when my body is probably normally trained to be working really hard at that time. It's going to hit me a lot around there."
Before that happens though, Fire fans and MLS supporters will get one last chance to catch Brown in action in a match with lots of meaning towards a storied career.