Photo by ISIphotos.com
By AVI CREDITOR
Four years ago, iconic U.S. forward Brian McBride was captaining the U.S. men's Olympic team in Beijing. Saturday, about two miles to the west of Wembley Stadium, where Brazil and Mexico will meet in this year's men's Olympic final, he'll be trying to lead an upstart team on an entirely different stage.
McBride returns to competitive action Saturday for ninth-tier English side Wembley FC in their quest to embark on an underdog FA Cup run for the ages. Backed by tournament sponsor Budweiser, Wembley has added a number of former international standouts to its semi-pro club for the FA Cup only. The 40-year-old McBride is joined by the likes of Martin Keown, Ray Parlour, Claudio Caniggia and Graeme Le Saux, and they will attempt to lead the club to a win over Langford FC in a first-round match at Vale Farm (the match will be streamed live on Facebook at 7:45 a.m.).
For McBride, the appearance, as of now, is a one-time thing, regardless of whether Wembley wins. He is set to start a full-time position as studio analyst for Fox Soccer's UEFA Champions League and Europa League coverage, but before then, he sees an opportunity to help make an impact on the grassroots levels of English soccer while getting a unique chance to play meaningful minutes again.
"It's a good way to be able to lead by example," McBride told SBI via telephone on Friday. "It's not just about going out there and doing the big things but the little things, and hopefully we, as older players and ex-players in the club, pick up on that."
When McBride takes to the field at Vale Farm, it will mark his return to playing in London, where he starred for Fulham from 2004-2008 before returning to MLS to close his career with the Chicago Fire. It won't be his first cameo appearance in England, though. Last year he played in the Paul Scholes Testimonial match as part of the New York Cosmos' VIP-laden squad at Old Trafford. This time, the stakes are a little different.
"I'm excited," McBride said. "I look at it as a chance to go about and do the right things when I was a professional, and hopefully that'll show some benefits and rewards, but most importantly it's about winning the game."
McBride will be expected to provide his typical workhorse mentality while adding a scoring punch up top for Wembley. Even he is not certain how his performance will unfold, considering he has been away from competitive soccer for two years.
"I don't know how my form is, but I've been trying to stay fit," McBride said. "I'm fit, but not soccer fit. We'll see how it all goes. You never can tell."
McBride's time with Wembley has been brief. He said he has been over to England three times — once in April, once in June and this trip — to train with the club, whose FA Cup run is part of an NBC Sports Network series titled "Dream On: The Journey of Wembley FC" that will air for the first time on Aug. 21. Training sessions have included McBride playing and training in addition to providing some coaching.
"I looked at it as a way to do some coaching and mentoring at the grassroots level and really see the passion," McBride said. "You look at guys on the team that have full-time jobs, and they still train almost as much as real professionals. That balance has got to be grueling."
As much as this is about publicity for the tournament and television series, it is also about helping a little-known club make strides toward growing. The game will be aired live on ESPN UK, giving Wembley's players unprecedented exposure, and the further they can advance, the more press and attention they will get.
"This is a serious thing," McBride said. "People say, 'What are they trying to do, buy the FA Cup?' This is just, with Budweiser's help, the ability to provide more infrastructure and build for the long term. Our involvement is more on the mentoring side. You can always learn from ex-professionals or players or coaches. This is a way I'm looking at it as a way to try and be professional, do things correctly. Provide another outlook or view of how soccer is played."
McBride's return to London is limited. His flight arrived after the U.S. women's national team captured the gold medal Thursday, and he hasn't had a chance to return to Craven Cottage, where the sports bar "McBride's" is named in his honor, nor has he had a chance to experience any of the Olympics. He was, however, able to have lunch with U.S. national team star Clint Dempsey, his former teammate for both Fulham and the national team.
He will depart for the United States following this atypical foray back into English soccer.
"It was too interesting to miss out on," McBride said. "I'm getting in with a group that is very determined and eager to succeed."