By Ridge Mahoney
Of the three main soccer analysts to work games and studio shows for Fox Sports, Brian McBride definitely has the least experience.
On the set with host Rob Stone and fellow former internationals Warren Bartonand Eric Wynalda, McBride feels like he’s figuring things out after nearly two years on the job.
“It certainly was something that was new, and I’m feeling much more comfortable knowing my ins and outs and making sure to be succinct and making my point,” says the former U.S. striker who was selected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame on the first ballot on Monday. “There’s always room for improvement.”
During many weeks he spends two or three days in Los Angeles working in the Fox studios, with the Champions League his current priority. Last week’s set of results, during which all four road teams won, probably won’t be repeated Tuesday and Wednesday when eight more teams play their first legs in the round of 16. He doesn’t see any of the lower-seeded teams advancing, and the one team he thought had a shot in last week’s quartet of games didn’t come through.
“If at the beginning of his knockout stage, I thought one non-seeded team would go through, it would be Man City,” said McBride. City lost the first game at home to Barcelona, 2-0. “But, of course, that looks like a very difficult proposition right now.”
If one team from last week’s games could feel wronged, McBride would cite AC Milan, which did everything right but score against Atletico Madrid and then conceded a late goal to go down, 1-0. “That was the one game where the right result probably didn’t show what had happened on the field. As far as the way things went, it showed the seeding. For AC Milan, that’s the best they’ve played in a long time against a very strong Atletico Madrid team that has the ability to adapt. In the end, it’s whoever takes their chance, and [Atletico] did.”
He doesn’t cite Atletico as this year’s dark horse to perhaps cause a huge upset by winning it all, but like many pundits he ticks off the critical elements a team will need to unseat the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Paris St. Germain, not to mention the two German and two English seeds. Diego Costa’s goal in the 83rd minute followed a string of saves by Thibaut Courtois that included tipping a fierce Kaka shot onto the crossbar.
“When you have the ability to score goals, not only with Diego Costa but you’ve got Raul Garcia, you’ve got Koke, and their new Turkish player [Arda Turan], they are special players. But when you get into these competitions, you’re always going to need your goalkeeper to make one or two big saves and Courtois showed his quality with that big save getting across with the top hand.
“You have a lot of great attributes on that team. It might just be too early for them, and then the question is whether or not they can hold onto their players. So we’ll see. But they’re certainly not a team to be taken lightly.”
Looking ahead to this week’s four games, the matchup of Galatasaray and Didier Drogba against his former club, Chelsea, is probably the biggest. But the magnitude of Manchester United, which is struggling in the Premier League, heading to Greece for a series it should win is also intriguing.
However, he doesn’t expect any shocks. “I don’t see the one surprise coming out of this set of games,” he says. “This past week I really thought Man City had the opportunity to put a step ahead but it just didn’t happen.”
Away from the set, he’s devoting much of his time to his wife and three children, aged 13, 10 and 5.
“I get to spend weekends going to soccer games and practices and my oldest daughter’s cheerleading contests,” says McBride, who grew up near Chicago in Arlington Height, Ill. “Family time. I can take my wife out to dinner on Friday or Saturday night. I didn’t get to do that too often when I was playing and traveling.”
His schedule this summer is up in the air. The FIFA rights deal for Fox doesn’t kick in until 2015, and while there’s talk of a daily World Cup show nothing has been decided. He’s also been working games since signing on with the network and many of the post-World Cup club friendlies will air on Fox, so those could be among his assignments.
As he did religiously as a player, he’s working on his craft. “I’m enjoying it,” he says. “It’s not for me to judge how it’s going, but so far, yeah, I’ve enjoyed the time and wanting to continue to grow into this job and talk about a game I love. It’s certainly three different personalities, so it makes for good TV, and Rob can hold us all together.
“It’s our own locker room. Off the air we joke around and have fun, and on the air, comes time to be serious.”