Brian McBride's new General Manager position was given a slightly clearer scope on Monday during a conference call hosted by US Soccer and led by Sporting Director Earnie Stewart and McBride.
After whittling down an original candidate list of 20 names, Stewart selected former USMNT striker Brian McBride as the new GM, citing McBride's national team experience as a player, his stature on the international level, and his interpersonal skills as reasons for the hire. Stewart also reminded us that the new GM was a captain, which also evidently played a role in the hire due to the inherent leadership qualities that represents.
Oversight of USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter
McBride, despite his incredible talent and commitment to the US Men's National Team as a player, has never been in a management position. One major power he'll wield is the authority to hire and fire the senior coach, currently occupied by former teammate Gregg Berhalter.
This takes any potentially sticky decisions out of Earnie Stewart's hands, although McBride admitted that all major decisions would likely include consultation with relevant stakeholders throughout US Soccer. Given the oft-cited conflict of interest that exists due to Berhalter's brother, Jay, being USSF's Chief Commercial and Strategy Officer, fans will hope that the decision-making is as far from the business side as possible.
For his part, McBride's reflection on the team's performance over the last year was largely positive. He urged fans to remember that 2019 was the first year with a coach that is making radical changes with a very young squad. In fact, the only negative he cited was pinned on the players, saying that, at times, the team "may have lacked a little bit of that effort." He was also adamant that, "advancing to the Gold Cup Final and Concacaf Nations League knockout round are big things."
It's a good bet, however, that most fans are aiming a bit higher in a federation where the US has routinely been in the first or second position already.
Who guides tactics for US Soccer?
The newly-created role will also be responsible for aligning the team with the sports development division, and leading "evaluation and implementation of the high performance programs for senior and youth teams." This is likely rooted in a desire to replicate the successes of a German-style system that ingrains the same tactics and style of play throughout the senior and youth teams, although it lacks the crucial aspect of influence over youth development at the club level.
The expectation is that McBride will work with another new USSF employee, the as-of-yet unhired Director of Methodology, to filter a common playing style through the ranks. Precisely how much control he'll have over tactics is muddy however, given the combination of the above but the insistence by the new GM that Berhalter is in charge of tactics and players for the senior men's squad.
At first glance, it appears positive that there's potentially a check on the at-times unrealistic stylistic ambitions of the head coach. On the other hand, this opaque delineation of responsibilities and decision-making could create a messier situation than before. Given the history of the two as USMNT teammates, it's unlikely there will be major clashes, but the ball has to stop somewhere.
Building relationships with both clubs and players
Perhaps the most significant portion of McBride's position will be, as Stewart described, creating partnerships and building networks with international clubs, meeting regularly with players, coaches, and GMs around the world. As more US players move abroad, this should help the men's team push for player availability for international windows.
Clubs aren't always required to release players, with a prime example being the upcoming Olympics. Should the US qualify, they would almost definitively want to include 21-year-old star Christian Pulisic to chase the trophy. Pulisic's club, Chelsea, is under no obligation to release him, which means that having a good relationship and understanding between McBride and his counterparts at the club level is paramount. Stewart underlined several times that significant travel will be required, so expect McBride to be on the go, rubbing elbows across the pond on a regular basis.
The final element that should procure a sigh of relief from US fans is that McBride will be responsible for talent identification within the player pool – making sure that there is no stone left unturned, no dual-national left un-contacted. After a much-maligned approach to player recruitment, or lack thereof, in recent years, the hope will be that McBride can tap into oft-neglected pockets such as the Latino community, and set up a consistent process for contact with potential future senior players as they age and improve.
On the whole, this is a positive for US Soccer. Brian McBride is an extremely likable former star, and brings an incredible amount of passion for the team. The description of responsibilities was far more than a single person could handle, so stripping some of that out of Earnie Stewart's day job should provide immediate focus and improvement in those areas. Of course, all of this is an ideal state. How it plays out could be a different story, and with a contract that only runs through the 2022 World Cup, McBride will have to prove himself quickly.