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The Beautiful Game According to McBride

A player like Brian McBride comes around once in a lifetime.  The prolific striker got the job done in every situation at every level, whether it was winning games for the Columbus Crew, scoring goals for the U.S. Men’s National Team or playing with England’s best at Fulham.

Photo Credit: Allstate/Taylor Strategy

Allstate, one of the nation’s leading supporters of American soccer, has wisely teamed up with McBride to help promote awareness for the beautiful game.  It’s such an important time, being a World Cup year and a period of unprecedented growth at all levels of the sport.

He praised the work of the insurance giant and other corporate sponsors as being a major part of the sport’s growth, providing funding for infrastructure and programs as well as exposing new people to the game.

Allstate’s Good Hands FC event, known for doing good all across the country, was rolled out to help California youth players, this time with McBride running drills, answering questions, and most importantly sharing his love of the game.   Every player left with new gear and tickets, something that was much-needed and greatly appreciated.

McBride was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk with us about the national team, the Columbus Crew, and the future of the American game.

One of the most deadly finishers in national team history (third highest all-time to be exact), McBride shared his excitement for this weekend’s match.

Photo Credit: Allstate/Taylor Strategy

He stated that he was looking forward to seeing what ideas the team has formed after a month of training. As a former player, he knows they are looking forward to playing in a competitive match in front of fans here in the States.  He also mentioned that this weekend’s match is a good opportunity for players that might not have gotten a chance to impress Klinsmann.

When asked about a prediction of the score vs. Korea, McBride confidently said, “The U.S. will win.”

He was also very realistic about the challenges facing the USMNT at the World Cup.

“It was made more difficult because of the group.  The first game is the all- important one.  We need a result.”

He was quick to praise the positive work of the national team players and staff, saying that there were lots of positives headed into the World Cup.  He pointed out that the team is more dynamic than 2o10 and that their versatility could prove to be problematic for opposing sides.

He was optimistic about the performances of Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore, and Tim Howard.  He believes that Altidore has added another dimension to his game despite struggling at top-flight Sunderland.

The growth of MLS was another hot topic of discussion.  McBride admitted that tremendous growth has occurred and finally MLS is buying American players back to play in the States.

“You don’t have to go overseas anymore.  Every individual has to make that personal decision.  They will certainly be challenged over there, but they now have options.”

Keeping talented players here at home is always a positive development.

We couldn’t resist asking him about one of his former teams the Columbus Crew.  He admitted being friends with both former head coach Robert Warzycha and new coaches Gregg Berhalter and Josh Wolff.  He was one of the first to talk about the hard decisions that led to Robert leaving the club and how that is an unfortunate part of professional sports.  It shows the amount of respect McBride has for the game and a former teammate, a class act all the way around.

He praised the new coaching and technical staff as being very positive, thoughtful, and methodical.  He also was quick to describe the new ownership in terms of being committed, passionate, and having a desire to push the Crew to a new level.

“Columbus is a special place to play soccer. There are very few places like it in all of MLS.  They have a great opportunity to do something special there.”

We wrapped up our discussion with his thoughts on improving the American game as a whole.  He talked about the improving the knowledge aspect of player development, having a “soccer brain” so to speak.

“Soccer is a team sport.  It’s important to have awareness and understanding of what is happening around you.  Making the right decisions is 90% of the game.”

McBride also was supportive of academy systems throughout the U.S., saying he liked anything that “promoted the current virtues of the sport.”  He feels that programs must have the best interest of the game in mind.  Clubs that focus only on making money are losing the core objective.

It was a great opportunity for all of us here at ISN.  You don’t get to speak to an American soccer legend everyday.  Thanks to the people at Allstate, this has become a lot more commonplace and we are certainly thankful for that.

Driver Re-Signs with the Dynamo

The Houston Dynamo have re-signed midfielder Andrew Driver, it was announced today. After being out of contract at the end of the 2013 season both parties have reached an agreement for him to return. Per league and team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Photo Credit: Houston Dynamo

Driver made 26 appearances (20 starts) for the Dynamo in the 2013 regular season before appearing in five games (one start) in the playoffs. The 26-year-old scored three goals, including a strike in his MLS debut at FC Dallas on March 17 and the game-winner at the LA Galaxy on May 5. He also assisted on Warren Creavalle’s equalizing goal in stoppage time at Toronto FC on April 20.

“We are happy he is coming back to play for us this year,” said Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear. “I thought he had a good season for us in 2013. Him returning for us in 2014 strengthens our midfield and our overall squad.”

Prior to the Dynamo, the 5-foot-9 midfielder made 168 appearances and scored 19 goals in seven seasons with Heart of Midlothian in Scotland. A native of Oldham, England, the winger signed with the senior club in 2003 from the Hearts Academy.

Driver moved to Edinburgh, Scotland at age 11 and joined the Hearts Academy. He played with the English U21 national team at the 2009 European Championships and is eligible to play for the Scotland national team.


Nick Hagglund: Living the MLS Dream

Photo Credit: Xavier Athletic Communications

Xavier defender Nick Hagglund found something quite unique over the holidays at his family’s home. It was a poster he created in the first grade, one that described what he wanted to do when he grew up.  On that list was to play in MLS.

Hagglund is now just days away from making that dream a reality. The athletic center back not only got an invite to the MLS Combine, but he is also likely to be selected in the MLS SuperDraft as a player with tremendous untapped potential.

“To me Nick might not be the best available center back, but without question is the most intriguing prospect with perhaps the best upside in the draft,” Xavier head coach Andy Fleming stated. “He came here as an athletic playmaker and left as an athletic soccer player.  His ability to connect the first pass, read the game, and organize have grown leaps and still have room for more growth.  His frame, pace and ability to time and win head balls is unlike anything I’ve seen at the college level.”

The Cincinnati native is part of a new breed of defenders that can shut down the opposing attack and start one of their own, connecting with midfielders and forwards. This attacking mentality is valuable as many MLS teams look for an edge or in this case, a European playing style along the lines of a FC Barcelona.

His whole career began in the Cincinnati United Premier system, where he starred as an attacking center midfielder.  This program is known for producing talent, talent that moves on to success in college and beyond.

“We are excited that Nick will be at the MLS Combine and has a good potential to be drafted into MLS,” Cincinnati United Soccer Club Executive Director Scott Rodgers added. “This would be our third straight year with a player drafted. Nick had a great youth career at our club and a successful collegiate career at Xavier.  We are very proud to call him a CUP alum and wish him the best of luck.”

Photo Credit: Xavier Athletic Communications

A successful youth career gave him some options when it came to the collegiate game.  Hagglund chose Xavier when it was still a small and struggling program, one that was in desperate need of change.  That change came in the form of Fleming and a talented freshman class, a group that included Hagglund.

The new head coach allowed these talented underclassmen to set the tone, creating a new culture of excellence.

Hagglund’s first season as a Musketeer was one of adjustment as he was asked to be literally everywhere as injuries depleted the Xavier squad.  He played as a forward, midfielder, and eventually settled in as a defender on the backline.

He was a solid addition to Xavier’s back four and continued there for the next three seasons, excelling at center back and eventually earning a laundry list of honors that included BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year.  His exceptional play leaves Xavier’s program in a better place than when he arrived.  Hagglund credits the “brotherhood of accountability,” a team-first mentality that allows success without superstars.

“I’m always willing to sacrifice for my teammates on and off the field,” Hagglund remarked. “It not about me. It’s about the team.”

Photo Credit: Xavier Athletic Communications

His great attitude and personality would make him an asset for any MLS team. And he already has two seasons with the Columbus Crew Super-20 squad on his résumé.

The fact that he learned so much about the position in so little time is certainly intriguing.  Hagglund admits he has a lot to learn as a center back, but he is ready and willing to learn from veteran players and teammates.

But he has some work to do to make all of this happen.  A strong performance at the MLS Combine this weekend will push him up the draft charts, giving him a real chance to make an MLS squad.

One thing is for certain.  The first-grade version of Nick Hagglund would be proud of the man he has become.  And how close his dreams are to reality.

“This has been a dream I have been chasing,” Hagglund concluded. “I just never thought it would happen. ”

Let’s hope for a happy ending for the young defender from the great city of Cincinnati.  It seems only right for him to realize his dream as he is doing it for the right reason: for his love of the game.

FC Dallas Headed to United Arab Emirates for MLS Preseason

FC Dallas will be the first Major League Soccer team to travel to the United Arab Emirates to train and play exhibition games. FC Dallas will spend the first segment of its 2014  preseason in the United Arab Emirates when the club travels for two weeks to Abu Dhabi, UAE, in January and February 2014.

The preseason trip was facilitated through the cooperation and support of the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Washington, D.C. “This is a great example of the continued growth of the dynamic relationship between both countries,” said Yousef Al Otaiba, ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States. “FC Dallas will be the first American professional soccer team to come to the UAE and they are a great organization to pioneer this effort.”

Al Jazira Sports and Culture Club will host FC Dallas from Jan. 30 to Feb. 12. The team will travel on Emirates Airlines to and from the UAE. While in Abu Dhabi, the team will stay at the Al Jazira Sports Hotel and train at the Al Jazira SCC facility. FC Dallas is planning at least three friendly games during the trip, along with a special night for the American business community living and working in the UAE. The team will also make several community appearances during the trip.

“We are honored to be the first MLS team to spend our preseason in the UAE and believe this will be the beginning of a long-term relationship with the wonderful people of Abu Dhabi,” said Dan Hunt, vice president of Hunt Sports Group.

FC Dallas reports for 2014 preseason in late January and will spend the following weeks preparing for the 2014 season opener against Montreal, presented by AdvoCare and slated for March 8th at Toyota Stadium.

The One and Only Tony Meola

This weekend’s MLS Cup isn’t the only game in town, thanks to the FIFA World Cup draw going down today.  We consulted the one and only Tony Meola to share his thoughts on both as he prepares for yet another soccer event supported by the insurance giant Allstate.

Photo Credit: Denny Medley

Meola didn’t expect an easy draw for the games in Brazil, but landing in the “Group of Death” doesn’t represent an impossible task.  Meola sees the positive in every difficulty and thinks the U.S. has a chance to make it through the group behind Germany.

“Germany is Germany,” Meola remarked. “They are the obvious favorites in the group.”

But he doesn’t see Portugal as being invincible despite having arguably the best player of the world in Cristiano Ronaldo.  He doesn’t believe that the 2014 Portuguese squad is better than the one that dominated in 2002.  He also thinks that it will be difficult for Ghana to beat the U.S. three times in a row , making that opening match against Ghana a must-win for the Americans.

Meola believes Klinsmann is “the right guy” when it comes to preparing for this World Cup and his native Germany.  He is also the right choice when it comes to choosing the squad.  This difficult draw may change how he chooses his team; that is surely a possibility at this point.

Several players have work to do to make this summer’s USMNT squad, but Meola predicts that two players from this weekend’s MLS Cup are not among them.  Matt Besler is a lock to make the squad, while Graham Zusi should make the squad, playing on the right.  Both should get opportunities to play in the opening three games of the World Cup.

Terrance Boyd and Sacha Kljestan are two players still “on the fringe.” Altidore is the only lock as a striker, while Eddie Johnson and Aron Jóhannsson seem to be favorites to fit into a 4-2-3-1 system that Klinsmann has found success with. Form and scoring goals at the time of selection are going to be key for Boyd, who is an absolute star in Austria.

Meola believes Kljestan must make the most of his remaining opportunities, but his selection depends on numbers.  The middle of the field is congested and it is unclear how many midfielders will be headed to Brazil.  It really is “a matter of need” for Klinsmann.

Meola is convinced that being flexible and changing lineups based on a deep bench is going to be crucial for any team to succeed in the World Cup.  He called Bruce Arena “a master” in this area, prompting a change in mentality for American managers.

The MLS Cup was the other major topic.  The former USMNT goalkeeper sees this weekend’s match as an ideal situation.

“The best two teams in MLS are playing right now. That’s exciting.”

Meola predicts the game will be a low scoring affair, one that will be won in the midfield.  RSL seems to have an edge in this area, benefitting from their vast experience in their midfield.  Veteran Ned Grabavoy will be the “X Factor” in tomorrow’s matchup.

Sporting KC will have a strong home crowd on their side, one that can pressure the opponent and give their team a confidence boost.  It really is a special situation, a true showcase for MLS.  It is also special for Meola, going back to a city and a club that has not forgot him.  He was part of the first Sporting Legends class, SKC’s Hall of Fame. His name will remain part of the stadium forever, a pretty cool honor.

Giving back is the biggest reason for Meola’s trip to Kansas City.  He participated in yet another Good Hands FC event, providing players with gear, MLS Cup tickets, signed merchandise, and some great training.  Meola even got some help from current MLS stars in Will Bruin and Will Johnson, who served as guest trainers.

Good Hands FC is always special and represents the best the beautiful game has to offer. Legends and stars giving back, thanks to a company that cares about their clients and sports in America. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

We would like to personally thank Allstate for their commitment to soccer over the years, helping grow the American game and supporting ISN along the way.

Also congratulations are in order for Brandon Ponchak, who won our Twitter contest and two MLS Cup tickets in the process!

Good Hands FC Event Photos