C.J. Brown is a former standout Major League Soccer player who currently is an assistant coach for Orlando City SC. Brown played over 10 years for the Chicago Fire, playing in 249 regular season games — the most in franchise history.
I have known you for close to 18 years now and I’ve had the great pleasure of being your friend but of also watching your career over the years. Can you share what it was like coming out of college and being a part of the original group of players that would form the MLS.
As the Chicago Fire approaches their 20th Anniversary this year, I look back and it feels like yesterday. Kim & I left the Bay Area in 1998 for our inaugural season and had no idea what to expect in my first professional year as a player in a big city. To be a part of the original team is still a complete honor and it was truly one of the best chapters of my life.
At that time did you ever imagine that the MLS would grow to what it is today?
I had no clue except to hope that it would be as big if not bigger than what it is today. It is incredible to see how many teams there are now and so much talent around the world coming to play here in the US. It’s amazing that there are more investors, sponsors and owners jumping in to build soccer specific stadiums for us. There are so many opportunities for current and future players that I never imagined from when I started.
I know that you will forever have your heart in Chicago. You were part of the “Fire Original” the founding members of the Chicago Fire. What is your fondest memory playing for the team?
The 1998 Double Championship. In our inaugural season we won both the MLS Cup and the Open Cup,. That was surreal.
What are you most proud of?
The fact that I was accepted not only as a soccer player, but as a family member to the city of Chicago. My wife and I have met so many people — like you — that we consider our family forever. We started our family there and our two girls know that Chicago is home.
Tell me what you most miss about the city of Chicago?
The people, the culture, the city, the sports no matter what team, the food … basically everything. There is no place like it.
You were part of the US National Soccer Squad for some time as well. What was it like to represent your country?
It was a dream come true to be able to represent & play for my country. The opportunity to be on that squad and play against some of the best soccer players in the world — it was a complete honor.
Soccer has provided you the opportunity to travel all over the world. Do you have a favorite place and why?
I travelled to Italy when I was 13. The experience was incredible. The atmosphere around a professional game in that country was unbelievable. The locals embraced the sport like I had never seen before. Kids playing soccer wherever they could and made the best of their situation. For example, at night there were kids all over just playing soccer and you could just jump in for a simple pick up game. I often wonder who I may or may have not kicked a ball around with in the streets of Italy. That sparked my dream to be a professional soccer player.
You have two beautiful daughters that have watched you play soccer since they were born. Do they play soccer? Did you allow them to follow their own passions related to sports?
Canessa, who was born in Chicago, is now 13. She played soccer for a few years when she was about 4-6 and she left it right there. She is now actively playing volleyball with a U14 team and loves it. Kali, who was born in Cali, is now 12 and is very competitive in gymnastics. She played soccer for one second. Literally the whistle blew and she started and retired at the age of four. I love that they have their own passion for their own sports. I would be lying if I didn’t say I get a little excited when they kick a ball, but overall I am just happy and proud that they are excelling in what they love.
Ever since I’ve known you, you have been passionate about coaching. In the early years it was in youth leagues and now you are center stage as the assistant coach of the Orlando City in the MLS. What makes you so passionate to coach?
My passion for coaching youth soccer back in the day was seeing development from both boys & girls at an early age. Not soccer specific but life lessons in general to help them grow as athletes and people. Coaching now in the MLS, this is my sixth year with my fourth team and it has been one hell of a ride to say the least. Coaching at this level, two different things that come into mind, management of veterans and development of up and coming players. I am still learning new things every single day.
Who is the greatest player that you ever had to compete against?
Well, I guess I can say I was blessed & there was more than one. To name just a few….Brian McBride, who I played with an against, Landon Donovan, Paolo Maldini, Hristo Stoichkov, David Beckham, Ronaldinho and Clint Dempsey.
Who is the greatest player you had the pleasure of playing with?
Chris Armas. He was and still is the most stand up player, coach and friend. We are still close. Kim and his wife, Justine, chat daily.
What is your one single greatest achievement in soccer and why?
Being able to use my career as a platform to develop soccer players of all ages. At the end of the day, for me to know that I am able to inspire kids in any way is rewarding.
Stats are showing that parents are moving their kids away from football and into soccer. Does this excite the soccer community?
Personally I do not ever feel like we ever lost any American Football players to American Soccer. It’s more of the generation trend. People are seeing s grow and it providing opportunities for boys, girls, men and women of all ages and at all different levels.
Now to the million dollar question: When will the US win a World Cup, if ever?
I believe with MLS and the National Team development we should and could be able to. When that happens, we hope to be on your flight heading there to cheer them on!