When you have a name like Bruce Murray, teammates seem compelled to find something…catchier.
Defender Desmond Armstrong saw Murray as “instant offense” and when goals were needed, he called for some “Bruce Juice.” Defender Mike Windischmann saw physical similarities between Murray and Michael Keaton’s title character in the 1988 feature film “Beetlejuice” (the final scene where a witch doctor shrinks his head) -- and so “Juice” stuck.
“They’re both culpable,” Murray said of his former cohorts.
Blossoming into prominence between the demise of the NASL and before the birth of MLS, Murray finished his nine-year tenure with the U.S. Men’s National Team in 1993 as the career leader in goals and appearances. He has since been surpassed by multiple players in games played, and while his 21 goals in 86 games have left him the sixth-most prolific scorer, only Clint Dempsey has scored more goals in fewer games.
“I would say what it was…It was a great run, a great nine years with the National Team,” the 47-year-old Murray said. “I got to see the world. My education came from traveling the world and playing soccer. Financially, things have changed. But I’ve talked to players that followed us: Tim Howard, Michael Bradley. Those guys looked up to us like we looked up to the Kyle Rotes, the Ricky Davises, the Kevin Crows. I was very happy that we were the group that got the U.S. back in the World Cup.”
Murray was among the core of players who qualified the United States for the 1990 World Cup after a 40-year absence. He can be most famously seen in an iconic photograph on the cover of Soccer America from the final qualifier in Trinidad after Paul Caligiuri scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago.
With Peter Vermes and Tab Ramos off on the left, John Harkes off on the right and Caligiuri seen in the foreground jogging back to midfield, Murray is featured looking skyward, both arms raised to the heavens under the headline: “YES!”
“’Yes’ was the title,” Murray said. “I was thinking, ‘Thank God.’”
Murray would go on to score one of the United States’ two goals at the 1990 World Cup, solidifying his reputation as America’s early go-to guy. But with soccer still in the foothills of cultural acceptance in America, Murray did not achieve the same level of fame as contemporaries such as Ramos, Harkes or Eric Wynalda.
“Because there was not a league around, Bruce played in Britain, Scotland and England,” said 1990 U.S. World Cup coach Bob Gansler. “If there would have been a league here, Bruce would be a more recognizable name than he is now.”
Murray was as recognizable as a soccer hero was in the 1980s. A perennial All-American at Clemson, he scored 20 goals to win the Hermann Trophy in 1987 while leading the South Carolina school to the NCAA championship. It was his second college title, having also been a member of Clemson’s 1984 championship team as a freshman.
He made his National Team debut in 1985 against England, a 5-0 loss in Los Angeles, and would score his first goal less than eight months later in only his second start, helping the team to a 1-1 draw with Uruguay.
Murray also would play in the 1988 Olympics in South Korea, but he became a mainstay on the National Team when Gansler took over as manager in 1989.
“He was a competitor,” Gansler said. “He was the best guy in the air. He played underneath Peter (Vermes). We defended well, countered OK, often, we were damn good. Bruce was one of those guys who would not score prolific goals, but if you played it to his head, he’d nod to somebody, skip it to somebody, knock it back to Tab’s feet. That’s what we wanted.
“He would do that extremely well. The two guys in my career, Bruce and Mo Johnston at Kansas City, those two were the best passers of the ball with their head. Any ball, they would twist and shape their body to give somebody a good chance with the ball.”
Besides scoring one of two U.S. goals at the 1990 World Cup, Murray would score two more at the 1991 Gold Cup to help the United States to the inaugural title.
“He was our goal scorer,” said Tony Meola, a fellow Hall of Famer who played 100 times in goal for the United States from 1988-2006. “He was the guy we leaned on to make things happen. Eric Wynalda came after that. But prior to Eric, Bruce was it. We only had one goal scorer, and Bruce was it.”
With the NASL playing its last season before Murray entered college, his pro career began in 1988 with his hometown Washington Stars of the American Soccer League under John Kerr Sr., the same man who was his youth coach during his teen years at Montgomery United Ponies.
One of the few U.S. players to attract European interest, he played with FC Lucerne in Switzerland in the late 1980s before signing with the U.S. National Team in full-time residency. He went back overseas with Millwall in 1993, joining fellow Americans Kasey Keller and John Kerr, Jr.
But his second try at a European career took a blow 10 months before he arrived in England. While with the United States at the King Fahd Cup (the forerunner to the Confederations Cup) in Saudi Arabia in October 1992, Murray suffered a Grade 3 concussion in the third-place game after scoring two second-half goals in a 5-2 victory.
Eventually cleared to play, he would score in his debut with Millwall and had three goals in his first eight games. But a second concussion against Nottingham Forest set him back six months. He was loaned to Stockport and never was able to reclaim his first-team spot.
He would later play with Ayr United in Scotland and finally in 1995, with the Atlanta Ruckus (now the Atlanta Silverbacks of the present-day NASL) before retiring.
Out of the game by 1995, Murray pursued a business career until 2001, when he returned to soccer as a coach in the Silverbacks’ youth program. From there he became director of coaching at the nearby Roswell Soccer Club, an assistant coach at Harvard under John Kerr Jr. and now he coaches U-16 players at the Bethesda Soccer Club near his hometown of Germantown, Md.
“I really feel I make impact with the 16-, 17-year-old players,” Murray said.
Inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2011, Murray says maybe his career was “snakebit” by the concussion in Saudi Arabia.
But his most enduring memory is that of Franco Baresi and several of his Italian national teammates entering the U.S. locker room after the “Azzurri” struggled to a 1-0 win at the 1990 World Cup in Rome’s Olympic Stadium. Murray will never forget the Italians, a World Cup favorite, shaking the U.S. players’ hands for a well-fought game.“I’ll channel some of my inner Lou Gehrig, here, but I was the luckiest player,” Murray said. “I’m so lucky. I played in Arnie Mausser’s last game, then got the chance to tutor Cobi Jones. I got to see the old, the new. It was incredible.”