Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Fernando Torres, Romario. The top-scorers’ list from past FIFA Confederations Cup tournaments is a legends’ roll call. Tucked in among this list of household global names is Bruce Murray.
"I didn’t know I was top scorer in ’92 until you said so," the former USA striker, now 51, told FIFA.com. "But it’s pretty cool to have my name next to Gabriel Batistuta. Bati-gol."
Murray played in a forgotten era of American football, a time after the glitz of the North American Soccer League (NASL) and before Major League Soccer (MLS). "A lot more people would know his name if he was born a few years later, or earlier," said former Stars and Stripes coach Bob Gansler.
Murray was dangerous in the air. Tall and rangy, he was a battler and an attacking spark. "Back then, everybody came through the university system," said Murray, who scored twice in the first FIFA Confederations Cup tournament in 1992, then known as the King Fahd Cup. "If you wanted to be paid to play soccer, the national team was the only game in town."
The story of his first call-up brims with a cheerful, homespun sentiment. "I was playing for an amateur team. A game up in New York," Murray said, his cheery voice indicating he was clearly happy to be wandering down memory lane. "I played pretty well. The next day, a call comes from the USA coach asking if I want to go to LA to play against England!"
Before long, the 18-year-old was in southern California, lining up against Gary Lineker and Glenn Hoddle. "Wow! This is England," he remembered of that day. "We lost 5-0, but I played OK."
Murray scored his first goal the next year and became a crucial member of the USA team that returned to the FIFA World Cup™ after 40 years of failure. "It was like a traveling road show," he said. "One day, we’re in Spain, and the next, we’re in Japan. A few days later in Istanbul, where the fans are setting the seats on fire."
He started all three games at Italy 1990 and scored one of the USA’s two goals, a scrappy effort against Austria.
Memories of the King Fahd
"It was just another trip for us," Murray said of the first Confederations Cup. "But the King Fahd Stadium was amazing. It was brand new. It looked like a giant tent. All the seats had video replay monitors, which was a huge technological leap!"
The Americans were beaten in their opener, losing 3-0 to hosts Saudi Arabia. "All the fans were in their white traditional dress," Murray said, impressed to this day with the quick feet of the Saudis.
His two goals, that tied Argentina’s Batistuta for top scoring honours, came against Côte d'Ivoire. "We played a smart game," he said proudly. "They were fast, but we had a plan to play on the break. That’s how I got my goals."
By the time the USA hosted the World Cup two years later, a new breed of American player had hit the scene, the likes of Cobi Jones and Alexi Lalas. "I wasn’t really a part of the plan anymore, so that was that," said Murray.
A series of concussions and injuries took their toll on Murray, who was forced to retire before turning 30 and before the post-1994 renaissance of football in the United States. He had a short spell with Millwall, then in the English second tier, where he got a taste of the professional club football environment he was denied by circumstance and bad timing in his native USA.
He fondly recalls the goal he scored on his debut at The Den. "If you score a goal there, you don’t have to buy a drink or a meal," he said. "But if you screw up, you’re going to hear about it – inside the ground and out."
Murray was inducted into the US Soccer Hall of Fame in 2011, and when he retired, he did so as the American with the most caps and most goals for his country. He has since been superseded in both categories, but modern American stars like Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan and Christian Pulisic owe a debt to the foundation bricks laid by this unsung American hero.