Bob Bradley is in Familiar Territory Building MLS Expansion Team Los Angeles FC

The former USMNT coach knows a thing or two about building an expansion team in MLS.

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Bob Bradley is probably one of the most famous American football (or soccer) coaches in the world. He led the United States Men’s National Team to their first top of the group finish in the World Cup since they won their group in the inaugural World Cup in 1930. He was expected to coach the team well into the 2014 World Cup but was ultimately replaced by Jurgën Klinsmann.

He also became the first American born person to manage a team in the English Premier League, briefly taking over Swansea before being unceremoniously tossed from his position that seemed to end before it began. An American will have almost impossible standards to hold up if one ever takes over a team in the EPL again. Bradley was fired after only 11 games, not given time to get players he wanted nor instill a plan that he could implement over time.

His success, or perceived lack there of, did not prevent MLS expansion club Los Angeles FC from appointing Bradley their manager for their inaugural season. They will begin their franchise in 2018, playing in a stadium next to the famous LA Coliseum where the USC Trojans and, for now, Los Angeles Rams play. Bradley has a history with soccer in Los Angeles. He had a successful season with Chivas USA before moving on to coach the U23 American squad.

After his stint with the US Men’s National Team, Bradley had brief stays with Egypt‘s national team, Stabæk FotballLe Havre AC and the aforementioned Swansea City. He has had moderate success in most places, but perhaps none more so than his first major job when he took over the expansion Chicago Fire in 1998.

Bradley recalled a conversation he had with Lubos Kubík to Sports Illustrated’s Brian Straus.

“So, you haven’t played any football.” says Bob.

“No. Just hockey.” Kubik replied.

“O.K. Have you played much with four in the back?”

“No.”

“Then today we’ll play with three. Lubos, I don’t want you dropping deep. Stay between Francis [Okaroh] and C.J. [Brown]. Keep us high, and when we have the ball you can step into the midfield as an extra man. But first, organize the group in the back.”

Bradley continued, “He steps on the field and hasn’t played a game in how many months? He’s been playing hockey. And we’re taking him.”

Kubik, a World Cup veteran and the libero Bradley never envisioned using before that day, was the 1998 MLS Defender of the Year and a key to the Fire’s double-winning season.

That team-building project obviously worked out. Bradley managed Chicago to one MLS Cup and two U.S. Open Cup titles and went on to compile a career that’s been unique among American coaches. Now, after a World Cup and stops in Egypt, Norway, France and England, he’s come close to full circle.

Bradley is back to creating a team from scratch. The existential question remains the same. Which comes first, the players or the plan? But Bradley is in an even better position to address it than he was two decades ago thanks to additional experience, more connections and greater purchasing power.

“As much as the league has grown, players still want a sense of what kind of team you’re trying to build,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to talk about what you’re trying to do, and it’s the same idea as some of those conversations I had 20 years ago. Only in this particular case, with the momentum that’s been established here in L.A. and obviously with the stadium going up so quickly, certainly there are a lot of good things that can be shared that give players an idea that it’s being done the right way.”

One of the most important aspects of competing in MLS is getting players from Europe to buy into playing football in America. Despite being around for 24 years now, MLS has yet to break ground on getting the best names in the world to play in America. Frankly, they probably never will. Football is THE sport around the world, where as in America it plays fifth fiddle to the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.

However, football is growing in popularity in the States. They’ve been able to convince names like Thiery Henry, Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, and Frank Lampard to join MLS in the twilight of their careers. Even late, these legends are better than most in MLS.

And maybe MLS teams don’t have to go after the big names to increase the quality of competition. LA FC has been able to secure players like Carlos Vela, a standout for Mexico, and Omar Gaber, an Egyptian who played for Bradley and is on load from FC Basel, who dominate the top Swiss division.

Gaber, 25, will spend 2018 with LAFC on loan from FC Basel. The new MLS club can buy his rights at the end of the season. Gaber recently has had some difficulty getting regular minutes with the eight-time defending Swiss champs, but he’d proven himself to Bradley when they worked together with the Egyptian national side in 2011-13.

“When you work with a player and you have a good experience, there’s always the idea that somewhere along the line, it can happen again,” Bradley said. “In recent years I’ve been all over the place. And players know that Carlos Vela signs and they’re excited to hear more and when you talk about the team we want to build, it’s well received.

“The picture changes a little bit every day based on discussions with different players,” he continued. “The basic vision we have of a team that’s exciting and that plays good football—a team that players are excited to be a part of and a club that does things the right way. Those are all the kinds of reasons that i wanted to be a part of this. … Then you want to take your experiences, vision and ideas and turn it in something that, football-wise, can be a little special.”

Bob Bradley is one of the best possible names to take over an expansion franchise, and especially one that will enter the league with such high expectations. Their cross town rival LA Galaxy have been one of the premier teams in MLS for several years now. Bradley will have to compete for fans, with winning being the first step to gaining their trust. He is well equipped to handle that.

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