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LAFC’s hiring of Bob Bradley straddles line between MLS, global soccer

Few people as well positioned as him in MLS circles.

Stoke City v Swansea City - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Bob Bradley’s appointment as Los Angeles Football Club’s first head coach is sure to divide opinion. All major moves are divisive, of course.

But with the crop of candidates winnowing away in recent weeks, with Bradley the only person who had confirmed prior talks with LAFC who was not employed, it looked more and more likely he would be tapped as the first manager of the team.

And Bradley’s track record in MLS is rather impressive. He won MLS Cup and the U.S. Open Cup in the Chicago Fire’s first season, won another Open Cup with them in 2000, helped the MetroStars get on track and brought through a number of promising players there, and locally, came in to put out a season’s worth of fires at Chivas USA, who after a disastrous opening campaign in MLS were in the playoffs the following season with a quickly remade roster. Along the way, he was a two-time MLS Coach of the Year award winner.

You can argue that bringing him back in the league now, over a decade later, is a risk. We’ve seen in recent years the likes of Steve Nicol, Frank Yallop and Dominic Kinnear, MLS head coaches who have won silverware and been seen as good MLS coaches, fail as the league passed them by. It is at least possible the same could happen here, that MLS has transformed so much since Bradley has been gone that he may not understand the game in this league anymore.

The mitigating factor is that unlike some of those other coaches, Bradley has continued his education abroad in the interim. After being fired from his post at the U.S. Men’s National Team in the summer of 2011, Bradley took a road less traveled — make that completely untraveled previously by American managers — and took a series of jobs abroad. As Egypt National Team boss, he dealt with one of the most pressure-packed environments possible, as the country around him went through a tumultuous revolution and a massacre at a club soccer match sent the sport into a tailspin. One series away from qualifying for the World Cup, Egypt fell at the final hurdle, but considering the chaos of that time, Bradley was commended for his level approach and willingness to understand the local context.

No one would excuse Bradley for wanting a change of pace in his next appointment, but the ambition remained, as he took over at midtable Norwegian side Stabaek. He hinted over time that he felt he deserved a bigger job than one of a club tabbed to fight to remain in the first division, but he nonetheless paid his dues, finishing third in his second season there to qualify for Europa League qualifiers, and earning plaudits for making the most of limited resources.

From there, he moved to France to Ligue 2 side Le Havre, a club with first-division aspirations but some work to get there. All told, he spent a little under a year there, across two seasons, and came agonizingly close to promotion in the first campaign, missing out on the goals scored tiebreaker for third place on the final day. Compared to Stabaek, Le Havre was a club with far more potential, even though they were not in the top flight, and had a considerable history in French soccer, including producing a number of top players over the years.

We’ll never know what may have happened had he continued there, but last October, Bradley got the job offer of a lifetime, to lead Premier League side Swansea City. The British press seemed to be skeptical of the move immediately, as a man with no experience in England or Wales came to take over a team that was at risk of relegation right away. And frankly, it was a fair point, although the nativism found in the same British press can be over-the-top and counterproductive, mocking Bradley’s American accent for no apparent reason, among other things.

And it must be said that the Swansea City tenure was Bradley’s biggest failure to date as a manager. He was only on the job for a few months before being replaced, and the man who came in after him, Paul Clement, righted the ship and prevented relegation.

One hopes, and expects, Bradley to have learned from the ill-fated stint in Wales. No manager, much less one willing to take risks, gets through a career without any bad spells, and this was certainly one for him. But now he’s back in MLS, with a volume of knowledge few coaches in MLS history can draw upon, and a far more complete perspective of players in North Africa, Europe and Wales/England than pretty much anybody in this league.

In some respects, coming to LAFC is like coming home for Bradley, a chance to really build a club up again while retaining some familiarity. Maybe he’ll have a glorious 10-year spell in charge here. Maybe he’ll get a better offer in Europe and be gone in a couple years. Regardless, there’s no denying Bradley’s knowledge base is unique in MLS, and it should be exciting to see him lead LAFC out in their debut season.

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