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LAFC’s Bob Bradley on coronavirus shutdown: “We have to work together”

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Coach talks at length about current situation in soccer, society.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The current shutdown of many facets of life, including sports, due to the coronavirus is unprecedented in its scope and pure uncertainty for most of us. Los Angeles Football Club head coach Bob Bradley is one of a few people in American soccer to have gone through something somewhat similar, during his time managing the Egyptian national team in 2011-13. Because of that, and because this is a strange new time, I spoke to Bradley on Thursday about the new situation we’re all living in at the moment.

Alicia Rodriguez: I was trying to think about if I had anyone I could interview, when the sports shut down, you were the top person I thought of because of what you experienced when you were managing Egypt, and it’s not the same situation, but I wanted to hear your thoughts because you have some experience with a shutdown obviously under very different circumstances.

Bob Bradley: You’re correct that the situations were very different. In Egypt at the time there was unrest and uncertainty after the revolution and then that led to the tragedy and massacre in Port Said and the league shut down. But what we had to deal with the national team was to figure out how we could have camps because we had a qualifier. We were able at that time to still get together and those camps where we could work together and where the sense of how important the national team was to the people in the country at that time — I mean, the players embraced that, the players were incredible.

So, this time it’s so unique because all over the country, all over the world, the responsibility is to stay engaged with each other and stay connected and make sure we’re all working together. At a time when physically we’re not together. At a time when the responsibility we have is to stay home and to check on family and friends and players and coaches and make sure that everybody’s doing alright. So, you know, the big difference was just at that time in Egypt I really think that in the uncertainty that was a strength that came every time we got together. Every camp, every time we knew how important it was to be together, and now we’ve got to find ways to stay connected here without being able to be together, and that’s so different for all of us.

AR: How are you working to keep those connections, stay in touch, check on people when you can’t, like you said, get together and have a camp, [or] meet up in one spot and and take stock of things as a family. How do you deal with the circumstances?

BB: At LAFC we’re working hard to call guys, make sure they’re doing alright. Gavin Benjafield and Daniel Guzman are setting up on zoom some group workouts, so that everybody can feel like they’re doing things together. Amongst the staff we’re sharing ideas, we’re talking about games that have been played and trainings and planning for days ahead, different guys are reaching out to different players so that it’s not just the same person over and over. As always, it’s a group effort and at LAFC we always talk about how lucky we are to show up every day at the Performance Center and have a really good group and try to push training and enjoy that every day.

So, at a time when we don’t have that we’ve got, as I was mentioning in this whole pandemic, it’s our challenge to make sure that everybody knows that we’re together on this one and I’ve reminded some of the players that don’t live around here that the situation is not just one here in LA — it’s everywhere — and that they can look around and know that all over the world everybody’s facing the same challenge, and that this is the responsibility that we have to just for some period change our lifestyle and and help each other. In this way, that’s what we have.

AR: I know for players it’s a challenge obviously to train, try to keep up some level of fitness, obviously under very difficult circumstances. For you as a coach, does this give you a moment to reflect on strategies, ways of motivating players, looking at leadership aspects, or are you more trying to keep your eyes on what’s coming next when, when the team’s able to get back together and training when you know there is a hopefully set date for when the games are going back on again? How do you approach this time yourself as the coach?

BB: We always work in a way where we’re in constant discussions, looking at games, talking about training sessions. And so, we’re still doing that. So, the two things of looking hard and reflecting at all the details — how we train, how we play, how it’s going so far this season, how we can improve — those details go together with the work that we look forward to starting up again. So we pride ourselves that inside our organization the culture every day is challenging and encouraging everybody to be part of something. And out of that collaboration, I think we’re always positive about what we’re trying to do. And so in the moment we’re continuing, just having to do it in a different way.

AR: You have a reputation as somebody who voraciously watches games, all over the world, all different kinds of competitions. In a situation like this are you going back and catching games again? Are you seeking out that one La Liga game [you missed]? Are you still watching games, or are you, kind of like most of us, having to turn to other forms of keeping ourselves occupied at this time?

BB: In addition to keeping up with everybody, yeah, I’m spending time, looking back on different games, looking back on training, going back through notes. It’s a time where you have the time to go back through things and see and think about what you’re doing.

Sometimes we all get busy and we don’t have time to catch up. I had the longest discussion I’ve had in a long time with Jesse Marsch the other day. Just because the two of us are always busy with things. And so it just worked that now we had a chance to do that. I’ve had a conversation with my assistant coach at Stabaek who’s now coaching the under-15 and under-17 Norwegian teams. And he and I always stay in touch but we don’t always have a chance to talk and so he had been looking at some of our games and he sent me some ideas, and I looked at some of his training sessions. You have time for sharing thoughts and ideas with your staff and with other people that you know well and that goes hand in hand with making sure that everybody’s doing okay. And that people are healthy and their families are doing well.

I have some friends who have family that are doctors and nurses, and healthcare workers, and people who’re in the moment on the front lines. I’m thinking about all those people and so when I catch up with them, it’s to make sure everybody’s doing okay because this is a difficult period and those people are the heroes right now, every day. There’s a lot that we all have to think about. Part of it is like I said, reaching out to people, making sure people are feeling together in all this, because as I said, typically with games you get that when you’re physically together, when everybody shows up everyday and the Performance Center comes to life with the personalities and the excitement of training, but now you’ve got to find other ways to do it. That’s what we are occupied with at the moment.

AR: So obviously at this point we don’t know when the MLS season would be able to resume, but when it does, it seems like the league is probably going to make need to make some decisions. Is there anything that you feel as far as whenever the games restart, is it a matter of starting up and even if if it’s behind closed doors offering some relief to people who are at home who may or may not be sick, trying to get through a weird period? Would you prefer to see the stadiums full when games resume so that you know the sense of community can be physically present right away? What’s your thought on that?

BB: I believe that football is for the fans and that the connection with the fans is the most important part of our game. I prefer stadiums that are full, where the atmosphere and the joy and the passion all come together. But I only say that when it’s the right time for everyone. When we’re past the moment. So, those are decisions that other people make but I just appreciate how much all around the world the game and the connection with the fans is what drives football. And so I’m like everyone, waiting for those days to return.

AR: Me too. I’ll finish with this one. It’s a pretty general question but I think in an extraordinary time like this I think it’s one worth asking, and that’s if you could impart any message to LAFC supporters, what message would you give at this point?

BB: I would just say to the LAFC community that our strength is the way we work together. And in the moment, supporting each other, reaching out to each other, understanding the need to be responsible and to stay home, that’s how we have to work together at the moment, so we can enjoy the days where we are together again.

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