Well, the time has come. In fairness, the chances that Bob Bradley would stay at LAFC throughout the remainder of his managerial career, even had he seen ultimate success, were slim. LAFC were always going to have to face this exact moment. For the first time in club history, they are on the market for a new head coach.
On Thursday, the team announced that they and Bradley had agreed to mutually part ways. The move, while not a complete surprise, is one that is bittersweet. There are plenty of factors to consider, and while recency bias might have you feeling one way, the fact is Bradley helped build a very special foundation. Which will be incredibly important now that the club look to build on top of said foundation.
How it started
When LAFC announced Bradley as their inaugural head coach, there was plenty of excitement, and immediate expectation. He was not only brought in to build something in terms of branding and worldwide recognition, but with on-field success. As a coach that had taken an expansion side all the way to MLS Cup glory, and one that had experience managing overseas, Bradley was immediately handed a heavy crown.
In a lot of ways, he, like the club as a whole, had become victim of their own success early on. 2018 saw them hit the stage with exciting football, star power with the likes of Carlos Vela as their first major signing, and they made the playoffs. In 2019, with the entire league prepared for them, they went on to break just about every record in the MLS. They were a certified juggernaut only two years into existence.
Context is everything
Unfortunately, the black-and-gold, much like the entire world, were upended in 2020. First, by the COVID pandemic, then again when ravaged by injuries. Carlos Vela suffered an MCL injury that left him out for most of the 2020 season. Injury would carry over, and bother him into 2021, causing him to miss half the season this year as well. Not to mention long-term injuries to defensive stalwart Eddie Segura, and one of the best midfielders in the entire league, Eduard Atuesta. Needless to say, it led to an incredibly disappointing season, with the team finishing worse than they ever had under Bradley.
Injuries or not, sports are a results-based business, and two years of decline, culminating in missing the playoffs, was too much. More than that, the excitement was gone for most of 2021. If we’re being brutally honest, the team put in more than a handful of lifeless, uninterested performances, with players seemingly growing frustrated. The writing was on the wall.
End of an era
It also didn't help that Bradley came into the 2021 season on the final year of his contract. With each passing week that the team didn't extend him, it became more and more evident that he was either coaching for an extension, or had already decided to move on to a new project. Unfortunately, coaches in ‘lame duck’ years seldom work out, and this was no exception. While his results the final two years weren't great, and missing the playoffs was far below standard for this club, it's important to remember who created the standard. It was Bob.
It was his coaching that got the most out of a healthy squad in 2019. His push for greatness that turned an expansion side into expected championship contender, in just two years. That can't, and shouldn't, be ignored. Sure, part of it is the LA sports culture that can thank the Lakers and Dodgers for breeding this “win it all or the season was a failure” mentality, but most expectations came from the team’s incredible success early on.
Which brings us to the least surprising news this MLS offseason, the team and Bob have parted ways. “It’s been incredible to have played a part in the early history of LAFC,” Bradley said in a statement. “From the beginning there was a real commitment to connect to the city and the fans and we shared some amazing experiences.”
An architect of the Black & Gold community.— LAFC (@LAFC) November 18, 2021
Thank you for everything. pic.twitter.com/9XA7EASU5U
With Bradley now part of the team's history, who is going to be the one to step in? That, is the million-dollar question, with no clear answer. The chances the club snatch up a world-renowned name are slim, if not outright none. While we tend to avoid wild speculation, one name to keep an eye on is “Tata” Martino. If that name sounds familiar, it should. The former manager at Atlanta United, he led the team to MLS Cup glory in 2018, just a couple years after United themselves debuted in the league as an expansion side. While he is currently managing the Mexico National team, a string of poor results has turned the always warm seat, into blazing hot, with his future already being discussed ahead of World Cup 2022.
With how good LAFC are at keeping mum, chances are we won’t know for sure who the next head coach will be until they make the announcement. We do know one thing for sure, the incoming coach will have all the pressure from the start. Fans don’t want, nor do they expect, a rebuild, but rather, building on what’s already there. They are hungry for an MLS Cup, and anything less is currently unacceptable.
As for Bob Bradley, it’s worth taking this moment to thank him for all that he has done. He helped bring a club that was merely a vision, and molded it into a contender. He helped create the roster, brought in and developed some incredibly talented young players. He was the architect for what LAFC are today. Whether you felt like the team needed a change, or not, you have to appreciate the job he’s done. He may not have won the MLS Cup with the black-and-gold, but he sure as hell built a great foundation going forward. Thank you Bob Bradley, for everything.
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