'The league continues to improve on the field'
Embarking on his third season as coach of the Chicago Fire, Bob Bradley talks about the signing of Bulgarian superstar Hristo Stoitchkov, offseason speculation that he might become the Olympic team coach and the state of MLS.SOCCER AMERICA: How relieved are you to have the Hristo Stoitchkov situation squared away? BOB BRADLEY: It was something that we worked on for a long time, and, obviously, it was frustrating at times, but I think from all sides, it's a good thing that it worked out. SA: And you didn't have to give up any of your core players, particularly the younger ones that you were most concerned about losing. You had to be happy with that ... BB: Sure. We certainly have tried hard to build up a good nucleus of younger players. I think it is real important to try to constantly build that base from the bottom with good talent. Obviously, there are other teams in the league that have done a good job with that, but we feel strongly about the group of players we have, and we were hopeful that we could keep that group together. SA: Some people, maybe your opponents, would say that you didn't have to pay a high enough price for Stoitchkov. What do you think - was it a fair price? BB: I think there are a lot of people in the league who complain about everything, so it doesn't surprise me to hear that they are out in force again. I didn't hear anybody saying there was anything wrong about us not getting compensation for [Jorge] Campos, [Roman] Kosecki or [Jerzy] Podbrozny. I think we're a team that, given the way expansion teams were set up, made good decisions. Unlike other teams in the leagues that brought in foreign players and got rid of them or were still paying them while asking for new players, we never did anything like that. I think the players we brought to the league - I'm proud of every one of them. I think they've all come to MLS and contributed in many ways. It was written that we waived Kosecki and Podbrozny, but I think that part was not accurate. SA: What do you think about big-name players coming to the league and requesting a certain team? Is that something the league has to look at? BB: I think you need to look at the facts with Hristo. We knew that Kosecki and Podbrozny were not coming back, and we were looking around and trying to assess the right kind of replacement. We checked a bunch of different leads, and in that process we heard that Hristo had interest to play in MLS and possibly in Chicago. So we did some checking to find out if that was true. ... When we felt that it was a possibility, we spoke to [MLS executive vice president] Ivan Gazidis and let him make contact from there. SA: But, again, he made it clear that Chicago was his preference. BB: He said that he had an interest in Chicago, but that was after we had expressed some interest in him. The key here is simple. If a team has a foreign slot open, if a team has salary cap room and there is no acquisition money, then there is no issue. ... It's now clear that teams have to go through a certain procedure in order to have a chance to get a player. If it's an allocation, then there are certain rules about how that works that make sense. I think there's a big difference between that and a situation where a player wants to go to a particular city and the league just gives him to that team.
Stoitchkov: 'A tremendous competitor'SA: From a coaching standpoint, what are the challenges that bringing in Stoitchkov present? BB: I think probably too much has been made of the challenges of bringing Hristo into a team. We have certainly done a lot of homework and believe that, in every way, he is a positive addition. He has experience, and everywhere he's been, he's shown that he's a tremendous competitor with a will to win. Those are the kind of players you always want to bring into a league and a team. Our issues are more as a team, trying to find a good balance between attacking players and defending players. It's not always as simple as putting all the best attacking players on the field. ... Players like Marco Etcheverry, Peter Nowak or Hristo Stoitchkov appreciate smart players around them who make it easier for them to do the things they do well. SA: Any comments on his gesture to you after the first goal, running over to the sideline and shaking your hand? BB: I think that he's done a tremendous job of coming into our team. He had a crazy week. ... He never complained, and he has shown all of the players that he is excited to be in MLS and be a part of our team. SA: Can you reflect on the offseason, the uncertainty about your future and how you feel about it now? BB: There was a short period of time where there was a lot of speculation and much of it was unfair, especially to Clive Charles, because my feeling was always clear that Clive was the Olympic coach until he decided that he didn't want to be the Olympic coach. I felt that at times he was attacked unfairly. Beyond that, my feelings were always the same. I think between the players, coaches and [GM] Peter Wilt, we have a good situation in Chicago. We are all proud of the team and what we've accomplished. We were all disappointed in the finish last year, and we were all looking forward to getting back together this year and once again seeing if we could win an MLS championship.
'Our own worst enemy'SA: What's your feeling on the league this season? A lot of people are saying it's a critical year. BB: I guess that's true. The league continues to improve on the field. I think sometimes we're our own worst enemy. SA: In what way? BB: The way we present our games, in terms of the stadiums we play in, the fields, what games look like on TV. Those kinds of things I think sometimes we just haven't done a good enough job. When people watch games on television and see some of the stadiums in Europe and great crowd shots . . . even if the crowd is not huge, you see people packed right on top of the field, you see a terrific field surface - that goes a long way toward building excitement. I don't think we've managed to get that part right yet. bySoccer Americaassociate editor Will Kuhns
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