Bob Bradley, on the quest for playing good football

Bob Bradley begins his second season back in MLS with LAFC after six years coaching in Egypt and Europe. His work in MLS goes back to its launch as an assistant at D.C. United on its championship teams in 1996 and 1997. He took the Chicago Fire to the MLS Cup 1998 title in his first season as an MLS head coach and later coached at the MetroStars and Chivas USA before becoming the U.S. national team head coach in 2007.

Photos: LAFC

He believes passionately about his work as a soccer coach but also has little use for the critics of his work. After the SuperDraft, he talked about how he sees the game.

"The idea is we're going to challenge you and make you a better player," he said of working with players on LAFC. "That's kind of how I have tried to do it over all the years. My experience is that players still appreciate being coached. They show up every day to training camp with ideas. They are going to tested and have to think and made decisions and make good plays. It's what we do."

LAFC set an MLS record for the most points by an expansion team in its first season and was second in the league in goals with 68, averaging two goals a game.

"I thought in almost every game there was some good football," he said. "Was it as consistent as we want? Not always. In each part of the game we can do it a little better. We can see things a little faster, do better with advantages. I think the ability to control games is still a big challenge and that's an area that needs to grow. As much as we love going forward, if the moment is not right, [we need] the ability to then connect passes and be very organized so when the ball turns over the game isn't open. I think those are qualities of good teams. It's hard to find a balance in our ideas, and we certainly have a way to go."

He disagreed with the notion that LAFC, which lost young Canadian Mark-Anthony Kaye to a season-ending injury on July 26, did not play with a No. 6.

"It makes no sense to me," he said. "We played most of the year in midfield with -- I call it 1 and 2, 1 deeper and 2. In certain moments, if the ball can't go to the deep one, he moves just forward a little bit and the other one moves back. When the ball moves forward, they rearrange. That type of fluidity and that type of understanding is important. Most of the games Eduard Atuesta played, he played as a No. 6. It might not look like someone else's idea of a No. 6. I believe in guys who can serve passes and use space. I think Sergio Busquets is damn good. Xabi Alonso is damn good."

It was when a reporter brought up the "empty bucket" -- the term for how Bradley used two defensive midfielders on the national team and the reference to what was perceived to be his defensive-minded tactics as national team coach -- he took exception.

"There's a bunch of dopes that were on BigSoccer and are now on social media and they say things," he said, "and we have other dopes who can't watch a game and figure things out for themselves. And they write s*** like that. These people don't know the f*** what they are doing. This is where we are football-wise in this country."

He brought up the 2011 Gold Cup final -- his last game as national team coach -- in which the USA lost to Mexico, 4-2, after leading 2-0.

"I get grilled about the Gold Cup," he said. "Go back and watch the final. It was a good game. What if Clint [Dempsey] scores? He hits the crossbar when the score is 3-2. We always tried growing our football. Yes, we had to work hard. Yes, when we played Spain [2-0 win in the 2009 Confederations Cup semifinals], they had a little more of the ball. But I've seen things where [possession] was 56%-44%. Who plays Spain and has 44%, especially when you have the lead? Guess what? We played football. We are always trying to develop our football. I don't know where the rest of this comes from. I don't even bother any more. I just try to enjoy what I do. I show up every day. I challenge my staff. I challenge my guys. Out of 35 games [in 2018], most games if you showed up and like to watch football, you'd say, 'Yes, I want to come back.'"

When he decided to come home, Bradley said he talked with various MLS clubs about the soccer he wanted to play and his approach to the game.

"Luckily, for me," he said "the people at LAFC said, 'That's interesting.' We've got an incredible stadium. Incredible training ground.  Great guys that I work with every day. We show up early. I challenge all of them. It's one of the best football conversations every day for three hours, then we go on the field.  I am a pain in the ass. I challenge guys about what they've been talking out. It's real. It's ideas. We share video. I talk about the guys I think are good players and best teams all the time. I show pictures of that. I show pictures of what we do."

Bradley said there's room for improvement in LAFC, which finished third in the Western Conference and lost in the Knockout Round, suffering a stunning 3-2 defeat to Real Salt Lake.

"We can do it better," he said. "We scored a lot of goals but weren't complete enough. I could show you all the advantages we had. I can show you all the times the ball turned over and our reactions and the poor goals we allowed.

Bradley disagreed with the notion that LAFC didn't have much depth but admitted losing Kaye, who came from the USL, was a blow.

"We started with a roster that was somewhat thin," he said. "Then as the year went on I don't think our roster was that thin. We had some injuries. Mark-Anthony Kaye was making a lot of progress and he gave our midfield a little more balance. When he got hurt, we missed him. He was a young player getting better every day. And everybody around him could see it. We missed that."

LAFC tried to pry the No. 1 pick in the MLS SuperDraft -- Frankie Amaya from UCLA and the U.S. under-20 national team -- away from FC Cincinnati, but Bradley is high on 19-year-old Jamaican Peter-Lee Vassell, taken with the No. 40 pick.

"I think we made a strong attempt to get the first pick because I saw this guy that is good football player," he said. "If we could get our hands on him at age 18 -- I am always looking for players like that. At the end of the draft, I'm looking at my notes and saying, 'How come no one picked this kid.' [Vassell] Did they watch? He's an international and all that. He doesn't turn 20 [until March]. That kid has some easy way of doing things. Now we'll see how rest of it comes along, seeing things quickly, reacting, being aware of everything."

Amaya started on the U.S. U-20 national team that beat Mexico, 2-0, to win the 2018 Concacaf championship and is part of the 2000 birth-year group with Josh Sargent, Tim Weah, Alex Mendez and Chris Richards that is shaping up to be one of the most talented age groups the USA has ever produced. Still, Bradley said things need to get better.

"I was with the [1987 and 1988 McGuire Cup champion] Union Lancers and we were in Chicago for five years around the Sockers [where son Michael played]," he said. "Now we call it 'academy.' I think that we're making progress but we have to get better. We don't have enough places still where the game is played the right way every day, every day, every day and out of it kids are pushed along."

He said almost every one on social media talking about young players has an agenda and he forms his opinion about players and doesn't share them, refusing to go on podcasts any more. He admitted, though, he still listened to them because he likes to know what's out there.

"Every second of the dialogue from the [USA-]Trinidad game until today," he said, "I hated every second. I can't stand the arrogant Republicans and I can't stand rabble-rousing, total idiotic Democrats. There's nothing that makes any sense."

11 comments about "Bob Bradley, on the quest for playing good football".
  1. Bob Ashpole, January 13, 2019 at 6:53 a.m.

    I have to agree with Bradley. Anybody who thinks the US played poorly against Spain in 2009 doesn't understand the game. If you understand the game, then you understand the game plan used. It was brilliant. The US took Spain's game away from them. 

    Was it "ugly"? Sure. Did Spain have the better team? Not on that day. Because Spain was chasing the game instead playing their game.

  2. frank schoon, January 13, 2019 at 10:17 a.m.

    I do believe BB is a plus for the MLS especially of his variety of coaching experiences. And I also commisserate with him on the criticism he gets from the US soccer fans,who don't know the ins and outs of various situations,idem ditto JK as well. I'm still waiting for the JK , Tata, INTERVIEWS. 

    I was hoping Bob would give some of his opinions( criticisms) on youth development ,the Academy, Pickup soccer, size and speed emphasis, the type of training, the USSF coaching school,and other criticisms as seen so often expressed by our comment posters, but alas, TOTALLY nothing...
    Ship's criticism on the "geologic' movement of change as expressed, concerning size ,speed,etc, in the Amaya article, is an excellent starting point. But instead, BB expresses more concern about the criticism on his watch.
    As far as his last comment, You can be arrogant and be right, but you can't be right when you're a rabble rousing idiot. There is nothing wrong with being arrogant as long as you know it's going towards a good end.  Cruyff was very arrogant, like Beckenbauer, but I don't think anyone has expressed his unhappiness on what he has achieved. All great players are arrogant , it just comes with the territory....

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, January 13, 2019 at 4:22 p.m.

    Arrogant is often misused. It doesn't mean jerk or obnoxious. It actually means having an overly inflated opinion of yourself. Great players are by definition not being arrogant when they think they have great playing ability. If they think that being great players means they know how to cure cancer, that would be arrogant. 

  4. Ronnie L, January 13, 2019 at 2:46 p.m.

    For the past 5 or 6 years I slowly started to become less of a fan of American soccer and mls and the reasons are the extreme ignorance of the so called analysts and the social media "soccer experts". Bob is spot on with this interview but if you listen to the garbage soccer media in the USA with the very few exception you'd think BB doesn't know crap about soccer  I hope this thing will change soon because it's tiring seeing fans misusing the game of soccer and haven't been able to understand the game properly.

  5. R2 Dad, January 13, 2019 at 4:40 p.m.

    What does it mean to "get better"? That concept is so general, so vague as to be meaningless.

    Regarding the commentary on the Trinidad match and BB hating it, maybe he just hated it because his son got roasted for his "all is well" comments after putting in a lackluster effort as a "leader", blood being thicker than water.

    As far as his humblebrag about the Spain victory in 2009, no one complained about that. He got a result that no one thought possible, so props to him for that. But it wouldn't kill BB to come out and say, "I'm a different coach now, I've made mistakes and learned from them. I see the game a bit differently now than I did then." Just some humility, especially after the Swansea debacle. This lack of humility is a characteristic he shares with his son, unfortunately. 

  6. Wooden Ships replied, January 13, 2019 at 11:36 p.m.

    I concur R2

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, January 14, 2019 at 12:34 a.m.

    Did you guys watch any of the Swansea matches during what you called the "Swansea debacle"? I did, and I was shocked. I formed some conclusions about what was going on, which I will not share. The only thing I will say is that I did not find any fault on Bradley's part.

    I have read some other people talking about what happened obliquely, and they were sympathetic, not critical of Bradley.

    R2 Dad, The phrase "get better" is not meaningless and not vague. The debate may be over how to measure progress, but not over what "get better" means. Just because something may require subjective judgment doesn't mean it is meaningless.   

  8. frank schoon replied, January 14, 2019 at 9:09 a.m.

    All I will say about the Swansea experience is that he took a chance in midseason with a failing Swansea team hoping he might be successful and thereby give some credence to American Coaches who as a whole are not respected world wide. The players likewise didn't have much respect for him. No one wanted to coach Swansea and therefore the club had to scrape the botttom of the barrell so to speak. But if you want an honest opinion of him try to find interviews of the players after that season and ask of what they thought of him as coach.
    Likewise, I was reading an interview of a Dutch goalie, who used to play for PSV, who played the Red Bulls when Bruce Arena was coach. He stated that Arena was worst coach he's ever had in his career.
    As far BB goes, I get the feeling he's very sensitive about criticisms ,just or unjust...

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, January 14, 2019 at 10:56 p.m.

    Frank I have a feeling you don't read the rants on the fan forums at BigSoccer. I don't read them because it is usually a waste of time. Rarely do you find a post worth reading and to get there you have to sift through an ocean of garbage.

  10. Bob Ashpole replied, January 14, 2019 at 11:05 p.m.

    I did read what insiders said about his performance, most did not say anything negative. You left out the club politics and resentment against a US owner. 

  11. frank schoon replied, January 15, 2019 at 8:34 a.m.

    Bob, You are right, I've never even heard of "Big Soccer'. The last thing I'm interested in is reading about what rabid US soccer fans say, especially knowing the level of understanding of the game they have...I trust my own judgment much better.  The only contact I have with the American game is throuhg SA. I just learned a few weeks ago what Concacaf actually is, although  I've heard a lot of talk about it on the posts in SA. The only interest I have in soccer is the  game itself, what is happening out on the field, directly, which is simply the roll of the ball, the technical and tactical part and the rest outside of it, I consider simply BS. 
    I'm sure that Ameridcan ownership of Swansea has its negative implication and look at Man. Utd, how's that working out with the American ownership. I'm firm believer of not having foreign involvement in a club.
    I've not read any opinions on BB from the horses mouth, players that is, I'm sure somewhere in player interviews of Swansea there are comments.
    I tend watch a dutch soccer show on sundays, that talk about the game. It is made up of former great players/ coaches. What I do like about the Dutch soccer shows is that the dutch tend to look at the game more on the technical and tactical level only and forego all the outside circus.
    And I read a weekly column by van Hanegem who knows more about than anyone I know. Since Cruyff died there is BIG gap in the knowledge spoken and the insights expressed of the game and thankfully van Hanegem fills is able to fill a good deal of it...

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