By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Gordon Bradley, one of the most influential figures in both U.S. and Washington soccer circles the last 35 years, died yesterday in Manassas at age 74. He had suffered from Alzheimer's disease for several years.
During a career as a player, coach and administrator, the English-born Bradley was best known as coach of the North American Soccer League's New York Cosmos in the 1970s, when Brazilian superstar Pele introduced the sport to a generation of Americans. He later guided the Washington Diplomats, when another international star, Dutchman Johan Cruyff, was on the team.
"He was one of the true legends of the game in our country," U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said. "He was a giant. We would not be where we are today without the contributions of people like Gordon."
After coaching the Diplomats, Bradley remained in the area and went on to coach the George Mason University men's program from 1985 until 2000. Under his guidance, the Patriots had a 183-113-35 record for a .606 winning percentage, the highest in program history, and made six NCAA tournament appearances.
Hundreds of Northern Virginia youths attended his summer camps.
Bradley was also president of the Washington Stars, a Fairfax-based semipro team that played in the American Professional Soccer League, which filled the gap between the NASL's demise in 1985 and MLS's launch in 1996. He later served as a TV color commentator for D.C. United.
Bradley was inducted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1996 and was part of the first class named to GMU's Soccer Hall of Fame 10 years later.
"He was an inspiration to me because of his love for the game, and he always expressed it," said two-time U.S. World Cup coach Bruce Arena, who was drafted by Bradley's Cosmos, made his one national team appearance when Bradley was the U.S. coach and, while building a dynasty at Virginia, coached against Bradley's Mason teams.
"Gordon was always a gentleman, in hard times and good times," said George Washington Coach George Lidster, Bradley's assistant at Mason for three years who shared Bradley's roots in northeast England. "He took everything in stride. He was always pure class."
Bradley was born in Sunderland, England, and as a teenager was forced to choose between joining the military or working in the mines in nearby Easington Colliery. In order to pursue his soccer dreams, he chose the mines, which tunneled under the North Sea.
In May 1951, at age 17, he was above ground awaiting his shift to begin when there was an explosion. Eighty-one miners and two rescue workers died. Among the dead was the father of the woman he would later marry.
Despite suffering a serious knee injury, Bradley was a defender for Carlisle United for three seasons before continuing his career in Canada. He played for the New York Ukrainians and later, as the NASL began to take shape, joined the New York Generals and then the Baltimore Bays. The Cosmos hired him as a player-coach in 1971, he won a championship a year later and oversaw Pele's arrival in 1975.
After being dismissed by the Cosmos in 1976, he returned to the club a year later before taking the job with the Diplomats and guiding the team for three years at RFK Stadium. He also served as a vice president during his time with the Cosmos and Dips.
His U.S. national team coaching tenure lasted just a few months, and, although he did not become an American citizen until years later, he represented the team as a player during a friendly in Israel.
After the Diplomats folded, Bradley settled in Fairfax and often attended George Mason matches. In need of a coach, then-GMU Athletic Director Jack Kvancz (who is now at GW) hired Bradley in 1985.
"He loved the game and we talked about it all the time," Kvancz said. "As far as I was concerned, he was Mr. Soccer."
Plans for a memorial service are pending. Survivors include his wife of 49 years, Vera; sons Paul Bradley of Haymarket and Doug Bradley of Leesburg; and five grandchildren.
In association with George Mason, the family has created the Gordon Bradley Scholarship Endowment. To contribute, call 703-993-3215.