A dynamic, attacking style. Experience. Stability. A winner who could deliver for a high-powered ownership group that included Magic Johnson, Mia Hamm and Will Ferrell.
It wanted Bob Bradley.
“Once he became available, we moved very quickly to hire him,” Thorrington said of the former U.S. national team coach who produced a round-of-16 finish at the 2010 World Cup.
For Bradley, becoming available meant being fired from his highest-profile job, at Swansea City, two days after Christmas 2016 and 11 matches into his stint as the first American coach in Premier League history. He was introduced by LAFC in July after what Thorrington said was more than a year’s pursuit. What has followed is a contrast.
LAFC, which is tied for second place in the Western Conference and will make its home debut Sunday against the Seattle Sounders at new Banc of California Stadium, has won more games (four) and scored more goals (16) in its inaugural six matches than Swansea did during Bradley’s tenure there.
“I’ve always tried to get better,” Bradley, 60, said after a recent practice. “I try to figure out the right way with every group to establish a foundation of how we’re going to play, to try to find the best way to utilize the players. As you have different experiences, then I think you continue to grow in the ways you see things.”
Beyond the stats lies LAFC’s style — precisely the one management had sought, one best embodied by smooth Mexican forward Carlos Vela and young Uruguayan Diego Rossi. It involves short, rapid passes. It involves high pressing. It results often in shots uncorked into top corners.
The product, all told, little resembles Bradley’s Swansea or his defense-first U.S. approach, eschewed in 2011 for the prettier promises of Jurgen Klinsmann.
“When he got the chance for me and him to work together to go and get the right players, it’s always been what you see,” Thorrington said, “which is a team that’s really, really attractive to watch.”
Bradley, who was with MLS at its beginning as an assistant with D.C. United, has led four league teams. His last post came with L.A.’s last expansion attempt, the now-defunct Chivas USA. After guiding the national team for 4½ years, he “blazed a trail for American coaches abroad,” as Thorrington put it — coaching the Egyptian national team, Norwegian club Stabaek, France’s Le Havre and Swansea City.
The play of FC Barcelona came to capture him. Bradley shows the Spanish powerhouse’s matches in the film room and looks to implement its concepts on the training ground. He talks frequently of his admiration for former manager Pep Guardiola, who is now at Manchester City. In otherwise praising former U.S. defenders Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit, Bradley suggested they “would agree that none of them are [Gerard] Pique,” the stalwart for Spain and Barcelona.
“Our system is definitely different than what it was with the national team, but I think Bob is still the same type of coach,” said LAFC midfielder Benny Feilhaber, a key substitute with the United States under Bradley. “He just knows based on the players that he has what’s the best way to go about things, how to get more from the sum of the parts.”
Part of the summation derives from Bradley’s meticulousness. At LAFC, there are scheduled meetings on nutrition, other sessions on hydration. “All of the small details have been really impressive,” defender Walker Zimmerman said.
So, too, have the results. LAFC edged last year’s MLS runners-up, the Sounders, in its opening match, then thrashed steady Real Salt Lake, 5-1, the following week. After two weeks off and two subsequent setbacks, it has notched consecutive wins.
“I’ve seen good things that show our football identity, our football ideas,” Bradley said. Regarding the unusual schedule, he noted that “to start the season with six away games is challenging. But to be honest, inside the team — as we’ve tried to establish our football and our mentality — we have not talked about playing six games away. We talk about how we [prepare] every day, we talk about each opponent, knowing that at the end [of the season], that’ll also mean we have some more games to play in our own stadium.”
Two weeks before opening day, construction crews at the site in south Los Angeles still toiled: laying the last sidewalk stones, digging the final flower beds, navigating the towering scaffolding that soon would come down. The $350 million Banc of California Stadium, built specifically for soccer like United’s forthcoming Audi Field, sits in the shadow of L.A. Memorial Coliseum, surrounded by palm trees in a complex across from the space shuttle Endeavour.
“It’s going to be just another level,” Bradley said, and its April 18 ribbon-cutting ceremony certainly was. Johnson, Hamm, former baseball star Nomar Garciaparra and Mayor Eric Garcetti, a possible 2020 presidential candidate, each spoke. Bradley led a countdown. Smoke and streamers blew. The giant orange ribbon dropped.
It was beyond-MLS pomp. It was extremely L.A. It all appears to be, for Bradley and his comeback club, a new and welcome home.
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