TORONTO — Bob Bradley wasted little time putting down roots after being named Toronto FC’s head coach and sporting director.
Officially hired Nov. 24, Bradley and Lindsay — his wife of 35 years — took possession of their new Toronto digs in mid-December.
Toronto marks the sixth MLS stop, as an assistant or head coach, for the 63-year-old Bradley, who has also coached club teams in Norway (Stabaek), France (Le Havre) and Wales (Swansea City) as well as the U.S. and Egyptian national squads.
When it comes to moving, Bradley says: “We’re pros … We’ve done it before so we know how to fast-track.”
“We have a huge advantage moving to Toronto because we’ve been here and obviously (son and TFC captain) Michael (Bradley) and (wife) Amanda have helped us. Everyone inside the club has been incredible.”
Brother Jeff Bradley also worked in TFC’s front office.
Bob Bradley, who parted ways with Los Angeles FC on Nov. 18, has learned from all his stops. “I have been incredibly fortunate to work in different places,” he said.
He arrives in Toronto with experience — his 182 regular-season wins are third-most in league history — and enthusiasm to match, looking to restore a 6-18-10 club to its former glory.
Bradley is no fan of the word franchise, saying “for me, it’s something like McDonald’s.” In his world, there is a difference between a franchise and a club.
“A club has a real heart and soul that starts with the connection with the city. That absolutely is about the connection with the fans,” he said.
It is also about everyone who works inside the club.
“I had an idea through Michael and through Jeff of everything inside TFC. But having been here now for some weeks, it’s been just awesome to get to know people,” he said, citing the commitment and passion he has found.
“Seeing that every day, that is important to me.” he added. “That’s important to a club.”
Bradley is the oldest of three sons of Jerry Bradley, who at 18 found himself serving with the U.S. Marine Corps in the Korean War at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in 1950 — a storied and brutal “two-week-long bloodbath” pitting 30,000 U.S., British and Korean troops against 120,000 Chinese soldiers in frigid, unforgiving conditions.
The U.S. Marine Corps, on its official website, calls it “a defining moment of the Korean War.”
Jerry Bradley won a Purple Heart serving his country, but was not one to talk about it. Thanks to the G.I. Bill, his military service opened the door to further his education.
Bob Bradley was raised in New Jersey and played soccer at Princeton, where he defied doctors’ expectations by recovering from a gruesome compound leg fracture as a sophomore to finish out his college career.
Brother Scott Bradley played baseball for the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, Seattle Mariners and Cincinnati Reds from 1984 to 1992. He now coaches the Princeton Tigers baseball team.
Jeff Bradley, the youngest of the three brothers, was a sportswriter for the New York Daily News, Newark Star-Ledger, ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated before spending six years as Toronto FC’s director of communications.
Jerry Bradley came from modest circumstances, but set an example “as a man, as a husband, as a father, for Jeff and Scott and myself — those values from my mom (Mary) and dad, those are the things that have been most important for all of us,” said Bob.
Bob Bradley got into coaching while pursuing a master’s degree at Ohio University. That led to assistant coaching roles with Bruce Arena, first with the University of Virginia and then D.C. United, sandwiched around a successful 12-year stint as Princeton head coach.
After winning two MLS titles with Arena at D.C. United in 1996 and ‘97, Bradley became head coach of the Chicago Fire and led the expansion team to a MLS Cup — defeating Arena’s D.C. United 2-0 — and U.S. Open Cup double while earning his first MLS Coach of the Year award.
The Fire also played in the 2000 final, losing 1-0 to Kansas City
The coaching tree from Bradley’s Chicago team is impressive. His matchday squad for the 1998 final included Chris Armas, Jesse Marsch, Frank Klopas, Tom Soehn, Josh Wolff, Zach Thornton, C.J. Brown, Lubos Kubik, Francis Okaroh, Piotr Nowak and Ante Razov, who all went on to coach.
“We had a special environment and culture,” Bradley said of his Chicago squad. “We found a really good balance between experienced guys that wanted to be there and took the responsibility of being good examples for the other guys the right way — Kubik, Nowak, later (Hristo) Stoichkov — guys like that.
“And then we were able, before any academies or anything, to really get the right group of young, motivated American guys.”
It’s a recipe for success he will no doubt look to follow in Toronto, which has a talented group of Canadian talent in Ayo Akinola (currently out of contract), Noble Okello, Ralph Priso, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Jayden Nelson, Jordan Perruzza, Jacob Shaffelburg and Luke Singh.
The Chicago team had the kind of bond Bradley strives to establish and nourish.
“So the time that we shared, the experiences, the competitiveness in training, what we were about as a team, our connection with the city — I knew that all of us were part of something special,” he said. “And when you’re part of something special in the game, then that means that maybe your motivation to stay in the game is real.
“And look, that team was an incredibly smart team. So many smart players. That also tells you that there’s a lot of these guys are going to stay in the game.”
That includes Armas, who was fired last July after a 1-8-2 start to his career as TFC head coach. Armas is now an assistant coach at Manchester United.
“Great guy. Fantastic guy,” said Bradley, who still keeps in touch.
“He had a way to make everybody around him better, but to do it in a way that was positive,” he added. “There’s some guys that set the bar high but man they are cutthroat.”
Bradley’s time in Egypt followed some five years at the helm of the U.S. team, which went 43-25-12 under his guidance and made the round of 16 of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Egypt made contact through Zac Abdel, an Egyptian-American and Bradley’s former goalkeeping coach. Named coach in September 2011, Bradley’s goal was to qualify the Pharaohs for the World Cup.
The size of the task — and the stakes — rose dramatically in February 2012 when more than 70 people were killed and hundreds more injured in a riot at Port Said Stadium after a game between the Al-Masry and Al Ahly clubs.
Soccer stopped in Egypt. The domestic league was cancelled and the national team had to play abroad.
The first World Cup qualifier against Mozambique was played June 1, 2012, without fans at Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandria.
“Before we trained (the night before at an empty stadium), I said to the players ‘Look into the stands. Try to envision that there’s 90 million Egyptians. Because if they could be, everyone would be here,’” Bradley recalled.
The Egyptians, who had a first-round qualifying bye, won 2-0 and went on to top their second-round group with six straight wins. A playoff awaited.
Years later, Bradley found himself in empty stadiums again, this time in Major League Soccer with the pandemic to blame.
“Different circumstances but exactly the same,” he said.
Egypt’s World Cup campaign essentially came to an end Oct. 15, 2013, when Bradley’s team lost 6-1 to Ghana in Kumasi in the first leg of that qualifying playoff. Egypt won the second leg 2-1 on Nov. 19 in Cairo but it was too little, too late.
More than eight years later, Bradley says the memory of Kumasi “never goes away.”
“Because that was the goal and the dream of all the Egyptians — to get to the World Cup,” he said.
“That group of players, you looked into a lot of their eyes and the weight of everything was so much that they weren’t themselves,” he added. “The one guy who was (star attacker Mohamed) Aboutrika.”
Bradley equates the magnitude of the loss to Brazil’s 7-1 defeat at the hands of Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinal.
After the match, he took time out to praise his players for carrying the load that far.
“I said ‘Look man, you’re amazing. With everything these last two years, you didn’t know what was going on in your career, your country,’” he recalled telling them. “‘You’ve carried this thing so well. And today, the weight was too much. But listen, you guys love your country. I’m so proud of you.’”
Bradley said he “pushed and fought” to coach the second leg. He got his wish and left on a winning note — his contract having expired at the failed end of the qualifying run.
“The only little silver lining for me is so many of those guys that were part of the group that got there (to the World Cup) four years later,” he said.
He finished with a 22-8-6 record at Egypt’s helm.
Ghana was a familiar foe for Bradley, with painful memories. The Black Stars eliminated his U.S team 2-1 after extra time in the round of the 16 at the 2010 World Cup.
“We felt there was more there for us,” Bradley said of the South Africa tournament.
While coaching Egypt, Bradley worked with a young Mohamed Salah — now a star forward with Liverpool and widely regarded as one of the world’s best.
Diaa El-Sayed, Bradley’s assistant coach, had coached Salah with the under-20 team. And Bradley had watched Salah’s Egyptian club team with interest.
Salah was one of the young players brought in at a national team camp after the Port Said riot, with Bradley quickly realizing he was a special talent. And the 19-year-old was a starter when qualification began against Mozambique. Nine days later, he scored the 93rd-minute winner in a 3-2 victory in Guinea.
Salah, with six goals, and Aboutrika, with five, accounted for 11 of Egypt’s 16 goals in the round.
“I still stay in touch with him.,” Bradley said of Salah. “He’s a spectacular guy. Humble.”
In Egypt, Bradley introduced this team to Bruce Springsteen — specifically the Boss’s “Land of Hope and Dreams.”
Played at president Joe Biden’s inauguration in January 2021 — Springsteen did a solo acoustic version on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial — it’s a paean to hope, faith, dreams and possibilities.
“Leave behind your sorrows. Let’s let this day be the last,” he sang. “Well tomorrow there’ll be sunshine. And all this darkness past.”
For Bradley, the song is also about something “more than you.”
“It’s about trying to take what you have and have the belief and the faith that ‘Come on, we can do this,’” he said.
“One thing I’ve always tried with my players and certainly with my family is this idea that, look, in life your ability to look around you and have perspective of other people, other people who don’t look like you, who come from different situations, who in some cases aren’t as fortunate as you. So you need that perspective.
“And then to go with that, you need this idea that you can’t be afraid of challenges. That you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so don’t be afraid. Go for it.”
Michael Bradley is living proof, leaving home at 15 to join the U.S. under-17 team residency program in Bradenton, Fla.
Bob and Lindsay Bradley also have two daughters — Kerry and Ryan, who is married to Australian-born, English-raised defender Andy Rose, who spent the last three seasons with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The Bradleys have four grandchildren with global roots — two born in Canada and one each in Italy and Scotland.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2022.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press