Like most New Jersey natives of a certain age, Bob Bradley considers Bruce Springsteen to be The Boss. And not just musically.
Bradley, 61, has a well-deserved reputation as one of soccer’s master motivators but when he lectures on the subject, he often starts by showing a six-year-old video of a Springsteen concert in Germany. In it, a fan asks Springsteen to cover Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell,” a song he hadn’t played in decades.
So Springsteen begins working with his band mates to find the right key, talks his horn section into giving it a try, asks the audience for some encouragement, then gives the most memorable performance of the night.
For Bradley, the second-year coach at LAFC, it was a master class in team building.
“The way you build something is you come up with an idea and then you start to engage the people around you,” he said. “Then eventually you’ve got to do something that gets the crowd into it.
“And when all of that happens, you just go for it.”
That’s pretty much the strategy Bradley has followed at LAFC, taking the expansion franchise from a standing start in 2018 to the best single-season record in league history this season to earn MLS coach of the year honors.
It’s the third MLS coaching prize for Bradley, who also won the award in 2006 at Chivas USA and in 1998, when he took the expansion Chicago Fire to a league title. Former Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, Bradley’s lifelong friend and mentor, is the only other three-time MLS coach of the year.
“Individual awards are recognition of the team,” Bradley said. “The most important part is that you create an environment where people enjoy what they’re doing, everybody feels a part of it [and] players know when they show up every day that there’s been a lot of thought that goes into what we do and the culture that we’re trying to build.”
Bradley is building that culture atop a solid foundation after leading LAFC (21-4-9) to a record 72 points this season while tying the MLS record with 85 goals. That earned the team a first-round playoff bye and a date in Thursday’s Western Conference semifinals with the crosstown rival Galaxy, the only conference team LAFC has never beaten.
“He’s special,” defender Steven Beitashour said of Bradley. “It’s not the bigger picture with him. It’s the smallest little detail.”
Asked for an example of that, Beitashour said the coach will follow players into the team cafeteria and chastise those who leave a mess behind.
“Being sloppy out there,” Beitashour said, pointing to the dining room, “correlates directly to the game. He sees everything.”
Bradley managed three MLS franchises before taking over the U.S. national team and coaching it into the 2010 World Cup. He also led the Egyptian national team, managed club teams in Norway and France and became the first American to coach in the English Premier League during an 11-game trial with Swansea City in 2016.
Less than a year later he was named LAFC’s first manager.
“Bob Bradley can just plain coach,” said team president Tom Penn, who was instrumental in bringing Bradley back to MLS. “He made every player better. He created a culture of excellence.
“And that’s what translates to records on the pitch.”