How LAFC plans to avoid Atlanta United-esque pitfalls after parting with Bob Bradley
LAFC’s decision to part ways with coach Bob Bradley after four years didn’t come as a surprise. There had been whispers for much of the season that Bradley, whose contract ended this winter, wouldn’t be back.
But if deciding to part ways with the only coach the team has ever had was easy, now comes the hard part: finding a replacement.
Bradley, the third-winningest coach in MLS history, led LAFC to a league-record 72 points in 2019 and to the CONCACAF Champions League final last year. He has a pedigree unmatched in U.S. Soccer, having coached the U.S. to a World Cup and nearly taken Egypt there four years later before becoming the only U.S.-born coach to manage a team in the English Premier League.
LAFC and Bob Bradley are parting company after four seasons, ending the tenure of the only coach to ever lead the franchise.
“We have a unique roster,” John Thorrington, LAFC’s co-president and general manager said. “We have a lot of younger players who need to be coached and developed. We have a unique way in which we play. We have a unique culture. And we will have a list of characteristics that we will interview for and hire for.”
Since Bradley created that style and much of that culture, if LAFC is interested in continuity there are a number of in-house candidates the team would do well to consider for its now-vacant manager’s job.
Ante Razov, 47, who played for Bradley on three clubs and was a member of his LAFC staff for four seasons, reportedly interviewed for the top job with the Chicago Fire. But with Chicago apparently ready to offer the position to Ezra Hendrickson, Razov certainly deserves to be considered in L.A.
LAFC has struggled to build on a breakout season and it’s unclear whether it can get back on track under coach Bob Bradley, whose contract reportedly expires this year.
So does Kenny Arena, 40, son of legendary MLS coach Bruce Arena and someone Bradley has known since he babysat Kenny while on Arena’s staff at the University of Virginia. Kenny Arena, a former college head coach, has also been an LAFC assistant since the club’s first season.
Mike Sorber, 50, who played for Bradley in Chicago and was on his staff with the national team, is another coach who has been with the team since the start and has the tactical smarts and people skills to be a good MLS manager.
However Steve Cherundolo may be the most interesting possibility among those already on staff. Cherundolo played for Bradley in the 2010 World Cup and reunited with him this year when he was named manager of the Las Vegas Lights, LAFC’s affiliate in the second-tier USL Championship.
Cherundolo, 42, who has expressed a desire to become an MLS manager, has experience working with young players, having coached for seven years in Germany, spending much of that time with age-group players. And in his time with the Lights he has worked closely with many of the players LAFC figures to be counting on next season.
LAFC’s Bob Bradley guided the team to a 21-4-9 regular-season mark and an MLS-record 72 points en route to earning coach of the year honors.
LAFC is one of eight MLS teams looking for a new manager although it’s unlikely many of the names linked to those other openings — former MLS Cup champion Jason Kreis, Philadelphia Union assistant Pat Noonan and one-time national team star Landon Donovan, manager of the second-tier San Diego Loyal, among others — are high on Thorrington’s list.
LAFC’s progress from expansion team to Supporters’ Shield winner in two seasons most closely parallels the rise of Atlanta United, which won the MLS Cup in its second year. Tata Martino left after that season and the team replaced him with former Barcelona manager Frank de Boer, starting a revolving door that would see the team go through five managers in the last four years.
That’s a lesson that’s certain to inform Thorrington, whose team is coming off its first losing season and first season without a playoff berth.
“We’re ready to move into this next phase of our history. And that begins with the process of identifying the next coach who’s going to help lead us forward,” Thorrington said. “We have a team that has a lot of really good pieces that we will build on.
“In large part thanks to Bob we’ve laid this foundation and set a trajectory of what standards we have here at LAFC and what type of soccer we’re going to play and what types of players we will have.”
As for Bradley, who struggled without three key players — Vela, defender Eddie Segura and Atuesta — for much of the season, he has been linked to the vacancy with Toronto FC, which is coming off the second-worst season in franchise history. Going to Canada would reunite Bradley with his son Michael, Toronto’s captain, and brother Jeff, team’s communications director.
Bradley’s hire could also go a long way toward reassuring an angry fan base the management is committed to turning the team around.