1313_isi_bradleybob_usmnthcs20101012271 Howard C. Smith/isiphotos.com

Bob Bradley Makes Gutsy Choice to Lead Stabaek

The former U.S. national team coach will follow up his Egyptian adventure by coaching a turmoil-ridden Stabaek club in Norway's top league. ASN's Brian Sciaretta assesses the move.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
January 03, 2014
10:10 AM
BOB BRADLEY'S COACHING CAREER has always been one filled with unusual and an unpredictable paths. On Friday, his journey took another interesting turn as he signed on to coach a Stabaek team that was just promoted to Norway’s top flight, the Tippeligaen.

Other Americans have coached in Europe: Gregg Berhalter coached Hammarby of Sweden’s second tier in 2012-13. Joe Enochs was interim head coach of then-2.Bundesliga club Osnabrück in 2011. And former U.S. national team forward David Wagner is the head coach of Borussia Dortmund’s U-23 team, which plays Germany’s third tier.

Bradley, however, is now the first American head coach in recent history to coach a top-division team in Europe. And the journey that brought him here is quite interesting.

When Bob Bradley took over as United States national team coach at the end of 2006, it was a disappointment to many fans. Following a disastrous 2006 World Cup under Bruce Arena, the United States Soccer Federation courted Jurgen Klinsmann for months, only to have the German walk away from the job in December.

Many American fans saw the Bradley hire as settling for second best, and it did not sit well with them. With a World Cup failure in 2006, a long national team hiatus, and a botched coaching hire, it was an ugly period of the national team’s history.

Bradley, however, gradually won over most fans. The U.S. won the Gold Cup in 2007 and impressively beat Spain en route to reaching the finals of the 2009 Confederation Cup, which it lost to Brazil. That year Bradley's team finished alone atop the Hexagonal World Cup qualifying tournament for the first time ever.

At the 2010 World Cup, Bradley led the United States to its first-ever first-place finish during the group stage. In the round of 16, the Americans lost to Ghana in overtime.

Following the World Cup, however, the U.S. team fell flat. When the team squandered a 2-0 lead in the 2011 Gold Cup finals and lost to Mexico, 4-2, Bradley was fired and replaced by Klinsmann.

Afterward, Bradley took the job as Egypt’s national team coach and inspired people across the globe. Egypt, of course, was a country in turmoil and political unrest. Violence was prevalent and a soccer stampede at a local game claimed dozens of lives. When many coaches would have quit, Bradley stayed and proved to be an inspiration to many. With the national league suspended, few gave Egyptian team a chance for success but Bradley’s team fought hard until falling just short of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

So now he will take a job with Stabaek in Norway. It wasn’t the only opportunity available for him. He could have gone to MLS but reports were that he rejected a Vancouver offer to seek out a European opening.

But why Stabaek?

Actually it fits the pattern of his past. Like the U.S. national team and the Egyptian national team, Bradley is inheriting a troubled squad. While Stabaek recently earned promotion, its recent past has been riddled with turmoil.

In 2012, the club suffered through a harsh financial crisis and had to sell off most of its players and move out of its new domed stadium. After the team's humiliating return to its old, aging arena, the club was relegated out of the top division.

Despite the embarrassing financial woes, Stabaek is a proud team that achieved considerable success in Norway from 1996-2009, playing in European competitions seven times during that span. It won the Norwegian Cup in 1998 and the League in 2008.

So Bradley will once again inherit a proud program during a period of uncertainty and anxiety. Stabaek is a club filled with young players in need of solid leadership and direction. There are currently 21 players on the first team roster. Of those 21, seven are teenagers and four are 20 years old.

It says a lot about Bradley that he is willing to take these sorts of jobs. He could have eased into a safe MLS position but instead he takes the road less traveled.

He’s a risk taker. If he does well and helps restore Stabaek to its former status, he will be a hero in yet another country and could perhaps move to a more high-profile job in a bigger league. If he fails and Stabaek are relegated again, his groundbreaking move as the first American to coach a top-division European team could reflect poorly not just on himself, but also on American coaches considering work abroad.

It is impossible to know how this will all play out, but Bradley has once again made a decision that is gutsy and surprising. Based on his past, he seems about as ready as any American could be for the task in front of him.

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