Bob Bradley and Bruce Arena's friendship goes way back. So far back, when the two began working together at the University of Virginia, no player on either of their current rosters was alive yet.
Forever intertwined as a result of their success both domestically and with the U.S. Men's National Team, the two coaches remain close. They speak often, sharing and discussing ideas. Arena's son, Kenny, has been a member of Bradley's coaching staff since LAFC joined MLS.
On Saturday, old friends meet again. (LAFC at New England Revolution | 4:30pm PT on YouTube TV & KVMD)
For as much as Bradley and Arena have seemed ever-present in U.S. soccer, they're meetings as competitors are quite rare. The last time the two stood on opposite sides of the touchline was MLS Cup in 1998.
That day, Bradley got the best of his friend and former boss. But it was a loss five years prior in a College Cup semfinal that Bradley once said still bothers him to this day.
"it was a special year for our Princeton team in 1993. We had a bunch of guys that came together in all the right ways and we went on a great run, and, of course, got to the Final Four and came up against University of Virginia. They had won a number of consecutive championships and had a great team," Bradley said after training this week with LAFC.
The head coach of that UVA team that downed Bradley's Princeton Tigers? Yup, you guessed it: Bruce Arena
"The first half, we just needed some time to settle into the game and do it in a way that kept the game tight," Bradley said. "We fell behind. We made a good push. Got to 3-1. But.."
Bradley shrugged but then a smile arose.
"Amongst that group of guys, there’s always a story. One of our strikers was Jake Dowden. When it was 3-1, Jake got pushed in on goal and went around Jeff Causey. Jake’s a real strong guy. Jeff Causey got a big piece of him. Any other striker, I think, in the world would have gone down and we would have had a penalty with a chance to go to 3-2. Jake stayed on his feet and ended up shooting into the side net.
"Our joke is that Jake thought we wanted to win the Fair Play award and we had no interest at all, we just wanted to see if we could get back into the game. So, everybody always says, “Jake, man. Go down. Go down!” It’s something that we laugh about even though the game was a tough one."
UVA would go on to defeat South Carolina 2-0 in the College Cup final. It was the third of four consecutive College Cup titles for Arena's team.
Bradley spent two more seasons with the Tigers following the loss before joining Arena's staff once again. This time the two were making the leap to the pro ranks. They led D.C. United to an MLS Cup in the League's inaugural season. And despite the semifinal loss to Arena in 1993 remaining a sticking point in Bradley's career, the LAFC head coach still draws on his experiences of that Princeton run.
"My football ideas were initially influenced by German coaches that came to the US. A lot of that was individual duels and man-to-man marking," Bradley said. "But as I watched certain teams around the world at the time, especially AC Milan, we needed to change our ideas. That in order to compete with bigger teams that had the best talent in the country, we had to play in a more collective way. And oftentimes, whether it’s Jürgen Klopp or Ralf Rangnick or others, they talk about the influence that those AC Milan teams had on their thinking. I would say the same thing happened to me and I had a chance to introduce those ideas to a young group of players and see them respond.
"At the end, we became an excellent team. That’s the part I’m most proud of."
News & Notes
- Four LAFC players featured in the MLS All-Star Game in Orlando on Wednesday night. Carlos Vela and Walker Zimmerman received starting nods, while Diego Rossi and Mark-Anthony Kaye came off the bench in the 3-0 exhibition loss to Atlético Madrid.
- It's official! Eddie Segura is fully Black & Gold. The Colombian center back had initially joined LAFC on loan from Atlético Huila. This week, it was announced that loan was made permanent as Segura signs a multi-year deal with LAFC.