MLS coaches eye Bob Bradley’s Premiere League job with hope for the future

Swansea manager Bob Bradley looks across the pitch during the English Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Swansea City at The Emirates Stadium in London, Saturday Oct. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

Swansea manager Bob Bradley looks across the pitch during the English Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Swansea City at The Emirates Stadium in London, Saturday Oct. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)  (Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Gregg Berhalter has been there and done that.

Jesse Marsch would like to do the same someday.

And if they or any of their Major League Soccer coaching colleagues ever do receive an opportunity to lead a team in a major European soccer league, they can thank Bob Bradley for breaking down the barrier.

Last week, Bradley became coach of Swansea City of the English Premier League. His appointment shattered the glass ceiling for American coaches, becoming the first U.S. citizen to coach in one of Europe’s top soccer leagues.

For the past three decades, American players have performed on teams in dozens of countries, but there never had been any coaches in a top league – until now.

"[Bradley] was able to land himself an opportunity like Swansea because there was a combination of life work, experiences, success at different levels, ambition, intelligence, adaptability," said Marsch, the head coach of the New York Red Bulls who was a Bradley assistant at Chivas USA and on the U.S. men's national team. 

"It requires a lot of different qualities for a coach to establish himself at the highest level," Marsch told Fox News Latino, "especially when you are an American."

Americans were totally disinterested in the sport for most of its history, so, despite being a juggernaut in nearly every other athletic endeavor, in soccer they have long been viewed as idiot savantes with a lot of ability but little or no technical know-how, a condescending attitude that has only begun to wear off in recent decades. 

Which may help to explain why the 58-year-old Bradley's ascension did not happen overnight. He has paid his dues, directing the Chicago Fire to the MLS Cup title, guiding the New York/New Jersey MetroStars (now the Red Bulls) and Chivas USA before taking on the reins of the U.S. national team. 

After he was fired in 2011, Bradley went overseas to coach the Egyptian national team, the Norwegian club Stabaek and the second-tier French team, Le Havre.

On Saturday, when he walked out with his new team to face Arsenal at Emirates Stadium, he told the New York Times, "There was a feeling of pride walking out there. It was a proud moment.”

“One of the things that's very important to know is how hard he worked to get to this,” Marsch said. “He did amazing work in all three places and developed a reputation in smaller circles in Europe that he was a high quality coach and that his teams were very smart and very good. Over time that reputation began to spread and grow. It was only a matter of time when this kind of opportunity came. I know that there were days that he doubted it."

So, now that Bradley has broken through, who will follow him?

You can place the North American candidates into three categories: the old, middle and new guard.

Among the old guard who might be considered too long in the tooth by Euro clubs are LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, 65, who has guided teams to five MLS Cup trophies and an 8-year run as U.S. national coach, and former Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, 63.

The middle guard includes Sporting Kansas City's Peter Vermes – who deployed high pressure tactics at KC that other MLS teams have adapted – and the San Jose Earthquakes' Dominic Kinnear, 49.

The younger generation of coaches includes former MLS players who have enjoyed varying degrees of coaching success – people like FC Dallas’ Oscar Pareja, 48, whose team leads the Western Conference and the Supporters Shield race as the regular-season champion, and the Portland Timbers’ Caleb Porter, 41, whose team won the 2015 MLS Cup, as well as Berhalter, 43, and Marsch, 42.

"It takes a unique set of qualities to attract interest from overseas," Marsch said. "Over time we hope that will grow, just as certain players have started to break certain barriers over there."

Marsch said he wouldn't mind a European stint in the future if the opportunity arose, but he's very happy with the Red Bulls fighting to secure the Eastern Conference crown.

"I've never been happier in my life in terms of my working environment," he said.

"I would love the opportunity someone to pursue big challenges like that and to experience the game at the highest level and … try to create success in leagues that are at the pinnacle of our sport," he added. "That being said, I am still a young coach in my careerm and there's plenty for me to continue to learn and grow and develop.”

Berhalter, whose team was eliminated from playoff contention last week, wouldn’t even broach the subject. "My focus right now is on the Columbus Crew," he said.

Of course, Berhalter was the first American to coach in Europe. He was appointed coach of the Swedish club Hammarby after he left the Galaxy in 2011.

He led the team to a 18-12-16 mark during his 19-month tenure, and he says he didn't feel any anti-American backlash.

"The club had very high expectations," he said. "There was nine managers over 5 years. Part of it was that it was a high turnover rate, and you have to be successful. There's very little room for error because when you [make an] error, you're gone. So that was an obstacle. But I didn't feel prejudice towards Americans." 

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