The shortest season in LAFC’s brief history ended shy of the playoffs last week. So on Thursday what is shaping up to be the club’s busiest offseason officially got started when the team parted ways with Bob Bradley, the only manager it has ever known.
“As our season came to a conclusion, which was premature by our standards, we had conversations with Bob and his agent. And following those talks, we mutually agreed this was the right next step for both of us,” John Thorringon, the club’s co-president and general manager, said.
Bradley, the third-winningest coach in MLS history, led LAFC to a 58-34-32 record, three playoff appearances and a Supporter’s Shield in four seasons. His team broke the season-single points record and tied the all-time goal-scoring mark in 2019, then made it to the final of the CONCACAF Champions League final last season, when it became the first MLS team to defeat three Liga MX Clubs in a single tournament.
But LAFC, hampered by injuries to key players, went 12-13-9 and finished ninth in the Western Conference this year, two spots out of a playoff berth. Just seven players remain from that record-setting 2019 team and some of those won’t be returning, something that factored into Thorrington’s decision to make a coaching change.
“After the four years, I think this will be a busier offseason in terms of turnover,” Thorrington said. “The worst problem is if our players weren’t good enough and didn’t play well, and we did need to have a fully new team. I don’t think that’s what we’re facing.
“What I think is we’re ready to move into this next phase of our history. And immediately that begins with the process of identifying the next coach who’s going to help lead us forward.”
Identifying a next coach may not be the end of Thorrington’s heavy lifting though: He could be looking for a new captain as well. Although Thorrington declined to talk about specific contract terms, he said the team is in discussions with Carlos Vela, who has missed more than half the team’s regular-season games since his MVP campaign in 2019.
“We are in talks with Carlos as to what makes sense for LAFC and for Carlos,” he said. “Obviously, it’s been a tough couple of years due to injury. But we are evaluating that as is he.”
Vela’s contract has an option for 2022 that must be exercised by the end of the month.
Bradley’s career has been defined by short, if successful, stints with seven clubs and two national teams on three continents. A three-time MLS coach of the year, he won a league title with the expansion Chicago Fire in his first season as a manager in 1998.
He left Chicago after five year to take over the MetroStars, guiding them to two playoff berths in two full seasons. Next he led Chivas USA to its first postseason appearance in his lone season there before taking over the U.S. national team, coaching it to the Round of 16 in the 2010 World Cup.
After being fired for losing to Mexico in the 2011 Gold Cup final, Bradley embarked on a mini world tour, coaching Egypt to the verge of a World Cup berth in 2014 and managing clubs in Norway and France before a disastrous 11-game trial with Swansea City that saw him become the first U.S.-born man to both coach and be sacked by an English Premier League team.
Bradley’s intense personality, combined with his peripatetic resume, have led some to question whether the coach and his message lose their resonance over time. Thorrington said that wasn’t the case with LAFC.
“Four years is a long time,” he said. “When you look at the full four years, we have achieved much of what we set out to achieve. Myself and the club, we’re grateful for everything Bob accomplished and helped build in those four years.
“When I look back on this year, I didn’t get the sense that players gave up or they weren’t listening or anything.”
Bradley is the 12th MLS manager to be fired or resign since the end of last season. He has been linked to the vacant position in Toronto, where his son Michael is the team captain and his brother Jeff is the director of communications.
Now that Bradley is out at LAFC, an announcement could be made soon. Thorrington, meanwhile, said the process of finding a new coach has already begun.
“Part of my job is to think about the medium and long term. And part of that is succession planning,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we are down a path with candidates, given how fresh this all is, [but] what we do know is what characteristics are needed to succeed here.
“We have a unique roster and we have a lot of younger players who need to be coached and developed. We have a unique culture, all of these things come into it.”