Since leaving the Fire after the 2002 season, Bob Bradley has seen a lot in the soccer world. He’s led the U.S. national team in the World Cup, become the first American to manage in the Premier League, coached Egypt after the Egyptian revolution, and worked in France and Norway.
But the memories of his five years in Chicago aren’t vanishing.
“All of us that were part of the Fire in those early years share incredible experiences, stories,” Bradley told the Sun-Times. “There’s so many guys from those Fire teams that are around the league. We all have a really special memory of what all of those days were like.”
During Bradley’s five seasons, the nascent Fire quickly became one of the most successful teams in American soccer. They won MLS Cup and the U.S. Open Cup in their inaugural 1998 season, and added another Open Cup title and MLS Cup final appearance in 2000.
Now in his second season with Los Angeles Football Club, which hosts the Fire (2-4-3, 9 points) on Saturday night, Bradley is again coaching a young franchise off to a fast beginning. In their maiden 2018 season, Bradley and LAFC finished third in the Western Conference and are off to a strong 7-1-2 start this year.
And for Bradley, there are parallels beyond the results between his Fire and today’s LAFC. He remembers the bond his Fire built with the Chicago fans and the feeling inside Soldier Field when his team was playing strong and attractive soccer with bold personalities on the roster.
Now almost two decades removed from his Chicago tenure, he sees something similar with LAFC and its supporters inside state-of-the-art Banc of California Stadium, which sits in Los Angeles’ Exposition Park neighborhood.
“Right from the start with the Fire in ’98 and with LAFC last year, the connection that we had with the city and with our supporters,” Bradley said, “those things were just special.”
Though MLS and the soccer landscape have changed greatly since the Fire pulled off their surprising first-season double, there was still disappointment for Bradley that his team came up short in both the 2018 MLS Cup playoffs and the Open Cup. Unsurprisingly, the goal for this season and beyond is clear: to win as many trophies as possible.
And if LAFC does that under Bradley, he will have created even more lasting moments like he did with the Fire.
“When you have great experiences, they never go away,” Bradley said. “We won the double in the first year, and then obviously we lost in the final in 2000 and still won the Open Cup. Sometimes, when we talk, we felt like that in those five seasons we had chances to win even more. But we still felt that every time we stepped on the field the way we played and our competitiveness and our mentality, that those things were different and special.
“We all took a lot of pride in it and we still feel that way.”