CHICAGO – A picture of the Chicago Fire’s MLS Cup 1998 championship team sits on current coach and former player Frank Klopas’ desk.
In the background of that picture is 12-year-old Michael Bradley – son of Bob Bradley, who coached that Fire side – and one of the newest additions to AS Roma, among the largest clubs in Italian soccer.
“A lot of people don’t believe that’s Michael,” Klopas said with a smile. “It’s great to see the career he’s having.”
Wearing his new, maroon-and-gold Roma gear at Wrigley Field on Saturday, the day before the Italian club took on Polish team Zaglebie Lubin, Bradley stood in front of media members and talked about how special it would be to play for the Italian giants after his transfer was completed just days earlier.
“If you take the Chicago and the Wrigley Field part out of it, just to step onto the field with Roma is something special to begin with,” Bradley said during a short press conference.
The dozens of reporters lined up behind a bicycle fence a few yards away from Bradley saw the US star who has played in four of the top leagues in Europe.
When former Fire general manager Peter Wilt sees Bradley, he remembers the kid who would shine shoes and pick up laundry in the Chicago locker room to justify all of the time he spent at Fire training.
When he wasn’t at school or playing with the Chicago Sockers youth team, he was always with his dad, or picking the brains of the veteran Fire players. Young Michael learned from the likes of Klopas, Peter Nowak and Lubos Kubik to name a few.
“You can’t have a better environment for learning the game than those early Fire teams,” Wilt told MLSsoccer.com. “The players on that Fire team were so experienced and knowledgeable and they set the right example of how to train and how to work and how to be a professional soccer player.”
Wilt knows that Bradley’s grit and determination have a lot to do with his rise through Europe’s top leagues.
The foundation for his work ethic, he thinks, was built in Chicago.
“He was part of the organization, really,” Wilt said. “Coming back to Chicago on one of the world’s great teams and playing an important role on that team is a testimony to his quality as a person and a player and to the environment he developed those skills at, in Chicago.”