TORONTO – For Brad Friedel, Tottenham Hotspur’s North American tour is a chance to experience a familiar shade of soccer all grown up.
Friedel played for the Columbus Crew during Major League Soccer's first two seasons but left for Europe in late 1997. He, like many US national team players, left the league to become a pioneer in European football, but Friedel says that he sees the change from its inception to today.
“At the time that I made a choice to go over to Europe, Europe was a far better league than MLS, and I don’t think anyone would deny that,” Friedel told MLSsoccer.com during Tottenham’s training session in Toronto.
“Now when you see the likes of Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey coming back here in the prime of their career, you can see that there are a few clubs over here that are very strong and very competitive. That wasn’t around when I was making the choice.”
So does he see himself returning to MLS to play?
“As a player, the odds are diminishing by the hour,” Friedel said. “It wasn’t something that was planned like that. I always envisioned coming back someday and having a year or two in MLS, but the years are catching up with me now, so the odds decrease as the days go by.”
Friedel does not rule out a potential return entirely, just in a different role than he’s used to. In a Q&A session on social media site Reddit one year ago, Friedel revealed that he was undergoing the process of earning his UEFA A License for coaching. He told MLSsoccer.com he has completed that license, though he has yet to apply for the Pro License that follows.
With a coaching license in hand, Friedel is already thinking about life after his playing days, including life on the sidelines in MLS.
“You never say never to that,” Friedel said, when asked if he had MLS coaching aspirations. “When you look at stepping into coaching, it doesn’t matter what country it’s in; the city has to work. I have a family. I have three kids, and the owner, the director of football and general manager all have to fit in place.
"But would I keep my options open for that? Absolutely. I would never, never turn away a conversation about it.”
For now, Friedel and the rest of his Tottenham teammates are focused solely on preseason training, including Wednesday's friendly between Spurs and Toronto FC (7 pm ET, ESPN2), led by his old teammate Jermain Defoe.
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“He was getting changed pretty close to me [in the Spurs locker room], so [I was] delighted, because all his creams and perfumes and that were out of the way,” Friedel joked about his reaction to Defoe's move to North America. “No, Jermain’s a great guy. Were we surprised? A little bit, I guess. I know Ryan Nelsen very well, and I know what he was trying to do with the club and all the salary-cap space he was trying to open up in his first year.
"I’m not surprised from the standpoint of a very good player coming to MLS, but maybe a little surprised of a London boy leaving London. I know it was a really hard decision for him, leaving a club like Tottenham, but he’s come over and he’s done really well.”