American Exports: Bob Bradley reflects on Stabaek's "incredible" third-place achievement in Norway

Bob Bradley with Stabaek in Portland

AMSTERDAM – It should come as little surprise that team-first Stabæk boss Bob Bradley did not consider the historical significance of his side securing a Europa League ticket with Sunday night's 3-2 rally win over guests Start.

Instead, the first American manager to lead his charges into UEFA tournament play recalled previous celebrations of great success from the stops in his career.

"I have not thought about it that way," Bradley told by phone from Naderrud Stadion. "I've been lucky at many different moments to have teams that came together in a really strong way. I always remember that. 

"When that happened yesterday, what went through my head was other days, whether it was with the Chicago Fire or with the US when we beat Egypt and Spain at the Confederations Cup, or the feeling we all had together after we beat Algeria and won the group [at World Cup 2010]. I flash back to those days when the work of a group came together in a way that every single guy was proud and part of something special."

This time, Bradley was running through the memory vault thanks to a young squad that (with a game to spare) clinched no less than a third-place Tippeligaen finish, despite standing in the bottom half of the league's operating budget rankings. Whether the coach – who is a free agent at year's end – is still at the helm remains to be seen, but the Blue Ones will enter the first round of Europa League qualifying in July.

It will be Stabæk's seventh adventure in Europe, their first since their 2011 campaign earned a spot in qualifying for the 2012-13 Europa League. In the time before Bradley took over last season, the club was relegated and then promoted back to the top flight. He continued that climb and is proud to have participated in helping the town of Bærum back to the big time so quickly.

"This is great for the club and, in particular, this group of players," declared Bradley. "You think back a couple years when things had sort of bottomed out here. There was a lot of work from so many people in this club. The founding fathers, some of the people who helped this team from the fourth or fifth league, are still involved. Inge Andre Olsen has really taken an initiative. When I made the decision to come here, I felt I was involved with good people. 

"Now to be able in two seasons, to not only play good football and be an exciting team, but to do something that can be a sign of better things to come, I couldn't be happier for the club." 

The manager also beamed over the shared experience of a team that weathered some adversity over the back half of the season to earn the rewards.

"We had some injuries late in the year; we are not a deep squad," he said. "But we kept reminding everybody that we can finish this thing. To do it in the final home match of the season, I think, is even more special. When we lost Dio [striker Adama Diomande, now with England's Hull City] on the last day of the transfer window, I made sure that rest of the players understood that we still have quality, but we have to change the way we attack.

"But we managed that in a good way. We responded well [after consecutive league and cup losses to Rosenborg in September], which was quite important. Of course, we had a group of players who knew this was important to people who were and still the soul of the club and how important it was to the supporters. The people around this club appreciate when you are ready to roll up your sleeves and join them every day to accomplish something. From all that work, to be able to guarantee a medal and Europe at the end of the season – it's incredible."