PHILADELPHIA – Major League Soccer is a dramatically different beast today compared to when Bob Bradley led an expansion side into existence 20 years ago. But the fundamentals remain much the same, the veteran coach told reporters after he and LAFC continued to build out their roster with a trio of selections in their first-ever MLS SuperDraft on Friday.
“There are different rules, different mechanisms and all that stuff,” said Bradley, harking back to his talented 1998 Chicago Fire side that remains the only expansion team in league history to win MLS Cup. “But at the simplest level, you're looking for good players and good guys and trying to challenge them every day and help them understand what a good team is all about.
“No matter whether you’re traveling in South America, traveling in Europe or sitting here watching games, you’re looking for footballers that you think are going to bring something to a team, guys that have football intelligence – guys that, the way they move, the way they do things, is such that when you get them in a better environment, you’re going to really have something.”
Picking Portuguese defender Joao Moutinho with the No. 1 selection, followed by fullback Tristan Blackmon at No. 3 overall and Spanish midfielder Pol Calvet Planellas with the first spot in the second round, LAFC spent two of their three slots on foreign players who will occupy prized international roster slots.
That doesn’t seem to faze Bradley, who emphasized that many moving parts continue to influence what the final product will look like on opening day.
“Look, you have got to try to balance your roster,” he said. “But you travel, you scout, you see players and then you compare players you’ve seen with players that then are available here. You try to then size up those decisions. Throughout the whole process we’ve understood that we’ve got to have enough domestic players, so we’ve been active doing things to build that part of the roster. In the final stages, we’ll see how the last decisions work out.”
It’s quite possible that all three draftees will wind up spending significant time at Orange County SC, LAFC’s USL affiliate club. Bradley’s remarks suggested that he sees Moutinho as a longer-term project.
“There’s some real great starting points. He’s a good footballer,” Bradley said of the Akron product. “You can also try to think what will he look like in a year or two, because physically he’s still going to mature. So you never know how all these things play out, but the starting point of the way he plays, the way he moves, his ability to play the right pass, those are all great things.”
The 21-year-old Blackmon said he and Bradley connected well during his interview at the Combine, noting that his college career at the University of the Pacific held parallels with LAFC’s year 1 experience.
“Coming from Pacific, I was starting the program over there – there wasn’t a Division I program before I went there,” Blackmon said. “So being a part of a rebirth again, in the league, is absolutely amazing. I’m ready to go.
“It’s hard because you don’t have anything to go off of, but it’s also very exciting because you’re able to build as a team. And I’m very excited for what’s to come.”
The league’s newest team has already splashed out on Designated Players like Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi, and Bradley said on Friday that he expects LAFC’s third DP slot to be filled before the season begins. But their draft picks sounded particularly excited about working with the coach.
“Being coached by Bob Bradley is just amazing for me,” said Moutinho.
Said Blackmon: “I can’t tell you how excited I am. It’s an honor. He’s such a prestigious coach and I’m just ready to take in everything he’s going to offer to me, and I’m ready to get learning.
“It’s not [just] the fact that the coach has success, but what he’s done to develop players. So the players that have been under him – you look at [Bradley’s son] Michael as well, the player that he’s become, just the player and the man that he is, I think I can take a lot of that and learn a lot from the coach.”