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From Ohio to the world: Brad Friedel discusses his Hall of Fame career

The National Soccer Hall of Fame will induct five new members on Saturday, marking the opening of its renovated home at FC Dallas’ Toyota Stadium.

Part of that group is New England Revolution head coach Brad Friedel, one of the most accomplished players in US soccer history. A goalkeeper, he featured in three World Cups (1994, 1998, 2002), two Olympics (1992 and 2000), over 20 professional seasons (17 in England’s Premier League) and won the 1992 MAC Hermann Trophy at UCLA.

Ahead of the ceremony, the 47-year-old touched base with MLSsoccer.com to talk defining moments of his path through American soccer.

Youth Days

Friedel – born in Lakewood, Ohio, a city outside of Cleveland – grew up in a different era of American soccer. There was no Development Academy and club soccer was still in its infancy, though he played for East-West Soccer Club.

In fact, there was strong pushback for even preferring the world’s game. Cleveland – home of the NBA’s Cavaliers, MLB’s Indians and NFL’s Browns – was naturally an American football, basketball and baseball town.

So as ninth grade approached and the local school held team-by-team meetings, Friedel walked into a soccer one instead of football one. The latter’s coach had some choice words.

“He told me I'd amount to nothing if I played soccer and didn't play American football,” Friedel said. “I like the guy, don't get me wrong. But it was always in the back of my mind.”

Outside of soccer, Friedel also played basketball and tennis in high school. It was the former, however, that the 6-foot-3 goalkeeper cherished most.

Heady times at UCLA

Back in the 1990s, college soccer, as Friedel put it, was of a different ilk.

“All the best players, all the national team players, everybody was in college,” Friedel said. “You had to. You had the military-born players or guys with dual nationality in other countries, but I'd say 90-plus percent of the players were all in college or all played in college at one time. The standard was a lot higher than it is today.”

At UCLA, a “professional environment” was created by former Columbus Crew SC, Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy head coach Sigi Schmid. He even played alongside national team greats like Joe-Max Moore, Cobi Jones and Chris Henderson.

The peak was winning the 1990 College Cup, while his performances led to a run with the 1992 Olympic team. That’s when professional opportunities began for Friedel, a childhood Liverpool fan.

“My eyes really opened up to what the global world of soccer,” Friedel said. “ … We'd go and play in South America and in Europe, all the scouts and agents were around. You started performing and they'd find out you're still in school.”

The first MLS return

Friedel in action for Liverpool | Reuters/Action Images

In Friedel’s early professional days, work permit issues in the United Kingdom proved troublesome. He ultimately landed at Danish club Brondby, then with Turkish giants Galatasaray.

During that journey, the US hosted the 1994 World Cup and Major League Soccer’s inaugural season was slated for 1996. Friedel, then with Galatasaray, garnered interest from Liverpool, but needed more national team caps to qualify for that elusive work permit.

Friedel, with the US then not playing on international fixture dates, often missed Galatasaray games, so pressure ramped up. He was loaned to Columbus Crew SC for the inaugural season, the MLS move became permanent and he eventually moved onto Liverpool.

“Galatasaray ended up being happy because they got a transfer fee and MLS became very happy because they got a transfer for me to go to Liverpool,” Friedel said. “It all worked out in the end. It wasn't all smooth and we had some interesting meetings over the time, but it all worked out.”

Those early Crew days meant playing alongside the likes of Brian Bliss, Mike Lapper, Tom Dooley, Brian McBride and Brian Maisonneuve. For a local guy, it was a special time.

“My mom was born in Columbus, just outside of Columbus, so a lot of family down there to play in front of,” Friedel said. “The club back then to today is night and day, even with MLS in general and the whole landscape.”

Favorite USMNT moments

Friedel playing for the USMNT | Reuters/Action Images

With 82 international caps, Friedel’s US national team career nearly spanned 15 years.

He points to his first appearance vs. Canada as a highlight and the 2002 World Cup as another. That’s when the US advanced to the quarterfinals vs. Germany, and were perhaps a Torsten Frings handball away from making the semis.

“If there was Video Review on the day, maybe we have a different result,” Friedel said. “Everyone can have their opinions, but arguably the best US team ever assembled.”

Another highlight, Friedel said, was beating Jamaica on Oct. 7, 2001 at the old Foxboro Stadium to advance to the World Cup. That was the team’s first match since the tragic events of 9/11.

“That was a pretty special day with the occasion itself,” Friedel said. “A lot of emotion”

Joining the coaching ranks

When Friedel’s playing career wrapped up in 2015 at Tottenham Hotspur, he became a coach after a brief broadcasting stint with FOX Sports.

He’d spent time with Tottenham’s youth teams, and served as head coach for the US U-19 national team. But with Jay Heaps on the outs and the Revs in need of a new manager, they turned to Friedel, one of America’s most decorated players.

He’s spent much of the 2018 season changing the culture in and around Gillette Stadium, though the Revs missed the playoffs for the third straight season. Friedel has assured roster changes for 2019, and has a singular focus in New England.

“To build a club that wins, to build a winning mentality, to build a fortress around the place,” Friedel said. “That's what we're committed to. You've known me a little bit now, but I'm not the type of person who will rest until it happens.”

Also driving him is a desire to reward the Revolution's owners, the Kraft family, for their long standing support of American soccer. Friedel said the family, alongside the Hunts and Anschutzes desire a lot of credit for making American soccer what it is today.

“I'm here to work very hard, yes for myself and the staff and players and fans, but also for the owners,” Friedel said. “That's not me saying that just because I'm employed here. I'd be saying that if I was employed somewhere else, knowing the history of what's gone on in US Soccer. They deserve a lot of credit and we'd like to bring them some success.”