FOXBOUROUGH, Mass. – Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley have a personal and professional relationship dating back to the early 1980s when Bradley was an assistant coach for Arena with the University of Virginia men’s soccer team for two seasons.
“My son’s first babysitter,” Arena said of Bradley. “So we go back a long way.”
Presently, Bradley coaches LAFC, which tops the Western Conference with an MLS-best 49 points and comes to Gillette Stadium Saturday (7:30 PM ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada) to meet Arena’s New England Revolution, unbeaten in 11 games and back in the hunt for an Eastern Conference playoff position with 33 points after a tough start under previous coach Brad Friedel.
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“I’m not sure I’ve ever coached against my son actually,” Arena said. “So this will be interesting. If a fight breaks out, I’m going to take him.”
When it comes to talking seriously about his longtime friend, Arena said Bradley has “awesome experience” that includes the USMNT and Egyptian national team in addition to assistant and head coaching posts in NCAA, MLS, France, Norway, and briefly in the Premier League with Swansea City. Arena added Bradley’s résumé is “just remarkable for an American coach.”
As for LAFC, Arena said the Revs face “probably the most severe test we’ve had and it’s going to tell us a lot about our team as we move forward.”
In their second season, LAFC lead MLS in goals scored (59) and goal differential (+36) and could possibly set single-season records in those categories among others. This is also the second MLS expansion team that Bradley has led from inception. Bradley coached the first-year Chicago Fire to an MLS Cup in 1998 over Arena’s D.C. United, which was seeking a third straight title. Bradley was Arena’s assistant for the two previous Cup wins.
Arena added that coaches like Bradley learn “something every day” in terms of adapting and becoming a better coach, especially in a league that bears little resemblance to the 1998 iteration.
“I know Bob's a big fan of Barcelona so they try, however they can to a certain degree, look at the qualities of the Barcelona team and try to employ that in relative terms,” Arena said of LAFC. “They’re an attack-oriented team and they lose the ball and try to win it back in their attacking half of the field.”
Asked how the Revs will counter LAFC’s Barcelona-inspired playing style centered on Mexican forward Carlos Vela, Arena initially quipped, “we’re bringing in Barcelona this week for practice.”
Following a 40-plus year trend, Arena followed a joke with the serious, yet simple answer as to what New England needs to do to give itself a chance.
“It's still about soccer and playing and moving the ball and understanding what's going on … on the field,” Arena said.