I live in a soccer household. Fifteen years ago, I would not have imagined that possible.
A snapshot version of how it happened goes like this: in 1999, my first daughter turned five years old and we signed her up for a kindergarten soccer league. Because I was a sports writer, everyone thought I should coach (despite not knowing a thing about the sport). At the exact same time, I was reassigned at the newspaper I worked at from covering the Chicago Bulls full-time to covering the Chicago Bears part-time while writing feature stories. I also was given the Chicago Fire soccer team beat.
Boom! I’m suddenly a soccer parent, a soccer coach and a soccer writer, all within the space of a few months.
Today, I am a passionate soccer aficionado. I have two boys and a daughter who play high school soccer, and would rather watch a soccer match on TV than a basketball game or tennis match, my two other previous sports passions.
I am telling you this because of something that happened in Egypt this week that mattered to me.
The Egyptian national soccer team was eliminated from the African World Cup playoffs Monday, losing a two-game aggregate series with Ghana 7-3. In the immediate aftermath, Egyptian coach Bob Bradley, the former U.S. national team coach, was fired, and he was let go unceremoniously.
“Bob Bradley’s contract ended this night, and we will not renew him,’’ said Egyptian Football Association chairman Gamal Allam in a statement. “I think Bradley will not accept to stay here following all the criticism from the media after the first match in Kumasi (they lost, 6-1). We did not talk with him about staying and we will not do so. We signed Bradley to take the team to the World Cup but he failed so we will search for a new coach and we wish him good luck.”
In a country beset by political and social unrest, Bradley produced a team that had hopes of making the World Cup for the first time since 1990 (missing out five consecutive times). The Pharaohs, as the team is known, won all of its qualifying matches in the final round to set up the final home-and-away series with a very accomplished Ghana squad.
And Bradley did so with a team that had players who were scrambling to find work as soccer players while trying to stay alive. The country’s professional league folded amid all of the strife. The national team was a salvation, a hope for so many people in that country.
Sadly, Bradley could not produce a win in the final playoff series. But for many he is a national hero in Egypt. He lived there with his wife despite all the turmoil. His trademark focus created a sense of possibility. He didn’t fail. He just didn’t fully succeed.
This matters to me because Bradley did me a “solid’’ back in 1999, for no reason other than he’s a pretty decent guy.
When I was assigned to cover the Chicago Fire, the team Bradley coached at the time, I knew nothing about the sport. I was like so many other Americans who did not grow up with the game, and had little exposure to it. I had the wherewithal to approach Bradley the day I started covering the team to tell him that I was a soccer newbie.
What Bradley did next was unexpected. He sat me down and explained the game to me; not just the on-field matters, but many of the off-field matters such as player acquisition, the international match schedule, and why soccer was “the sport of the future in America and always will be” (my favorite American soccer joke).
My exposure to soccer through the Fire, as well as my sudden status as a soccer “coach’’, turned me on to the game in a big way. I’m semi-fanatic about it now. And, unlike many of my fellow soccer geeks, I get it both domestically and internationally (many soccer fans pooh-pooh the American pro league, Major League Soccer).
I rooted hard for Bradley and the U.S. team when he served as the coach of the American national team. Although I did not understand why Bradley would undertake the Egyptian job, I paid attention to all of their matches and was thrilled with their success.
I don’t think anybody in the international soccer community outside of Egypt believe Bradley failed while in Cairo. He will get a new job soon, and he will succeed there.
And I will root for him wherever he ends up.