Father vs. son: Bob, Michael Bradley put family on hold as LAFC visits Toronto
Judging from his tone of voice, it's clear which part of this weekend's trip to Toronto LAFC coach Bob Bradley is most looking forward to.
On Saturday night, he will face off against his son, Michael, TFC's captain and do-everything midfielder. Believe it or not, given their widely intersecting journeys in the highest circles of American soccer, this is actually the first time the Bradleys will go head-to-head on opposite sides of a competitive game.
LAFC and TFC played against each other this past preseason, but that's hardly the same thing as Saturday's game (8:00 ET, ESPN+), with Toronto fighting desperately for its playoff life and the visitors battling for postseason positioning in the Western Conference.
"There will be a whistle," Bob described to reporters earlier this week, "and 90 minutes, and he'll fight like hell to try to help his team, and not worry about what anybody says, and we'll do our best around here to have our team ready to go. When it's over, we'll continue."
When it's over, they'll take the rest of the night to decompress. And then Sunday morning, no matter the result, they'll gather at Michael's house, which will inevitably result in pickup soccer in the backyard with Luca, Michael's young son.
As fiery of a competitor as he's always been and as much as he relishes the fight week in and week out, it's obvious which day Bob is more looking forward to.
"Sunday morning, win, lose, draw, I'll get to see Michael, Amanda and the kids," Bob said. "The way our family works, that'll always been special. In everything that's gone on, we have to remind ourselves that the love of the game, the things that we've shared, nobody can ever take that away from us."
They have always been a soccer family. One can argue, given Bob's success as a coach and Michael's as a player, they are America's preeminent soccer family.
Bob's coaching career began at the age of 22, when he managed Ohio University's men's soccer team while also getting his master's degree in sports management. After that, he spent a brief spell as Bruce Arena's assistant at the University of Virginia, then headed to Princeton, where he would spent more than a decade and where Michael was born.
Michael was around the game practically from the time he was born. He was omnipresent on the sidelines of teams that Bob coached, from the Chicago Fire to the New York MetroStars -- for whom Michael would make his professional debut in 2004.
"His introduction to the game meant that he was always around it, he was around players, he saw it on TV," Bob said. "There were balls around the house, every kind of ball you could imagine. A lot of things got broken in the house. And so from the beginning, you shared this."
At first, and then for much longer than was warranted given Michael's talent and level of commitment, there were charges of nepotism, most loudly after Bob took over the U.S. national team in 2006.
If it rankled the father, such criticism never impacted the coach's decision-making. He knew more than anybody else his son's drive -- asked this week which of them was more competitive, Bob said that they were "equal" and that Luca was already "right up there with the both of us" -- as well as how he'd blossomed as a player.
Bob claims to have watched just about every one of Michael's games as a pro, which ought to make scouting for Saturday's game straightforward enough -- and vice-versa, given that Michael says he's watched every second of LAFC's games this year.
"Outside these walls, he probably knows Toronto FC better than anybody, just based on how much he has watched," Michael told reporters on Friday. "I don't think he has a game plan to stop Michael Bradley. I think he has a clear idea of how we play, and how to make it difficult on us."
"Look, I've watched every Toronto game since he's been there," Bob said. "I've watched every Roma game when he was at Roma, Chievo. That's part of the deal. I've enjoyed that part, seeing him grow as a player."
All of which will make Saturday at least a little bit awkward, when those skills Michael has honed over the years -- when the lessons he learned at Bob's knee -- will be turned against his father. No player is likely to be as central to how the match plays out than the string-pulling Toronto No. 6.
Ninety minutes, and then it will be over, and then they'll continue, just like the Bradleys have always done -- with yet another shared memory in a lifetime full of them.
"I've got millions," Michael said. "We've been lucky to be able to share some incredible experiences together. There'd be ones that would be obvious to everybody; when you're able to go to a World Cup and represent your national team, and do so playing for a team coached by your dad, and to share that, that's something that stays with you forever.
"But then there's moments that other people don't know about. The days spent sharing the game in different ways, now with my son Luca, playing in the backyard. We're very lucky."