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Bob Bradley and Sigi Schmid set to dance in La La Land

Wednesday 2nd August 2017
With the Galaxy struggling and LAFC yet to play a match, new managers Sigi Schmid and Bob Bradley are set to dance in the MLS version of La La Land. 

I don't think anyone has ever made a musical with a football theme. The closest thing was probably the climactic scene from Slap Shot. The 1977 classic starring Paul Newman as player-coach Reggie Dunlop lampooned the game's obsession with fighting. When the league final descends into a bloody, bench-clearing brawl, Dunlop's best player, Braden (Michael Ontkean) stands up for positive play by performing an impromptu figure-skating striptease. The local high school band provides the requisite burlesque music, the game announcer and opposing captain the hypocritical moral outrage.
Cristiano Ronaldo is nearly as renowned for his underwear ads as his football but he's never gone full Ontkean by combining the two. CR7 passed up his golden opportunity during the Clasico melee in which Jose Mourinho, a la Reg Dunlop, poked Barcelona's Tito Vilanova in the eye. What might have been.

Newman, Mourinho, and Ronaldo are all A-Listers but to reply that Major League Soccer isn't on any list would be overly cruel. The league has a measure of celebrity, even if, for the moment, it's largely borrowed from ageing European legends such as David Villa and Bastian Schweinsteiger. While it cultivates genuine homegrown stars, the league struggles to keep the spotlight trained on its clubs.

Having a strong rivalry in Los Angeles to complement the one in New York would give MLS a strong presence in its two biggest markets. That is why the league set out to attract investors for a new LA club when Chivas USA folded three years ago.

Established in 2005, Chivas enjoyed four successful seasons from 2006-09, then sank to the Western Conference's bottom, saved from further ignominy by American sports owners' self-preserving aversion to promotion and relegation. The defunct franchise was owned and operated as a surrogate by its Liga MX namesake, Chivas de Guadalajara. It was also a secondary tenant in the Galaxy's Home Depot-cum-StubHub Center. Under those conditions, the Goats understandably struggled to assert their own identity.
LAFC has taken care to avoid the same traps. The club's ownership is distinctly Angelino, fronted by football-mad comic actor Will Ferrell. The group has built its own ground, Banc of California Stadium, which seats 22,000. Although significantly smaller than Old Trafford, it emulates the hallowed Theater of Dreams, having been designated the permanent home for the Grand Prix Rugby Series, sevens most prestigious tournament.

Swansea fans will likely suggest the winning attitude ends there because the Wings have unveiled short-lived Swans boss Bob Bradley as their inaugural manager. That would be as cruel as piling on MLS for its lesser status in comparison to top UEFA leagues, however. Rare is the gaffer who doesn't have an embarrassing failure on his CV. Mourinho had Chelsea at relegation's door before he was sacked in 2015. Mauricio Pochettino would never have arrived in England had he not found himself in similar straits with Espanyol in 2012. Rafa Benitez could do nothing with the treble-winning Inter side he inherited from Mou. All have recovered. One failure doesn't define a manager; it just humbles him.

Bradley's MLS history is far more encouraging. He won an MLS Cup and two US Open Cups with Chicago Fire in 1998 and 2000. He also got the ball rolling for Chivas in 2006, with a third place finish in the Western Conference. His successor, Preki, would rely on that foundation, reaching an MLS Cup final in 2007, then enjoying two more strong campaigns while Bradley went on to success with the USMNT, Egypt, Stabaek, and Le Havre before meeting his Welsh Waterloo. Whether his record will impress any marquee names remains to be seen, but Bradley has far more experience in building a squad from the ground up than driving one into it.
Even though Sigi Schmid had his own Mourinho moment with Seattle Sounders last year, the same can be said for him. The silver-haired, cannonball-stomached 64-year-old has won two MLS Cups, with Columbus Crew in 2008, and in 2002, during his first Galaxy stint. He came close with the Sounders, too, building them into a perennial powerhouse. He just couldn't find a way past the Galaxy. He was the Arsene Wenger to Bruce Arena's Sir Alex Ferguson.

When onetime Newcastle standout Obafemi Martins went on a Chinese Super League junket after the 2015 season, the side struggled. Rookie sensation Jordan Morris scored but Clint Dempsey, later diagnosed with a heart ailment, didn't. Still, the club needed a playmaker more than another finisher. Uruguayan international Nicolas Lodeiro arrived three days after Schmid was sacked in July, 2016. Under Schmid's second-in-command, Brian Schmetzer, the hitherto straying Sounders then rocked their town all the way to that elusive MLS Cup.
Yeah, yeah, I know. They're two different Brians. What can I say? Setzer, Schmetzer.

The point is, like the Stray Cats frontman rekindled his career by going from rock-a-billy to big band sound with the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Schmid has demonstrated he has as many lives as your average feline, transforming three clubs into MLS forces. The Galaxy board obviously believes he can do it one more time in Tinsel Town.

There's no denying Sigi Schmid and Bob Bradley are throwbacks. As with Arena's return to the national team, neither will bring an innovative approach to their new post. Supporters may consider that out of touch. Club executives view it as tried and true. One thing is certain. Stuck in the past or not, both will be under pressure to actually bring an MLS Cup to La La Land, not just come close.
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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