Bob Bradley isn't the first American to try his luck abroad with a foreign national team, but his appointment could end up being the most important.
An earthquake rippled through the U.S. soccer community this past weekend. And it came in the form of the Egypt Football Association announcing that Bob Bradley will be the head coach of its national team.
To be clear, the announcement wasn't the kind of massive upheaval that cracked foundations and sent institutions crumbling. It was more the type of tremor that shook you, made you sit up and take notice, and ponder the long-term ramifications. Call it a 6.0 on soccer's Richter scale.
It's worth noting that from a purely historical perspective, Bradley isn't the first American to try his luck abroad with a foreign national team. In 1930, Mark Scott Thompson became the first U.S. coach to head up another country's national team when he took over El Salvador. Since the beginning of the new millennium, the likes of Bill Moravek managed the British Virgin Islands, Ian Mork took up the reins of Belize, while Steve Sampson had a two-year stint managing Costa Rica.
But Bradley's appointment does signify a sizable shift.
"Certainly, the status of Egypt as a soccer-playing nation is right up there," said Peter Wilt, who as general manager of the Chicago Fire, hired Bradley to his first professional head coaching job in 1998. "Yet I think it's more important to recognize that an America-born coach can have the ability to lead a major country. I think it's an important step in gaining credibility for American soccer, not just American coaches, not just Bob Bradley, but the entire American soccer community. It's an important milestone, but it's one of many in the last decade."
Just how big a marker it ends up being will depend on how Bradley performs. If he's successful, it may well open the door for other American coaches to get opportunities abroad. If not, the reputation of the U.S. will be knocked back down a peg or two, even as the sport continues its rise in terms of acceptance at home.
But make no mistake, Bradley is walking into a job littered with challenges, some of which no other U.S. coach has ever encountered. From a purely soccer standpoint, an Egyptian side with a long history of success, one that included the last three African Cup of Nations titles, is undergoing a period of immense transition. Mainstays such as Wael Gomaa and Ahmed Hassan are heading toward the end of their international careers, and the Pharaohs didn't even qualify for the ACN next year to be held in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. The Egyptian domestic league is in a state of flux as well, with clubs, many of which are owned by the military, attempting to move to a more independent economic model free of government subsidies.
Yet that pales in comparison to the political upheaval that has wracked the country, and culminated in the ouster of long-time president Hosni Mubarak last February. The national team was oftentimes viewed as a public relations tool of the Mubarak government, and during the height of the protests the players and club management stood on the sidelines, much to the anger of fans.
"There's a fair amount of work that's going to have to take place in order to rebuild the [national team] fan base, and also rebuild, in a sense, player confidence," said James M. Dorsey, who writes the soccer blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. "You've had situations at the club level in which fans would unfold huge banners that said, 'We were there for you. Where were you when we needed you?'"