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Jan 3, 2014

Never afraid of challenges, Bradley aims to prove himself in Norway

Bob Bradley has always been about knocking down barriers, whether it was leading the expansion Chicago Fire to an MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup in 1998, managing the U.S. national team into the final of the Confederations Cup in 2009, or becoming coach of Egypt’s national team.

That penchant for challenges continued Friday when Bradley was named manager of Norwegian side Stabaek. He is by no means the first American to be manager of a European club. That honor is believed to be the domain of Brent Goulet, who managed German third-tier side Elversberg for parts of five seasons. Current Columbus Crew coach Gregg Berhalter cut his managerial teeth with Swedish second-division side Hammarby IF, leading the club for parts of two campaigns. In 2011, Joe Enochs had a brief spell in charge of German second-tier club Vfl Osnabruck, but that was on an interim basis.

Bradley still will be in the history books as the first American to manage a top-flight club overseas. That may sound like hair-splitting to a degree, but it's still a significant achievement as it relates to U.S. soccer. As difficult as it has been for U.S. players to gain respect overseas, it has been even tougher for the country's coaches. The scant number of overseas managers speaks to that, and Bradley's appointment is the latest sign of how soccer has progressed both at home and abroad.

Granted, the Norwegian Tippeligaen isn't the sexiest of destinations, especially when one considers that Bradley interviewed with EPL side West Bromwich Albion in summer 2012. That job eventually went to the since-deposed Steve Clarke. The work that Bradley did with Egypt's national side -- where he brought the Pharaohs to the brink of World Cup qualification despite the immense turmoil within the country -- as well as the progress with the U.S., would seem to have provided him with sufficient street cred to obtain an appointment in a league with a higher profile.

But such is the way of things when it comes to European soccer. Unless one is talking about a high-profile former player -- and Bradley was certainly never that -- the typical path to the managerial summit is one where a coach must prove oneself at the lower end of the European soccer pyramid first. If successful, then a coach will have the opportunity to do bigger things.

And in the end, opportunity is really what the Stabaek appointment is all about. Bradley's goal all along has been to manage in Europe. He has proven himself at the international level, but his only club experience has been in the U.S., which still invites plenty of skepticism. If Bradley does well, his resume will be devoid of the kind of caveats that would prevent him from landing a bigger job.

Without question, after his Egypt experience, Bradley will be walking into a far less pressurized atmosphere. No longer will he have to navigate the political minefield that existed during his tenure there, nor will he have to contend with a domestic league that was suspended due to political unrest. With Stabaek, he will be free to focus more of his energies on soccer-related matters.

That isn't to say there won't be expectations. Fans and owners are demanding, no matter the locale, and Stabaek is keen to repeat its championship success of 2008. The pressure to win no doubt will be intense, even if there are only 7,000 fans showing up to home games every other week. And having been outside of club soccer for the better part of eight years, there will be something of an adjustment period for Bradley.

But his experience means he couldn't be more ready for the task at hand. And if he can bring Stabaek back to the pinnacle of Norwegian soccer, the opportunity to break through more barriers will present itself.