When Alexi Lalas took over as president and general manager of the MetroStars in June, he promised changes that would turn around the team's fortunes. He delivered his first major change on Monday, firing Metros head coach Bob Bradley with three games left in the regular season. Assistant coach Mo Johnston will take over head coaching duties for the remainder of the season reports ESPNsoccernet's Ives Galarcep.
Bradley's firing came just two days after the MetroStars suffered an embarrassing 4-1 loss to D.C. United at Giants Stadium. The loss, which ended an 11-match unbeaten streak at home, put a major dent in the team's playoff chances and left a large section of the crowd chanting "Fire Bradley" as the beleaguered coach walked off the field after the match.
Johnston will lead the team into Wednesday night's pivotal Eastern Conference match against Chicago. A victory against the Fire would pull the Metros even with the Kansas City Wizards for the final playoff spot in the East. Johnston will have the unenviable task of getting the team focused after the surprise firing of its coach and the painful loss to D.C. on Saturday.
The move ends Bradley's three-year tenure as coach, leaving him with a record of 32-31-28. The mark made him only the second of the Metros' seven coaches to post a winning record, but the team's inability to advance past the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs in the two previous seasons, coupled with the team's struggles this year, led to the change.
Bradley succeeded Octavio Zambrano after the 2002 season and his track record as coach of the Chicago Fire, a tenure during which he led the Fire to an MLS Cup and two U.S. Open Cup, led some to peg him as the coach who would turn the Metros franchise around. The team showed flashes of brilliance in each of Bradley's first two years, holding on to first place during the summer of both seasons, but consecutive late-season collapses and first-round playoff exits placed Bradley firmly on the hot season heading into 2005.
The Metros have struggled through injuries and erratic form all season, with only a recent seven-match unbeaten streak resurrecting their playoff chances. Bradley appeared safe after the team's 5-4 victory against New England on Sept. 11, but consecutive losses to New England and D.C. United opened the door for Lalas to make the move he seemed destined to make when he arrived from the San Jose Earthquakes this summer.
The team's long-term plans for a head coach remain uncertain, with Johnston unlikely to receive serious consideration unless he can push the Metros into the playoffs. Former U.S. national team captain John Harkes has been mentioned as a possible candidate but he has no head coach or assistant coach experience in MLS. Current Canadian national team coach Frank Yallop has also been mentioned as a Lalas favorite. Yallop won two MLS Cup titles as head coach of San Jose but he appears unlikely to leave his current post with Canada.
Bradley, the all-time career wins leader in MLS with 136, should move to the top of most MLS head coaching searches before the 2006 season. A one-time assistant of U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena, Bradley could join Arena's staff ahead of the 2006 World Cup if he does not land with an MLS team in 2006.