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A die hard fan's takes on UCF, Liverpool, Orlando City, and more

Believe in Bob Bradley

Bob Bradley is the most interesting man in the football/soccer world. Well his resume should at least say that. Bradley has had an interesting career: from starting at Princeton, to coaching a fledgling MLS side, US. men's National Team coach, Egypt National team coach, Stabaek, and Le Havre. He has seen and done it all. For the longest time, however, it seemed like Bradley would toil away in the lower tier of European football.  Sure he had been on the shortlist for jobs like Hull City, but it seemed like he would never get a job in the top flight. That was until Swansea came calling. The Welsh club offered Bradley a chance to do something that no other American has ever done: manager an Premier League team. Of course there are some questions about the hire. Many, if social media and forums are to be believed, are under the impression that the only reason why Swansea hired Bradley is because he is American. There are also those that view Bradley's tenure as United States Men's coach as a failure. But when you really dig deep, one will find that wherever Bradley has been he has left better. This isn't just about Bradley being an American, it's about a man that has paid his dues and deserves a shot. One should not count Bob Bradley out.

Bradley has a track record of success. Even in college as he was just starting out as a manager, Bradley led Princeton to two Ivy League titles and a final four appearance. But it is his time with the fledgling Chicago Fire where Bradley truly shined. In the club's first year in the MLS, Bradley guided them to the US Open Cup and MLS Cup. He would then again led the club to the US Open Cup. He would then guide the Metrostars to the playoffs in two of his three seasons oh and he won a US Open Cup with the club as well. He even managed Chivas USA into the playoffs. Yes, the mls was not as competitive back then as it is now, but still his time managing MLS clubs is impressive. If Bradley had done this in a league such as the Eredivise, Bradley would have been considered a hot commodity. 

Bradley's most well known job was his tenure with the United States Men's National Team. Bradley took over for the legend Bruce Arena and had large shoes to fill. Oh and did I mention that Bradley was not even the first choice to take over for Arena? He was the second choice. You know who the first choice was? Jurgen Klinsmann. Brad,eye wasn't even named permenant manager initially, instead he had the dreaded interim label placed in front of him. Essentially no one projected Bradley to last. He was just a placeholder till negotiations with Klinsmann were finished. Critics said that he was too inexperienced on a national stage to run the team. Yet in his first five months as manager, Bradley was undefeated in 10 matches oh and he won the 2007 Gold Cup. Oh and he beat Mexico twice in that stretch. The manager that was none's first choice(sound familiar Swansea?) took the club to extraordinary heights.

Despite his initial success some would criticize the manager for the 2007 Copa America performance. Never mind that Bradley had to field a team of second string players due to some MLS clubs not releasing some of their bigger American stars. No Bradley had failed and some questioned his ability in the long scheme of things. Plus a mediocre start to 2008 had some calling for Klinsmann and to terminate Bradley.

Then came the 2009 Confederations Cup and the semifinal against the mighty Spain. This same Spain team that had won the Euro Cup(and would go on to win the 2010 World Cup), a team that was predicted to thrash the US. But here is where the underdog, grit mentality of Bradley was born. The United States would win the match 2-0 and send shockwaves throughout the footballing world. Here was the upstart United States beating a highly favorited and dominant Spain. Bob Bradley, the man that was the second choice, managed to beat Spain. In the final the United State slew a 2-0 lead to Brazil in what was a heart wrenching match. But it is that match against Spain that is regarded as Bradley's greatest managerial achievement. Though he did not win the tournament, he did show that he could prepare his team to beat some of the best national teams in the world.

Of course grit and toughness and being an underdog can only take you so far. Though Bradley did manage to get out of one of the toughest groups in the 2010 World Cup, he still could not beat Ghana. And by 2011, it was clear that Bradley had taken the United States Men's Team as far as he could take them. His teams still had a propensity to either concede goals early or utterly collapse and surrender a big lead. In addition the youth development was not where wit should have been. Nor was his ability to find a star defender. It was clear by 2011 that The Men's team needed a culture shift. They needed a new manager that could take the, further than Bradley ever did. So it was fully understandable as to why the powers that be felt like they needed to fire  Bradley. 

That should be the end of the story, right? Bradley gets fired in 2011 and goes on to manage in a league like the MLS or even returns to college. That's what the conventional wisdom would say happened. But Bradley's career defies conventional wisdom. Remember how I started off calling Bob Bradley the most interesting man in the (football/soccer) world? Well he earned that moniker for what he would do following his departure from the United States National Team. In fact his next decision made his previous managerial career experience look dull in comparison. Bob Bradley would become the Egypt national team manager in 2011. 

For those that don't remember or didn't care at the time, in 2011 Egypt was in the middle of the Arab Spring. A time of coup's and Revolution. Needless to say it was not the time to move there. Especially not for a soccer manager following the Port Said Massacre that occurred. Oh and the Egyptian League was suspended which meant that there was no domestic clubs to play or train. Any right thinking manager would have gone to a different job. Not touch the Egypt job with a ten foot pole. Yet despite all these negatives and threats of violence, Bob Bradley took the job. The man that could have had several different jobs in a better location,but he choose to not only manage the Egyptian side, but to live in the country on the brink of collapse. 

In truth Bradley and Egypt were what each other needed at the time. Egypt offered a second chance, a chance at redemption to prove that he was a good manager. Bradley offered stability and quite confidence in a country that desperately needed both. Despite not having a league and fear of losing talent via immigration, Bradley managed to put together an impressive team. The star of the team was Mohammed Salah, an impressive forward. Oh and the team won its first six matches of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. A team that couldn't even have fans in the stadium do to fear of violence, was so close to going to the World Cup. Of course Egypt would lose to Ghana(Bradley's nemesis) and Bradley would not be retained. But what Bradley did, the way he rebuilt that team and gave Egypt hope was nothing short of a miracle. There are very few managers that would have the guts to take a job like that under those circumstances, even less would have the ability to do the job that Bob Bradley did. 

So we move into the Stabaek and Le Havre phase. At Stabaek, Bradley became the first ever American manager to have his team qualify for the Europa League. At Le Havre, his team was a goal away from being promoted last season. One more goal in the last match of the season. If that had happened, we are talking about how Bradley not only got Le Havre promoted, but how he is the first American to manage in the top flight of the European Leagues. It was at these two clubs that Bradley honed his skills. Took his success and failures from his previous stops to evolve. It can be argued that at 58, Bradley is at his best as a manager. That should excite Swansea fans. 

People have argued that the only reason why Swansea hired Bradley is because he is American like the new owners. These same people will say that the only reason why I wrote this article is because I too am American. But that would be shortsighted. You see I like the underdog story. The story of a man that faces trials and tribulations and succeeds. There is no better embodiment of this in sports than Bob Bradley. This is why I am Moreno rooting for Bradley because he is the underdog more than because he is an American. For me this is not about his nationality, it is about wanting a man that has been so doubted and scapegoated, to succeed and win.  He deserved and earned his shot. Sure there will be speed bumps along the way, but Bradley will have Swansea on the right road. 

And if you doubt Bob Bradley, well you do so at your own peril. 

Scott Frost has changed UCF's culture

When Scott Frost came to UCF, everyone knew that the Knights would be better. They would have to be given that the team was winless last year. Yes there would be a few bumps in the road, but Frost would make the Knights good again. But no one anticipated that UCF would be good again this fast. UCF sits at 3-2 and 1-0 in the AAC East. Outside of the Michigan game, UCF has been in every single game that they have played. Hell they were a play away from beating Maryland. Last year UCF looked slow and lost in every regard. The players were basically coaching themselves last season that left them out of position and with little practice. Frost has changed all of that and brought an intensity to this program that UCF had been missing since 2013. But it's not just about the on field performance. Frost has embraced the UCF fanbase more than George O'Leary ever did. Frost has brought hope and excitement to UCF. There is no more talk about a sleeping giant. Frost is producing results.

You can not find a worse team than the 2015 UCF Knights. The team was a disaster on and off the field. The offense looked slow and outdated. The defense looked terrible and played on their heels in every game. The whole system needed an overhaul. A change in not only scheme, but philosophy. That is why Scott Frost is perfect. He continued the run first approach that O'Leary emphasized, but switched it from a traditional single back/I-Formation to a spread zone run scheme. The traditional I formation/single back has become so outdated atleast for UCF. So how much difference has Frost's switch in the running attack made? Well on 254 carries UCF's running attack has managed 1164 yards and 15 touchdowns. These totals already surpass UCF's running totals from last year. But here is a fun fact: UCF had 17 total touchdowns on offense last season, the running game is already in track to surpass that total. So the switch in schemes has worked.

But it's not just the switch in offensive schemes that has been a marvel. It's mostly the defense. I have already sang the praises of Erik Chinander multiple times. But let us really dig deep into the stats about the defense. Let's look at the traditional metrics first. In total defense, the Knights rank 24, in run defense the Knights rank 15th, in sacks UCF ranks 22 in the country. Efficiency according to ESPN ranks 21 in the country. But what about football outsiders, one of the best college football advanced metric sites? Where does this defense rank? 37th overall, while being ranked 28th in rushing S&P(rushing defense) and 30th in passing S&P. So what do the standard and advanced metrics tell us about this defense? It means this unit is really good. Do you remember last year where the glorified JV coach  turned defensive coordinator ruined this defense. A defense that was slow and probably the softest unit in the country. There were so many players out of position(Shaqueem), and so many players that were not playing or had limited time(Brim and Rucker). All it took was a first year defensive coordinator to bring a new life and vision. Seriously this is not the same defense it was last year, hell the defense has never looked this good. Ever.

There was another shift in philosophy. Frost is not afraid to play or start freshman. It felt like later in O'Leary's tenure that he wouldn't play freshman unless he had to. Be it injuries or what have you, George wouldn't play the young kids unless his hand was forced. Well that is not the case with Frost. He has brought a if you win the job, you start regardless of age mentality in. Name the last time a true freshman had an impact on a George O'Leary team. Was it Stanback in 2013? That's how difficult it is to answer. A true freshman being a game changer. Already Frost has had  several impactful freshman that add excitement to this team. There is McKenzie Milton the quarterback that has already shown flashes of brilliance that UCF fans haven't seen since Blake Bortles. There is Jawon Hamilton, the player that Stanback should have been. Of course everyone knows the impact of Adrian Killins has had on the offense. Jordan Johnson has become the anchor on this offensive line that this unit has been desperate for. Defensive End Trysten Hill is only 18 years old, yet has already setting the record for squatting at 730lbs. That is terrifying. Here's the scary part: Frost and his staff recruited see players in essentially 2 months. Imagine what it is going to be like once this staff has a whole year to recruit.

You see the reason why UCF is so much better this year than last year  is because UCF actually has a coaching staff. Not a group of sycophants that  are so far in above their heads. I firmly believe that George O'Leary quit being the head coach after the Fiesta Bowl win. He checked out and his recruiting and decision making clearly showed. Hell Yahoo had put out a story practically verifying this theory, but that was shot down by angry Twitter UCF  fans. But I personally still subscribed to this theory. So if you now come around to that Emory en who you may ask was Thad coach? I believe it was Charlie Taffee and Tyson Summers. But then Charlie retired and Tyson left. So 2015 I wholeheartedly believe that the imbecile Brent Key was the head coach. George was busy being temporary AD and Key took over as head coach. Of course he couldn't even coach the offensively line properly, so he was in over his head. That was why this 2015 team looked so bad. So mistake prone, so slow, so passive,  in essence not an O'Leary team. That is why UCF needed a complete and utter overhaul. To get rid of this stink.

Those who were on the sidelines at the Maryland game have said that this moment occurred: a senior UCF player turned to another player and said "The Bouncehouse is back". Well that sure is a change from last year. Frost has brought back a buzz to this fanbase. An excitement that seemingly died following the Fiesta Bowl win. Of course when Frost was hired there was initial excitement, but there was still a question of how well the team would perform under him. Would the Oregon offense translate well to UCF? Well as the season has progressed we have seen the answer to those questions. The more and more we see of this team and Frost the more the excitement has begun to build. Consider this: most UCF fans thought that 5 or 6 wins and a bowl would be the high mark and exceed most expectations. Now, however, there are some fans talking 7-8 wins and challenging for the East division. That is thanks to Frost and his staff. This was supposed to be a mulligan season and has turned into one in which a bowl game is not out of the question.

When George O'Leary came to UCF, he was the perfect coach at the perfect time. He was the hard nose old school coach to right the ship. Well Frost was the perfect coach to take over from O'Leary. In fact he is the polar opposite of O'Leary. Where is George was stubborn and stuck in his way, Frost is willing to look at things in different angles. He does not rule with a iron fist. He operates on understanding rather than fear. Which is why Frost is already more beloved within the UCF fanbase than George ever was. You see Scott Frost has changed everything about this program from top to bottom. He is the one that helped bring in new Nike jerseys and put names on the back of those jerseys. That was something that UCF fans had been begging for. Then there is the reaching out to the old UCF football alumni. Frost and his staff sent out brand new UCF colored Nike shoes. These players have no connection to Frost, yet there he was sending out these shoes as gifts. Of course there are the little things: Frost attending a Marching Knights practice and thanking the band for their contributions. He also plays popular music in practice rather than Dire Straights(O'Leary's favorite band). Frost has embraced the UCF community and we have embraced him. 

Sure he may leave in a few years, but Scott Frost has made a lasting impact on UCF and changed a culture that was on the brink of collapse. 

James Milner's Resurgence

Headed into the 2016-2017, campaign the biggest question at Liverpool was what to do with the left back position. The Reds had been linked to the likes of young left backs like Ben Chilwell. But those talks had broken down and Liverpool had not found a left back in the transfer window. That left Liverpool with only the bipolar Alberto Moreno at the position headed into the season. Of course this was a concern for reds fans. We after all had seen the Moreno experiment play out and were not happy with his play. If Moreno was going to be the starter, then Liverpool was going to have a large hole that could have doomed them. Yet here is the genius of Jurgen Klopp. He thought outside the box and converted James Milner to left back. Many, myself included, thought that Klopp was making an error especially after watching the Arsenal match. But once again Jurgen proved that he was smarter than us all.

Many Liverpool fans knew that Alberto Moreno was not the answer at left back. Sure Moreno had shown pace in Klopp's system. But that appeared to be the only thing Moreno excelled at. Yes he is fast, but that is also his weakness. Often Moreno would find himself out of position. This left his side exposed  and caused Liverpool to essentially have 3 defenders. Sure he could create on the offensive side, but he made so many boneheaded mistakes that Liverpool could not afford to allow him to be the starter anymore. Go back and watch the Manchester United match. Moreno moves forward, but gets exposed leaving his area open for a Manchester United goal. Every single fan knew that Liverpool needed a left back, but we never thought that it would be James Milner. 

Of course the Milner experiment did not get off to a good start. James was useless as Arsenal came back from a 4-1 deficit to score 2 straight goals and made the match 4-3. Then Burnley also exposed Milner as Burnley shocked Liverpool. But since that Burnley match Milner has been fantastic. He seems to be the perfect Klopp left back. One that can cover ground and get back into position. Milner has done just that. Consider this: Milner has covered the most ground in the premier league before Klopp arrived. Since Klopp's arrival those figures have only increased. So Milner is used to moving forward and tracking back, something Moreno never seemed comfortable with. Milner has also been able to use his guile and experience. Trapping and pressing on defense and also attacking correctly on offense. Milner has excelled at left back and revitalized his career.

Do you know who the lading scorer for Liverpool is? It's Milner. Yes boring James Milner leads a team with Sturridge, Origi, Firmino, Mane, Coutinho in goals. And why is that? It's because Milner has become Liverpool's best penalty taker. In 3 straight matches, Milner has scored on penalties. He has proven to be Klopp's most trusted player. Perhaps the switch to left back has given Milner a new breath of confidence. This year, Milner has averaged 2.3 tackles and  3 clearances a match. His overall rating has skyrocketed to a 7.45. So it appears that Milner has grown to become more comfortable at left back. Whatever the case, Milner has made the most out of this opportunity.
 Of course the big test comes this week against Manchester United. Let us see if Milner can continue to thrive in this role. Manchester United probably will try long balls to catch Milner out of position. So the test will be to see if James can track back. If Milner does have a good match then we can solidify Klopp as a genius. Going into this season he could have used James as a substitute midfielder. But instead Klopp started Milner at left back. Yes there have been some speed bumps. However, it appears that Milner has turned a corner and has been revitalized by the move.