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Remembering the Bob Bradley Metro era

Good times.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

It was fantastic news: Bob Bradley hired by Swansea City, and therefore becoming the first American head coach of a club in the English Premier League. The first American head coach of any club in any of Europe's big four leagues, in fact.

It was particularly fantastic news for those who remember when Bradley was one of us: a MetroStar.

Bradley was a big deal in MLS from the get-go. He was an assistant to Bruce Arena as D.C. United won back-to-back MLS Cups in 1996 and 1997 (and a US Open Cup in '96). And when he left DC, he won the double (MLS and USOC) in his first season as head coach of Chicago Fire (in 1998 - the Fire's first season in existence). He added another USOC trophy to the Fire's cabinet in 2000, and that record of consistent success recommended him for a return to his home state. For the 2003 season, Nick Sakiewicz brought Bradley back to New Jersey to manage the MetroStars.

MetroStars fans have some familiarity with Swansea's current situation: Bradley was the first American head coach of our club too. Of course, that made him local - indeed, he's from Montclair, New Jersey, so he was particularly local to a team playing in Giants Stadium.

The 2003 MetroStars squad was a special one, with hindsight. It was a season of change. All-time greats Mike Petke (traded) and Tab Ramos (retired) were gone; Tim Howard would make the jump to Manchester United in mid-season.  But Bradley gave rookies Mike Magee, Ricardo Clark, Eddie Gaven and Tim Regan their first taste of being professionals. And he had veteran players like Clint Mathis, Eddie Pope, new-comer Amado Guevara, and John Wolyniec (back for his second and most successful stint at the club).

The 2002 team had missed the playoffs. Bradley took the team back to the post-season (not a small achievement for a club that had missed the playoffs three times in its first seven seasons of existence). But the real magic of 2003 was in the US Open Cup.

The Cup run started with a 4-0 win over lower-league opposition, the Michigan Bucks. It was the last comfortable win the team would have in USOC that year. In the fourth round, the MetroStars came battling back from 3-1 down at half-time on the road in Columbus to clinch a 4-3 win with minutes to spare.

In the quarterfinals, MetroStars were the home team at Rutgers University's Yurcak Field. A golden-goal winner from Guevara put the Metros past New England Revolution. In the semifinal against DC, John Wolyniec got the final touch on the final goal of a 3-2 thriller that sent the MetroStars to their first ever final of a meaningful tournament.

The club won the bid to host the final at Giants Stadium against the Chicago Fire. Sadly, the MetroStars couldn't conjure another late goal, losing to Damani Ralph's second-half strike.

The 2004 season brought playoff qualification once again, as well as some more notable draft picks. Seth Stammler would go on to become a stalwart for the club. The MetroStars' fourth round pick in 2004 would prove controversial: Bradley drafted his son, Michael. In 2005, Michael Bradley became a regular starter, there were cries of nepotism from some corners of the fan base. But his father's confidence in his son's ability has since been validated. Michael left the MetroStars for a career in Europe, and has since returned to MLS (with Toronto FC) and the USMNT captaincy.

At the end of the 2005 season, with three games left, Sakiewicz fired Bob Bradley and put Mo Johnston. The Scotsman led the club back to the playoffs; Bradley moved on to manage Chivas USA. As it happens, the MetroStars went to LA to play Chivas in the last game of the 2005 regular season, needing a win to make the post-season. Michael Bradley scored the winner for the club that had fired his father against the one that would next hire Bradley, Sr.

All told, Bob Bradley coached the MetroStars for exactly 100 matches. He finished with 36 wins, 27 draws, and 37 losses. A modest record that masks the work he did to bring the club some of its best-loved players and its first Cup final.

And I saw it all while standing at section 101 in Giants Stadium as a member of the Empire Supporters Club. A lot has changed since Bradley, including the name of the team, the stadium it plays in, and where I typically sit to watch a game. But I will not forget watching the first American manager of the MetroStars lead my club to its first Cup final. Congratulations, Bob Bradley. And congratulations, Swansea City: you got yourself a good one.