ATLANTA — Brad Friedel has had a long and decorated career in soccer.
The Lakewood, Ohio, native played in three World Cups and two Olympics, manning the goal for the U.S. men’s national team. He’s played for clubs in Major League Soccer, in Turkey and in the Premier League, where he had 454 caps in England’s top league. This past October, the 47-year-old, who is now the head coach of the New England Revolution, was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
But before he was a professional soccer player or an MLS head coach, Friedel was just like one of the several kids he stood in front of on Friday, behind a school in west Atlanta.
“The funny thing is, I started off just like each and every one of you,” he told students from Jean Childs Young Middle School. “That’s how we all start off. Not all of us get to be professional athletes, but we all start somewhere.”
Friedel asked some of the kids to show him their smile and most of them, even if somewhat reluctantly, did. But a grin grew across each of the students’ faces minutes later, when Friedel handed them a blue adidas bag. Inside was an MLS soccer ball and adidas pants and pullover tops for training.
The Revolution head coach teamed up with Allstate on Friday ahead of the MLS Cup to give the soccer players of Young Middle new gear and to put on a soccer clinic for them. Four college-bound soccer players also were awarded $5,000 scholarships.
“We’re going to give the kids a bit of fun and a bit of skill,” Friedel said. “One of the most important things is that the kids always have a smile on their face.”
Three of those four players assisted Friedel in the fun-filled clinic. Afterward, the students from Young Middle School were surprised with tickets to the MLS Cup.
Friedel will be there, too, but as a coach in the league he said he didn’t want to make a prediction.
“I’m neutral. I think they both have very good players. Both have match-winners,” Friedel said. “I’m hoping, as a neutral sitting there, that it’s an entertaining game.”
This past season was Friedel’s first year on the job as the head coach of the Revolution. The club finished with a 10-13-11 record and in eight place, two spots away from the playoffs. They did score more goals than two playoff teams, Columbus Crew SC and the Philadelphia Union, but the Revs gave up 55 scores and had a -6 goal differential.
Friedel’s side was awful playing away from Gillette Stadium, winning just two road games. But at home they were solid, winning eight games and drawing in five.
In his second year on the job, Friedel hopes the Revs will be in the playoff mix.
“We have a good core group of players and it was good to get a year under our belt with the entire team. We know the mentality of certain players and know who is going to be able to go forward in our system and who isn’t. I think that was the most essential thing. With any new coaching staff, you want to have time to mold your group going forward,” Friedel said. “With that being said, we also know that we’re in the professional sports industry and we want to win. We’ve targeted and marked quite a few acquisitions that we want to make to try and make the team better. We feel that if we do that, we’ll be very competitive.”
The Revs played against Atlanta United, the MLS Cup host team, twice in 2018. New England drew 1-1 with Atlanta at home and lost 2-1 in October in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
When asked if he had any advice for Portland Timbers’ goalkeeper Jeff Attinella on how to stop MLS MVP and Golden Boot winner Josef Martinez, Friedel said the real key is stopping playmaker Miguel Almiron.
“Martinez had a wonderful season, no doubt, but I think a lot of that attack is Almiron,” Friedel said. You stop Almiron, then you stop a lot of the service. That’s easier said than done.”