By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Long before he became coach of the U.S. men’s soccer team, Bob Bradley was a Wahoo.
His stay at the University of Virginia wasn’t long — two seasons — but Bradley, as an assistant under then-coach Bruce Arena, was part of two ACC championship teams.
Before the 1983 season, Bradley came to UVa from Ohio University, where he’d been head coach of the soccer team while finishing work on a master’s in sports administration.
Arena’s first-year players in 1983 included a forward from New Jersey named George Gelnovatch.
“Obviously, the head coach kind of takes the lead a lot of times on bigger team issues and tactical things,” Gelnovatch said. “Sometimes a good assistant coach will pull guys aside — whether it’s individually or in a group of, say, defenders or attackers — and do certain things.”
Gelnovatch, now the Cavaliers’ coach, remembers Bradley “calmly being a pretty good teacher, pulling you aside, putting a little bug in your ear with some tweaks here, tweaks there.”
Arena took over at UVa before the 1978 season. He’d been an All-America lacrosse player at Cornell, and during his first seven years as Virginia’s head soccer coach Arena also served as an assistant in lax.
Which meant that early in his playing career at UVa, Gelnovatch recalled, “Bob Bradley ran the spring. He was basically our head coach in the spring.”
Gelnovatch, who still talks periodically to Bradley, remembers a young coach whose passion for soccer was palpable.
“He was really into it,” Gelnovatch said. “He loved the game, man. Loved the game. He did stuff with us. I remember him being a pretty fit guy. I remember trying not to lose to him in some of the runs.
“I think the guys had a lot of respect for him. He was a good teacher and a smart guy.”
After the 1984 season, Bradley returned to Princeton, his alma mater, as head coach. In 12 seasons there, he led the Tigers to two Ivy League championships and in 1993 guided them to the NCAA tournament’s final four.
Even after Bradley left Charlottesville, UVa remained a constant presence in his life. His wife, the former Lindsay Sheehan, was an All-America lacrosse player for Jane Miller at Virginia.
Sheehan still holds the school record for career assists, totaling 129 in only three seasons. She began her college career at Penn State before transferring to UVa.
“Lindsay was one of the best players that helped bring us back into the national limelight,” recalled Miller, now UVa’s senior associate athletics director for programs.
Moreover, Lindsay’s brother, Peter, was an All-America goalie for the UVa men’s lacrosse team, and their father’s lacrosse coach in high school was Jim Adams, who later ran the men’s program at the University.
In the summer of ’86, Lindsay and Peter were pictured on the cover of Inside Cavalier Sports magazine, Miller said, and the accompanying story hailed them as “Virginia’s first-ever brother-sister All-Americans.”
Gelnovatch remembers watching Lindsay Sheehan play lacrosse and field hockey, her other varsity sport, at UVa, and hung out some with her brother.
Back then, Miller said, she didn’t know Bradley well. “I just knew him through Lindsay afterwards, really, when he went on to be a successful coach at Princeton,” Miller said.
With Bradley assisting Arena, UVa advanced to the NCAA semifinals in 1983 and to the quarterfinals a year later.
Bradley helped the ‘Hoos, and “I think the program helped him, too, being here with Bruce for a couple of years, being involved with a nationally ranked program that did very well,” Gelnovatch said. “I think that helped him get the job at Princeton.”
In South Africa, the United States is preparing to face Algeria in its third and final game of Group C play Wednesday morning. A victory would assure Bradley’s team of a spot in the World Cup’s round of 16.
Rest assured, Gelnovatch and his assistants will be watching intently Wednesday morning, and not only because they’re pulling for Bradley and Co.
The World Cup has special meaning for “anybody that’s involved in coaching [soccer],” Gelnovatch said, “especially if it’s your profession. It’s one thing to have a passion for it. It’s one thing to volunteer at the youth level. But if this is your career and this is your vocation …”
The Cavaliers’ staff records every game, every minute of which is eventually analyzed, said Gelnovatch, whose team is the reigning NCAA champion.
“We will look at different things, different formations and different tactics and re-starts and different tendencies within the game of defending or breaking teams down,” he said. “You can really enjoy it, and you can kind of let your mind just wander sometimes and not pay attention to it, but I find myself enamored with specific parts of certain teams.
“I think even the way we have played these past two years, our formation, has been a result of watching a lot of international soccer for me. We lined up a little differently than a lot of teams this past year, and I think that’s just from me and our staff watching different ways of doing it.”