Filmmaker Hossam Aboul-Magd discusses ‘Bob Bradley: American Pharoah’

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As Hossam Aboul-Magd knows all too well, sometimes ‘The Beautiful Game’ can feel like a misnomer of titanic proportions.

That was the case on February 1, 2012, when violence erupted in the Egyptian city of Port-Said and 74 football fans were killed. It was a day Aboul-Magd, an Egyptian filmmaker, calls “terrifying and depressing.”

It was also the day Aboul-Magd arrived in Cairo to begin filming his documentary, “American Pharoah: Bob Bradley and the Egyptian Soccer Team, the Inside Story.”

The documentary, set to be released in January 2014, follows former U.S. Men’s National Team coach, Bob Bradley, as he manages the Egyptian Men’s National Team through the World Cup qualifying process in Africa. The film provides unprecedented access and behind-the-scenes coverage of Bob and his wife, Lindsay, as they adjust to life in Egypt and the country finds its identity following a heated political revolution.

It was a project that came naturally to Aboul-Magd. As a self-described “crazy football fan,” a massive supporter of the Egyptian Men’s National Team and a long-time admirer of Bradley, the 41 year old jumped at the opportunity to tell this story.

From his home in Washington D.C., Aboul-Magd reached out to Michael Kammerman, media coordinator for the U.S. Men’s National Team, who put the filmmaker in touch with Bradley. The first time Aboul-Magd spoke to Bradley it was around Christmas, 2011, and the two discussed the project for nearly an hour.

Ever the pragmatist, Bradley had done his homework on Aboul-Magd and had plenty of questions and concerns about the project. The political, social and financial obstacles around the documentary were numerous. Yet Bradley wanted the film to be made and for Aboul-Magd to tell the story.

And so, in the face of tragedy and peril, Aboul-Magd set out to capture what it has been like for the Bradley family and the nation of Egypt during this time of change. Directing, producing, shooting and doing the sound all by himself, Aboul-Magd is a one man field crew who strives for intimacy by not imposing himself on the characters. “It is super important to make the staff and players feel they can trust me, and I believe they do,” the filmmaker said.

Before beginning the project, Aboul-Magd always thought Bradley was an amazing character. But the more he films Bradley, the deeper his respect and admiration grows for the coach. “I have no issues saying that I’m biased towards the Bradley’s,”  Aboul-Magd admits. “Bob and Lindsay are one of the nicest, kindest and most sincere couple I ever met.”

Not only are Bradley and his team facing qualification amidst the rebuilding of Egyptian democracy, Aboul-Magd noted, but they are doing so “despite not being paid, not playing in front of their fans [and] not getting any support from the government.” This kind of sacrifice has made Bradley’s presence in Egypt larger than life.

He is a celebrity not only because he is the manager of the national team but because of the humanitarian and charity work he does all over Egypt. “It’s very normal to hear locals calling him ‘an Egyptian like us,'” says Aboul-Magd. “During one of the film’s interviews, one Egyptian journalist told me ‘I hope Egyptians love Egypt the same way Bob Bradley loves Egypt’,” he explains. “It tells you a lot about the man.”

The story is not only incredible because of the conditions in Egypt but because The Pharoah‘s are through to the final round of 2014 World Cup qualifying in Africa after securing a 1-0 victory over Mozambique on June 16th. The victory ensures that Egypt will be one of the ten nations through to this fall’s African play-offs for Brazil 2014. If they succeed in advancing to Brazil it will be the first time Egypt has qualified for the World Cup since 1990.

The national team’s success, Aboul-Magd explains, is largely due to Bradley’s influence on the side’s style of play. Before the American coach arrived, Egypt used to play a more Latin American style. Now, the team has become a lot tougher, has incredible stamina and possesses a winning mentality.

To any American soccer fan, this is hardly surprising.

Aboul-Magd will continue to follow The Pharoah’s through next fall’s African play-offs, at which point he and his off-field crew will finish up post-production of the film and send it to the Sundance Film Festival. The film will also feature on PBS, the network that commissioned the research and development of the project, as well as helped fund it.

How the story ends, only time will tell.

For Aboul-Magd, the goal is not to reach the World Cup but to provide a vehicle that exposes how one man has managed to change the mentalities of the Egyptian players and people alike.

Executive Producer: Charles Stuart

Producer/Writer: Sandy Petrykowski

Editor: Lesly Kubistal

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.

Southgate can see Defoe in England squad long-term

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Gareth Southgate praised Jermain Defoe after his contributions to England’s 2-0 win over Lithuania on Sunday, but accidentally put a condition on his position in the squad.

The 34-year-old scored the opening goal and contributed heavily to the buildup of Jamie Vardy‘s score, and Southgate was happy that his decision to play an in-form striker paid off.

“If he scores like he is in the Premier League, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be,” Southgate said. “We’re never able to pick a full cohort, so it’s important we can call upon the likes of Jermain and he can have the impact like he did today.

“I think we’ve got to look every time we get together as to who is in form. I don’t know if we can have a distinct pecking order because players who are playing well deserve the opportunity. If we are going to be successful, we have to have that competition for places. The reality is we will always lose players to injury.”

[ MORE: Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery before England game ]

A reporter asked him to clarify why he specified that Defoe should be scoring in the Premier League, and with his club Sunderland under heavy threat of relegation, Southgate admitted he let one slip.

“I walked into that,” Southgate said. “I guess the ideal world for all our players is they are playing regularly at a high level. The flip-side is we don’t have a huge pool of players to pick from.  We have to balance off a few different things. I can’t constrain myself on selection entirely, but I know ideally what I’d like to have. His performances and his goalscoring form this season have counted for him.”

Defoe has 14 goals in 28 Premier League appearances for Sunderland this season, but he’s proved the Black Cats’ only threat as they sit bottom of the league table with 20 points. Defoe has become the center of opposition game plans, and as a result he’s slowed down, with just two goals in his last seven games, and the club has little else to pick up the slack.

Still, at 34 years old, many wonder how much longer Defoe can contribute, and if he’ll be a viable option for next year’s World Cup.

Group F gets messy as Slovakia and Scotland grab wins

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England is in control at the top of Group F, but below them things are beginning to get complicated.

Despite the absence of Marek Hamsik due to a last-minute injury, Slovakia defeated Malta 3-1. They took the lead just 97 seconds in as Vladimir Weiss put the visitors in front with a beautiful curling strike from outside the box. Malta struck back through domestic striker Jean Paul Farrugia in the 14th minute, but that was all Malta could muster.

Slovakia would go ahead just before halftime as FC Copenhagen midfielder Jan Gregus put them in front in the 41st minute. The speculative shot from Gregus came from a great distance out, and as it skipped across the ground, it appeared Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg saw it late, as his dive was poor and it skipped off his hands and in.

Both teams ended with 10 men on the field, as Farrugia was sent off with 16 minutes to go for a second yellow, and Adam Nemec saw the same fate in injury time, but before he was sent off, Nemec was there to kill the game off in the 84th minute.

That put Slovakia up to nine points, and it moved them into second place thanks to late drama in Glasgow. Chris Martin gave Scotland all three points with an 88th minute strike as the home side won 1-0 over Slovenia, who dropped from second to third with the loss. The Fulham striker got a beautiful feed through the back line from Stuart Armstrong, and while his shot wasn’t terribly accurate, it was enough to win the game as Slovenia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik gave it a poor effort.

The win for Scotland pulls them above Lithuania and into fourth, a point back of Slovenia in third.

Wasteful Poland snatches late 2-1 win at Montenegro

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Poland was in control for much of the game, but failed to finish in front of net until Borussia Dortmund full-back Lukasz Piszczek found the winner with eight minutes to go as the visitors increased their lead at the top of World Cup qualification Group E.

Robert Lewandowski put Poland in front five minutes before halftime with a brilliant free-kick that left Montenegran goalkeeper Mladen Blozovic completely baffled, but Montenegro looked sturdy at the back for much of the game and dangerous on the counter. They’d hit just past the hour mark as Stefan Mugosa headed in to level the score.

Lewandowski had a pair of massive chances in the second half, but couldn’t get either to go down as Blozovic was there to turn him away, and Montenegran defenders cleared off the line as well. Luckily for Poland, they had Piszczek who burst down the right to beat Aleksandar Sofranac, and he produced a stunning finish looped over the closing Blozovic from a tight angle, dinked off the far post, and into the back of the net.

That would do it for Montenegro who had little attacking ability outside of their countering abilities, and with Poland happy to ease out the clock, the hosts didn’t have enough.

The win pushes Poland six points clear at the top of Group E, a sizeable lead with five matches remaining. The battle for the second-place spot is tight, with Montenegro still in command on seven points, level with Denmark but ahead on goal differential. Armenia and Romania are even with six points each.