Thursday, July 28, 2011

The day before tomorrow

Every coach has his expiration date and apparently Bob Bradley’s was today. While many in the American soccer community would tell you he was mold-ridden years ago, the folks at Soccer House tended to disagree. After a meeting with CEO Dan Flynn and US Soccer President Sunil Gulati, however, it was announced on Thursday that Bob Bradley would be relieved of his duties as coach of the US Men’s National team. Although the news was surprising, it more importantly represents expectations for the American team.

For the past 20 years, the US has wandered between the roles of massive underdogs and world mid-majors. This growth phase was marked by peaks and valleys. The upset of Argentina at the ’95 Copa America was negated by the utter debacle that was the ’98 World Cup. Bruce Arena took the team to the quarterfinals in 2002, but was tied down by his over-reliance on veterans in his second cycle at the helm. As for expectations, the US Soccer Federation seemed content to ride out contracts and avoid any decision-making. Then along came Bradley.

Finding criticism for Bradley was never difficult: he lacked pedigree, he was boring, he was inexperienced, and of course "His kid always starts!"

From before the interim status was lifted off his employment in 2007, these complaints were widely thrown against the former Chivas USA coach. All these criticisms were true. Bradley’s greatest achievement before taking over for Bruce Arena was winning a domestic double with the Chicago Fire in 1998, he has about as much public personality as a dust bunny, and his son Michael did start nearly every game.

By and large however, Bradley’s team won. Sure they had their rough patches such as in the summer of 2008 or the first two games of the Confederations’ Cup, but they were an organized team that didn’t quit and got results that punched well above their weight as well as their god given talent. At times it was ugly. The 1-1 draw with England that opened the American’s 2010 World Cup campaign was hardly a barn burner, but it was a game that earned the US one more point than their raw talent would have dictated. Besides, there’s this team called Germany that’s been grinding out results for years and they’re alright.

In the end the Nats were ousted once again by ever-pesky Ghana. Having coached through the end of the cycle and with some lineup choices called into question - namely starting Ricardo Clark in the Round of 16 - the general consensus was that Bradley’s term had run its course and someone else (Juergen Klinsmann) would be brought in for the 2014 cycle. Instead, Coach Bradley received a new 4-year deal. Having expressed disappointment after the World Cup, fans wondered if and where Sunil Gulati was setting the bar for Coach Bradley. Then he started losing.

First it was Chile in the annual January camp game. Then it was Paraguay and Spain. While these results could have all been excused as friendlies, the American team looked like Swiss cheese in vast portions of these games. All would have been forgiven if Bradley had managed to successfully rally the troops for the Gold Cup. Yet after a bumpy start mixed with some gradual improvement, Bradley’s squad capitulated catastrophically against Mexico in the Rose Bowl.

A mere month later and Bob Bradley finds himself in the unemployment line. As such, a message was clearly sent: We expect to be the best in CONCACAF. Certainly world beaters need not apply, but it seems Sunil Gulati & Co. expect something resembling regional dominance. While this may be a tough ask considering Mexico’s youth revolution, results like the lackluster 2-1 defeat at the hands of Panama will not be accepted. This quasi-ultimatum is a difficult one, but indicates progress.

So who’s next? Greg and Johannes have cooked up a list, but the timing of the announcement and the impending Friday press conference indicate that USSF either has someone lined up already (think Kreis, Klinsmann, Backe or someone else with the magic Euro-dust) or the team rolled out against Mexico will be coached by an interim from the old guard (Sorber, Sarachan, or Rongen).

Regardless, American soccer fans will have a weekend full of news as the World Cup Qualifying draw comes out Rio on Saturday. Most importantly, whoever is selected to lead Team USA to Brazil 2014 will be acutely aware that shortcomings in CONCACAF will no longer be forgiven.

-- Jacob Klinger


SPA2TACU5 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SPA2TACU5 said...

Should be noted that consistently playing your best player as a starter makes sense.

Plus: tournaments or games played during or around domestic league games should not count too heavily. The same goes for obscure B-tournaments played during the summer break of a heavy post-WC season.

And let me add to that losing vs Spain or Mexico isn't a shame either.

Good luck to BB and the USMNT. I hope the USSF signs some exciting big name.