The Case for Bob Bradley
The Fire Bob Bradley movement has returned front and center. This movement’s proponents continue to advocate the termination of the current US coach while offering little advice in the way of a realistic replacement. Many proponents of this movement have also vastly over rated the talent level in the current US Men’s National Team Player pool, believing that the failures that can be rightfully blamed on a poor youth system, college soccer and a domestic league that doesn’t focus on player development as it once did are all down to a single man.
In the peculiar culture of American sports, insular to its core, it is impossible to accept anything other than poor coaching and external factors as the reason why our athletes cannot excel. American Footballers must be at a high level because after all we’ve now qualified for six consecutive world cups (well effectively qualified, at least) and the sport is growing by leaps and bounds in the country.
After years of expensive reports and development academies maintained and funded by US Soccer, it must be the fault of Bob Bradley and his staff that the United States doesn’t play football like Brazil or Germany in the eyes of some. It’s not in the American ethos to admit we cannot accomplish something, so scapegoat those in perceived positions of authority becomes engrained in our culture.
Bob Bradley’s American side is dependent on a few core players. One, Jozy Altidore has been with four teams in fifteen months, and currently features for Hull City, a favorite for Premier League relegation. Another, Landon Donovan, though fabulous for the US, is a player that is perceived to have failed three times in Europe, and currently plays in MLS. Yet another, Oguchi Onyewu failed miserably at a loan spell in the Premier League and now struggles for playing time in Serie A.
Michael Bradley has fallen out of favor at Gladbach, while Benny Feilhaber, an American regular failed to make strong impression in the Bundesliga or Premier League, and now plays in Denmark.
While Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard have solidified their spots on sides that qualify for the UEFA Cup/Europa League, the American talent pool to an objective outsider would look weak and thin.
Personally, I am proud of the efforts many of our Americans have made abroad. But to confuse the accomplishments of the current crop of American field players, with John Harkes who scored a goal in the League Cup final at Wembley, Alexi Lalas who was ranked among the top defenders in Serie A by the hyper critical Italian press and Claudio Reyna, whose nickname “Captain America,” was a sign of the respect he earned leading multiple clubs in different countries into European competition, is totally off base.
Readers of this site saw commentary from readers this past week that questioned how anyone could perceive Serbia as a superior team to the US.
The current Serbia selection features two players on the books of Manchester United, and one each on Chelsea, CSKA Moscow, Sporting, Stuttgart, Dinimo Kiev, Sevilla, Inter and Standard Liege. That’s ten players who began the 2009-10 season in the UEFA Champions League play-in stages (nine in the group stages), and several more are on sides that qualified for the play in stages of the Europa League.
Based on the club selection, the talent pool is not even remotely comparable. Yet, in both the FIFA and ELO rankings, the USA is placed just above Serbia. Comparing the talent level at the top of both player pools gives a strong indication that Bob Bradley is in fact doing about as well as can be REASONABLY expected with a group of players who fit the label journeyman, like a glove.
The fact that the US is close to qualifying for the World Cup owes itself to two things: the softness of CONCACAF, and the work of Bob Bradley.
Has it ever occurred to those advocating Bradley’s termination, that our program was in such disarray and disrepute after the 2006 World Cup, that we could not hire a coach for five months and went nearly seven months without playing a match? Bradley’s ability to quickly stabilize the program and win the 2007 Gold Cup (albeit with some assistance from CONCACAF’s poor referee pool) was truly remarkable given the circumstances.
Bradley is clearly not a tactical genius by any stretch of the imagination. He makes the same mistakes over and over again and is sometime frustratingly stubborn with his player selection and his media interaction. Certain issues stand out like the unwillingness to feature Pachuca’s Jose Francisco Torres regularly.
But otherwise, the player selection is painfully obvious, not because Bradley’s hasn’t a clue, but simply because the US doesn’t have the depth or quality in its player pool most of us would like to believe we do have.
Is Bob Bradley the ideal international manager? Obviously not, but is he the most likely to have success with this US team? Quite possibly, and that is why an early termination would be such a bad idea.
The US does need to eventually replace Bradley with a capable international manager. But at the same time, the USSF must overhaul its structure and allow a new manager free reign to fix the many aspects of our system that are broken.
Given this reality, the USSF and American fans would be wise to give Bradley unconditional support until South Africa 2010. After that tournament, however, all bets are off. If the US performs as I suspect they will, a new coach will be hired and the USSF will be forced to make substantial changes to its structure.