One of the interesting features of CONCACAF is how quickly some of the national teams go through coaches. Bob Bradley is the longest tenured coach of a major nation in the region while the US’ opponents continue to react or dare I say over react to every result.
Costa Rica has sacked Rodrigo Kenton just days after a loss to El Salvador. The Ticos are in bad shape in qualifying, no doubt but Kenton’s replacement will be the third manager the nation has employed during qualifying.
Some of Kenton’s recent moves to shake up the squad were confusing and in hindsight, ill advised. In this piece I penned for another publication just last week, I believed Kenton’s panicky squad changes had helped to unsettle the team.
When you are constantly fighting for your job, sometimes one loss leads you to drop players you other wise wouldn’t as both Kenton and Sven Goran Eriksson have proven this year. Kenton did it in the last two match-days, while Eriksson fielded an odd squad against both the US in Columbus and Honduras on the road. For example, does anyone really believe Mathias Vuoso should get another cap for Mexico?
Both have been since fired.
This leads us back to Bob Bradley. For all the clamoring among US fans that he must be fired, if he felt his job was in jeopardy, you may witness some of the odd squad decisions Costa Rica has undergone recently. Since the US (contrary to some fan opinions) has been proven not be very deep in our player pool, much like Costa Rica, panicked squad changes could have led to disaster.
Kenton felt his job was on the line after one bad loss against Honduras. His team at the time was still leading the Hexagonal and on its way to South Africa. But Kenton, made the player decisions discussed in my pieces largely out of pressure to keep his job and satisfying fans after one horrible result. This led Costa Rica to perform miserably in two consecutive winnable matches. Instead of sewing up a trip to South Africa, the Ticos look like they may be staying home next summer.
I personally believe the entire US program was given too much of a pass by fans and media after the 5-0 drubbing against Mexico in the Gold Cup Final. As I have stated before while the US may have been playing a “B” team, so was El Tri, and the bottom line was that the US program, hyped to be the best in the region, had failed miserably without its regulars exposing the lack of depth in the entire player pool. But from my perspective, this result and the clear gulf in class between Mexico’s “B” side and the USA “B” side was more an indictment of the US development program, and domestic leagues than of a single coach whose hands are tied with player selection when the regulars are not available.
However, had Bradley made the same irrational, panicky moves Kenton made after both sides were dominated on August 12th (The US-Mexico score line was closer, but the balance of play was similar in the two matches.) we may be talking about the US not qualifying for World Cup 2010.
The margin for error was razor thin this past week, and the United States regulars BARELY got the job done. Now had our manager, mixed up the squad and pushed the buttons Kenton tried to push, the US very well could be in the same position as the Ticos find themselves in.
I’m not trying to give Bob Bradley a pass as has been articulated in some criticisms of my recent defenses of the coach. I am trying however, to point out that many of the problems the US team face are structural and have more to do with the administration of the US Soccer Federation than with Bob Bradley.
Furthermore, making radical changes in squad selection from the known to what appears to be better on the other side of the street has burned both Mexico and Costa Rica in this qualifying cycle. The US leads the hex not because we are the best team in CONCACAF, but because we have panicked the least and made the fewest amount of changes thus far.
I do however believe Mexico wins its last two matches and wins the Hex. But recall the trouble El Tri, who has in my opinion by far the most talented player pool in the region found itself in at the end of the Sven Goran Eriksson error.
Change for change sake doesn’t accomplish much especially if the inherent inertia which Bob Bradley has had to deal with is not cleaned out at the same time.
So again, I am not giving Bradley a pass as much as pointing out that the difficulty he faces and the frustrations we have as fans are much more complicated than many in the “Fire Bradley” crowd would acknowledge or in some cases, even understand.