Thursday, August 26, 2010

Decision Day for U.S. coach Bob Bradley

Bob Bradley
Mark the date: Oct. 9, 2010. You won't see Bob Bradley coaching the U.S. men's national team thereafter. The U.S. hosts Poland at Soldier Field (please hold all "Da Bears" jokes until after this blog entry is posted), and that should be Bradley's swan song as the leader of your men's national team.

Bradley's future as head coach has been topic of speculation since the U.S. was eliminated by Ghana at the World Cup--and even prior to that I would say. He is supposed to meet with U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati today, and chances are, as SI's Grant Wahl writes today, Bradley won't come out of the meeting with a contract extension. No, instead the likely outcome is that Bradley and Gulati will mutually agree to separate and Bradley will get his sendoff at ugly Soldier Field in Chicago.

I'm going to call B.S. on Wahl's theory that the U.S. players were distracted by Bradley's contract uncertainty during a recent friendly against Brazil. Brazil smoked the U.S. 2-0 at the New Meadowlands in front of 78,000 fans. The boys didn't have their heads in the clouds about Bradley; they were stomped and deservedly so by a better team.

And that was the case at the World Cup, where the U.S., yes, won its group to advance to the knockout rounds, but barely. It needed a miracle goal from Landon Donovan against Algeria to do so, after managing a fortunate draw against England and a devilish 2-2 tie against Slovenia. The U.S. went down hard in extra time against Ghana and many shortcomings were exposed that point to vast gaps in player development and coaching that need to be addressed. Bob Bradley was the right guy for 2010, I suppose. He's not the right guy for 2014. And neither is "another Bob Bradley type."

Gulati, if you ask me, is as much under fire as Bradley here. He's gone through the best America has in Bruce Arena and Bradley and the best they managed was Arena's 2002 march to the quarterfinals. It would be crushing to believe that's the best the U.S. can accomplish and will accomplish.

But does anyone honestly see enough growth and grasp of player development to replace the Dempseys, Donovans and Bocanegras of the world in four short years? Are there stars stashed away at some Olympic development camp that we don't know about? Doubtful.

The answer has to come in the form of a strong, internationally tested coach. Granted Fabio Capello hasn't set the world on fire on the England bench, but he did whip that team into shape and resurrected hope after the Steve McClaren fiasco. Bradley's reign hasn't been a fiasco, but it hasn't nudged the U.S. forward enough, either.

So who is next for Gulati? What are his options? Lord knows everyone has Jurgen Klinsmann at the top of their lists and he might be the guy. Is he the right guy? Who knows? Coaching a talented Germany team in 2006 and finishing third at the World Cup with that roster is one thing. Turning Jozy Altidore into a disciplined finisher is quite another.

Here's hoping U.S. Soccer spends some big bucks on restructuring at the top, isn't afraid to gamble on a foreign coach and brings some European or South American influence to the American game. Otherwise, Bob Bradley might as well get his extension, pass on the Aston Villa job, and take us to the second round of the 2014 World Cup--hell, there's no shame in losing to Brazil. Is there?

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