Mixed bag with US may define Bradley
Bob Bradley's career may be defined by his time in charge of the US men's national team, but the 53-year-old Princeton graduate had a long and largely successful career before stepping in for his former boss, Bruce Arena, in the wake of the 2006 World Cup.
That career started in 1981 as a 22-year-old when Bradley filled the head coach's vacancy at Ohio University, having originally moved to Athens to attend the school's sports administration graduate program. By 1983, Bradley had moved on to the University of Virginia and an assistant's role under Arena before taking the reins of his alma mater, leading Princeton to two Ivy League titles.
In 1996, Bradley was reunited with Arena, this time at the professional level, spending two seasons as an assistant with Major League Soccer's DC United in what would prove his last job as a number two. In 1998, Bradley was named head coach of to the Chicago Fire and took an expansion team to the MLS Cup (still one of the more remarkable accomplishments in MLS history). Bradley would spend four more seasons with the Fire, making another MLS Cup final appearance in 2000, never failing to make the playoffs.
In Bradley returned to the tri-state area as coach of the MetroStars, where he spent the better part of three seasons before being fired in 2005. During that time, Bradley made consecutive playoff appearances with a team that had missed the postseason in 2002.
Bradley took on another project in 2006, accepting the head coach's position at second-year Chivas USA. In his one year with the club, Bradley took a team that had finished with 18 points in 2005 to a third place finish in the Western Conference and a 43-point season.
Having guided teams to the playoffs in each of his nine Major League Soccer seasons, Bradley had established himself as the best of the domestic crop of coaches when the US men's national team position opened up after Germany 2006. New US Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati appointed Bradley on an interim basis in December 2006 after talks with former Germany head coach Jürgen Klinsmann broke down. On May 2007, Bradley was given the permanent job, a job that ended on Thursday.
Bradley's one World Cup featured extreme highs and lows - results that fuel a debate that will be waged long past the coach's dismissal. In 2007, Bradley won the Gold Cup, and while the US had won the same tournament two years before, the victory in Chicago represented the first time the US had ever beaten Mexico in the competition's final. Bradley also led the US to a second place finish in the 2009 Confederations Cup, snapping Spain's 35-match unbeaten streak along the way. And under Bradley's guidance, the US finished first in CONCACAF's final World Cup qualifying stage ("The Hex"), eventually winning its group at South Africa 2010.
There were, however, low points. Although US Soccer sent a weakened squad to 2007's Copa America, there remain mixed feelings about the team's 0-for-3 performance in Venezuela. At the 2009 Gold Cup, again playing with less than a full team, the US suffered a 5-0 loss to Mexico in the Gold Cup final, the most lopsided final in the competition's history. And despite finishing first in Group C in South Africa, many felt let down when the US was eliminated by Ghana for the second straight World Cup. June's Gold Cup final loss to Mexico only amplified the voice of Bradley's critics.
History will see that Gold Cup loss as the last straw, but a wider view of Bob Bradley's time with the US will show a much more mixed bag. In his two Gold Cup finals fought with full strength squads, Bradley won one. At the Confederations Cup, he produced the US's best ever finish in a major international competition. A year later, he finished ahead of rival England and delivered the first World Cup group win in US history.
But for all those potential points on his CV, Bradley still leaves behind a program that is losing ground to Mexico, and while that may be very little of Bradley's own fault , there's still the perception that the US is treading water. Then there are the questions as to why the US couldn't hold a 2-0 lead over Brazil in that Confederations Cup final, and why Bradley hadn't figured out a way to prevent a similar collapse against Mexico.
That mixed bag is the legacy from which Bob Bradley will have to move on. Though he had been loosely linked with jobs at Fulham and Aston Villa in last year, Bradley will most likely emulate his mentor and predecessor, Bruce Arena, in moving back to MLS - where he has been very successful.
The USSF, however, is unlikely to repeat history. Bradley's dismissal signals the federation wants to move forward.