FOX Sports Exclusive
U.S. Soccer needs a new man in charge
Following the not-quite-tragic, not-overly-impressive round of 16 exit of the U.S. soccer team in South Africa, the U.S. Soccer Federation is at a crossroads.
If it wants to toggle back and forth between group stage flameouts (1998, 2006) and losing in the first two knockout rounds (2002, 2010), then by all means it should maintain the status quo.
But if the USSF is seriously committed to transforming the United States into an international soccer power with a legit shot at one day winning the World Cup, then changes need to be made.
The first of these changes will not be news to the federation. It was, after all, the USSF’s intention to hire Jurgen Klinsmann before this World Cup. USSF President Sunil Gulati suspected, rightly, that you don’t become a world football power with a domestic coach.
Klinsmann was the logical choice, a German football legend who lives in California and managed the Mannschaft (you do not pass up an opportunity to drop that nickname for the German national team) to an overachieving third-place finish at the ’06 World Cup.
In an ironic twist, Klinsmann ended up rejecting the USSF for precisely the reason the USSF needs Jurgen Klinsmann. It’s the age-old, Parcells-ian dilemma: If you want me to cook the meal, allow me to buy the groceries.
Gulati and his USSF expect to run U.S. soccer, including the national team. If he were to accept the coaching job, Klinsmann expected to run the national team with minimal interference.
At the USSF’s current progress rate, the United States will field a World Cup favorite at the 2506 World Cup on Pandora. If that’s a schedule that works for USSF officials, then they should resist ceding control of the national squad to an international football legend.
If, however, they want to speed up the process, the USSF should turn the keys over to Klinsmann and, to paraphrase James Joyce, allow him to express his footballing spirit in unfettered freedom.
Not that Bob Bradley has to apologize for his results.
On the long list of World Cup 2010 calamities, disappointments and embarrassments, the performance of the U.S. coach wouldn’t crack the top 10.
The officials and linesmen have a hammerlock on the Golden Goat Award for their spectacular collection of missed goals, disallowed goals, shocking dupability on dives and random implementation of the offside rule.
Replay allergic FIFA gets an honorable mention for refusing the medical attention its beautiful game so desperately needs, beginning with goal-line technology.
Italy and France embarrassed themselves on the pitch, though the French took it a step further off the pitch by tossing their toys out of the pram in a team-wide tantrum for the ages.
And as it turned out, poor Robert Green’s first-game howler condemned England to a knockout game with Germany when it would otherwise have been in the cushier quadrant with Ghana and Uruguay.
No, Bob Bradley’s mistakes at the World Cup were hardly the headline variety.
His most obvious mistake was returning midfielder Ricardo Clark to the starting XI for the Ghana game. Not only had Clark played poorly in the opener against England, sharing culpability for Steven Gerrard’s early goal, but Maurice Edu was coming off a solid effort against Algeria.
When a lineup decision sets off a flurry of pregame texting among U.S. soccer fans – Clark? (Expletive Acronym)! – and then that guy’s brutal giveaway results in a goal almost as soon as he steps on the pitch, well, the coach has some explaining to do.
Bradley acknowledged it was a mistake after the game, not that he needed to. He had already copped to the tactical error by rushing Edu in for Clark at the 30-minute mark.
- Galarcep: Grading U.S. performances
- Trecker: Game needs instant replay
- Webster: What next for England?
- Why 16 teams have gone home
- Robben, Holland send Slovaks packing
- Argentina outshines El Tri to advance
- Germany thrashes England in style
- Ghana sends U.S. crashing out of Cup
The other lineup challenge for Bradley was which one of his so-called “strikers” to pair up front with Jozy Altidore against Ghana. He opted for Robbie Findley over Herculez Gomez and Edson Buddle.
In retrospect, he probably would have been better off going with either the guy named after Pele (given name Edson Arantes do Nascimento) or the guy named after, you know, Hercules.
The speedy Findley latched on to one great scoring opportunity and promptly proved that finishing isn’t his bag, scuffing a low shot into the keeper’s outstretched leg.
When you look at the choices Bradley had at striker, it hardly seems fair Argentina has Inter Milan’s Diego Milito, who scored a brace in the Champions League final, on its bench. (Can the USSF implement Operation Lure a Foreign Striker, in which the soccer sirens of America are encouraged to seduce and marry one of the countless world-class finishers who can’t get off their national teams’ benches?)
When the ineffective Findley was lifted at halftime for midfielder Benny Feilhaber and Clint Dempsey was shifted up top with Altidore, it was immediately obvious the United States had its best team on the field, and the Yanks proceeded to play their most dominant 45 minutes of the tournament.
But the fact they were only able to equalize and then fell in OT left U.S. soccer fans wondering what the outcome might have been had Bradley started his best side.
The bitter ending shouldn’t obscure Bradley’s accomplishments.
His team finished first in CONCACAF qualifying, proving the United States was the best team north of South America as long as it wasn’t playing in Mexico City.
Not only did his team come in second at the 2009 Confederations Cup – after leading Brazil 2-0 at halftime of the final – but it also ended Spain’s 35-match unbeaten streak in the semis.
And no one who watched the United States recover from deficits against England and Slovenia and fight desperately to the finish against Algeria to win Group C could fairly conclude it was poorly coached.
It is the very fact that Bradley performed so capably as coach of the national team that makes this a defining moment for the USSF. It would be easy to can a guy if he failed to qualify for the knockout round. But to announce that good is no longer good enough would reflect a sea change for soccer in America.
One easy way to assess the talent of your nation’s football coaching crop is to see how often other countries come calling for them. If Steve Sampson’s run managing Costa Rica is all you’ve got, then your country may not be a hotbed of elite coaching talent.
As Gulati and the USSF ponder Bradley’s future, they should ask themselves if any other country ranked in the top 20 or 30 or 40 would be interested in his services if they fired him.
If the answer is no, then they also have the answer to their next move on this long, fitful U.S. soccer journey.
More Stories From Kevin Hench