U.S. Soccer announced that it was extending coach Bob Bradley’s contract for another four years on Monday, causing the legion of Bradley bashers out there to blow a collective head gasket.
Comments like “Horrible news for U.S. Soccer” and “Thanks Sunil [Gulati, USSF Prez] for not giving a s***,” were among the more measured responses.
But is the decision really that bad? Let’s break it down:
As we noted on Monday, Bradley’s U.S. teams:
• Won the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup
• Reached the final of the 2009 Confederations Cup
• Knocked off Spain to end La Furia Roja’s 35-game unbeaten streak
• Won their World Cup qualifying group
• Won their World Cup group.
• Reached the final of the 2009 Gold Cup with a second-choice roster (only two players in that group, Stuart Holden and Clarence Goodson, made the World Cup team).
On the downside, that B team was crushed 5-0 by Mexico in the 2009 Gold Cup final, and Bradley’s 2009 Confed Cup team got off to a horrible start in that tournament, getting trounced by Italy and Brazil.
Indeed, poor starts—to tournaments and individual games—became an unfortunate hallmark of Bradley’s teams.
In South Africa, the U.S. gave up early goals to England, Slovenia, and Ghana (twice, counting extra time), and nearly conceded an early one to Algeria.
Bradley has been taken to task for what his critics call a conservative approach, emphasizing defensive soundness and risk-averse play over offensive flair and stylishness. But this—to the extent that it’s true—is more the result of the players available to him than anything else.
Moreover, at the 2010 World Cup, the U.S. was surprisingly capable in the attacking third (in terms of creating chances; finishing them was frequently another story) while looking surprisingly shaky in defense.
We would argue that Bradley mostly got his tactics right, considering the players available to him—and he left no stone unturned trying to expand the talent pool: Bradley capped 92 players in his first four-year cycle, including 43 in World Cup qualifying.
Here is where the Bradley bashers have the most traction: In hindsight, it looks like a critical mistake to have started Ricardo Clark over Maurice Edu in the game against Ghana in the Round of 16.
Clark’s turnover led to the Black Stars’ first goal, and his yellow card led to the U.S.’s first substitution, in the 31st minute.
Critics also lambasted the choice of Robbie Findley to start that game, and Bradley fueled their fire by taking the Real Salt Lake forward off at halftime.
We would have preferred Edu over Clark, but we actually thought the speedy Findley was the best option against an athletic Black Stars team. And sure enough, Findley had his share of chances. His finishing was atrocious, but he did have chances.
Again, we go back to the players at Bradley’s disposal: the speedy, goal-poaching Charlie Davies—by far the most dangerous striker in the U.S. pool—was not available.
So Bradley cobbled together the best replacement he could, a Frankenstein combination of Edson Buddle + Herculez Gomez (for goal poaching) + Findley (for speed).
Other Candidates for the Job
• Jürgen Klinsmann He’s been the glamour choice for the U.S. job since 2006, but apart from his impressive playing career, and a good run with the German national team at the 2006 World Cup (where he was ably asissted by current German coach Joachim Löw), what does Klinsmann bring to the table? A failed stint at Bayern Munich and a reputed knowledge of the U.S. game, due to his residence in Southern California and occasional involvement in U.S. training at the Home Depot Center.
Out of that list of maybes regarding Klinsmann, many U.S. fans have created a should be.
No one else was seriously mentioned, but here are some guys we expect would be on the depth chart.
• Sigi Schmid Has succeeded wherever he’s coached in MLS—and quickly.
• Peter Nowak He led DC United to the 2004 MLS Cup title, and the 2008 U.S. Olympic team to a 1-1-1 record in Beijing. Was also Bradley’s assistant with the senior team from 2007-2009.
• Guus Hiddink We think Hiddink would be a better, big-name foreign option than Klinsmann. But he’s currently under contract with the Turkish national team.
Is selecting the known quantity of Bradley out of this group really an outrage?
Bradley is not the most dynamic personality in the world—he cracks a smile maybe four times a year, and he is positively Bill Belichick-ish in dealing with the press—he may talk more than Belichick, but he says just as little. (Don’t underestimate how much that quality has fueled the Bradley backlash.)
But he’s smart, methodical, extremely hard-working and perhaps most important, gets his players to fight. Witness the cardiac-kids impression at SA 2010.
His team may have missed a golden opportunity in the World Cup knockout stage, but Bradley did enough to earn another crack at the job, and no one doubts his motivation to improve.
If staleness sets in and a change needs to be made, there will be plenty of opportunities to assess that between now and 2014, starting with next summer’s Gold Cup.