Looking Back at the Bradley Era

We are probably going to learn the name of Bob Bradley’s successor today, but before we welcome Jürgen Klinsmann (we’d take it, and it seems most likely) or Marcelo Lippi  (could be very interesting) or Guus Hiddink  (yes!) or Sigi Schmid (fine) or Peter Nowak (we’d also take it) or Rafael Benitez (no!), let’s take a quick look back at Bradley’s nearly five years in charge.

Record: 43-25-12. That’s a 53.75 winning percentage, second-best all-time behind Bruce Arena’s 65.8. (And Bradley was 62.9 through 2010; a 4-4-2 2011 brought his mark down.)

Highs:

• Reaching the 2009 Confederations Cup final with a crucial three-goal win over Egypt in group play and a shocking 2-0 upset of Spain in the semifinals.

• Winning Group C at the 2010 World Cup, becoming first coach ever to lead a U.S. team to a WC group title in the modern era.

• Winning CONCACAF region in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup; defeating Mexico in 2007 Gold Cup final

Lows:

• Giving Ricardo Clark a surprise start in the Round of 16 game against Ghana at the 2010 World Cup, only to see Clark make a bad early turnover that led directly to a goal. Failing to win that game and take advantage of a historically favorable knockout-round draw at SA 2010.

• Teams fell into maddening habit of giving away early goals. Did so against England, Slovenia, and Ghana at South Africa 2010, and nearly did against Algeria, which hit the bar in the first five minutes of final group-play game against the U.S.

• Gold Cup 2011: Loss to Panama in group play and surrender of 2-0 lead against Mexico in final to lose 4-2. This was the last straw.

Thumbnail Assessment:

Bradley took more flak than any USMNT coach in history, partly because there was simply more attention paid to this team than any other, due to the growth of the sport, and partly because … well, haters gonna hate, we guess.

Most of it was unwarranted, in our view. Bradley may have been a little stiff with the press, and slightly conservative with his tactics, but he did pretty well with the talent he had to work with and he achieved some historic results (see highs, above).

The notion that he was too narrow in player selection holds no water, as we’ve argued before (he tried out 92 players in his first four-year cycle), and the charge that nepotism, not ability, kept Bradley’s son Michael in the starting lineup is equally inaccurate.

The younger Bradley has more European top-flight experience than the majority of players in the U.S. pool, and he was remarkably consistent for the Yanks—not to mention one of their best players at South Africa 2010.

As his record suggests, Bob Bradley was the second-best coach in USMNT history, and his players always fought for him.

Here are a few of them, reacting to the news on Twitter:

Stuart Holden: Morning! Want 2 thank Bob Bradley 4 everything he did the last 5 years & 4 giving me an opportunity w national team! Wish him the best!

Jozy Altidore: Yes i heard the news tweet fam and I Wish Bob Bradley nothing but the best in the future. #esoesfutbol

Charlie Davies: Wishing Bob Bradley the best of luck. He helped me become a better player and person.

Aaaaannnd, a counterpoint:

Brian Ching: Some days just put a smile on your face.

[Ouch.]

What ever Bradley’s faults and successes, we felt like now was a good time for a change. Staleness had set in, and the next coach will have plenty of time to make an impact before World Cup qualifying begins next fall.

As for who that coach will be, well, Alexi Lalas tweeted the following this morning:

Good morning. Think I’ll spend today looking for an umlaut key on my computer and phone.

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MLS Commish: “Donovan Not for Sale” Lalas: “Really, Don?”

Speaking after Thierry Henry’s press conference yesterday, MLS commissioner Don Garber told reporters that the league would not entertain any transfer offers for LA Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan.

“He’s become a real soccer hero,” Garber said. “MLS needs soccer heroes, and we have a great American soccer hero playing for us in LA, holding the torch for the sport in our country, and that’s very important. I don’t believe that it’s something we can do without.”

It makes sense—Donovan’s Q rating and value to MLS have never been higher.

But is it also, at least in part, just an early negotiating ploy?

Alexi Lalas seems to think so. Last night on ESPN, during halftime of the D.C. United-Seattle game, the former Galaxy GM commented on Garber’s statement, saying, “No player is ‘not for sale.’” Lalas went on to suggest that, for the right price, even the most untouchable players can move in the transfer market.

“I don’t doubt the fact that commissioner Garber and everyone recognizes his importance to the league and to the Galaxy, but if there was ever a moment for him to be sold, this is it,” Lalas said.

Surely Garber and Co. are well aware of the fact that MLS will never get a better offer for Donovan than they would right now. So what is the magic number that would transform them into sellers?

The largest transfer fee ever paid for an MLS player is the $10 million that Villarreal shelled out to acquire Jozy Altidore from the Red Bulls in 2008.

How much higher would a team have to go to get Donovan? Answer: A lot. And how many teams are going to bid as high as MLS will want for the midfielder, who, while an excellent player, is not an international superstar, and is not that young, at 28? Answer: Not a lot.

There’s also the question of what Donovan wants to do. Recent reports have suggested that he’s reconciling with his ex, Bianca Kajlich, an actress who makes her living in LA. So the question could be moot if he’s content in LA.

But if an offer he liked came through, would the league pull a Taylor Twellman on him and effectively block a deal by demanding too much?

MLS wants to get the right price for its marquee player, but it should also want to avoid keeping him in the league against his will.

The transfer window opened yesterday, and runs until August 14th. Stay tuned.