USMNT / World Cup

Free Bob Bradley, too…

"Don't talk about Landon unless you want to see me throw a hissy fit!"

As I sat outside Don Garber’s house waiting for the waaaaaambulance to take him away up following his sad, egomaniacal rant about Landon Donovan (one that he completely backtracked on at the MLS Allstar game last night), I realized that there is another member of the men’s national team who has served his country well but should now be allowed to move on.

When Bob Bradley was promoted as the interim coach of the red, white and blue, it was following the dismal three and out at the 2006 World Cup. While the USSF went about securing a permanent manager, he set to the task of improving a series of ills that plagued the American team.  One of those concerns was stagnation within the player pool, which he fixed early with a string of young call ups that brought energy to a side that went on to record some impressive results.

WE WIN!

Where Bruce Arena succeeded in raising the level on the national team to the best of his abilities, so did Bradley. During the past four-year cycle, the Americans have stepped into the roll of favorites, enduring far fewer anxious moments against the minnows of CONCACAF and continually issuing reminders to our neighbors to the south that their days of North American dominance are over.

Yes, and the Spain victory, that was sweet too.

But, facing facts is important. Only two coaches in the 2010 World Cup were holdovers from 2006 tournament and one of those is professional crazy person Raymond Domenech. And with a clear (relatively) path to the semifinals in their sights the US failed to take the opportunity with both hands.

Upon their return from South Africa, Bradley and Donovan appeared on the Daily Show, and it was clear to anyone who follows the game or either man’s career that, although they were pleased to have been part of a famous moment, they knew they should have done better.

It is time to free Bob Bradley and pursue a new coach, one who can instill in these players the confidence that they are not just resilient fighters, but talented, technical players who can dictate a match instead of absorb it.

That search, is a discussion for another time.

Now, instead of killing Bob Bradley for his flaws, let’s look at the aspects of his coaching style that make him a good fit for a new club. While the Fulham job seems out of reach, with Mark Hughes now installed as the favorite, Bradley has the mentality and pedigree to get it done in England. To hear pundits dismiss his name out of hand is not just anti-American, it is plain foolish.

Loyalty

"I Heart Bornstein."

A lot is made of Bob Bradley’s loyalty, sticking through thick and thin with players like Jonathan Bornstein. While he deserves to shoulder considerable blame for some questionable selections (you will still never convince me that Rico Clark was healthy enough to be playing), Bradley’s trust lies with the guys who got him where he is. Ultimately, there’s not a whole lot wrong with that—especially considering a move to Europe with the rampant instability in the transfer market, and players cast aside without as much as an explanation. A manager who is highly respected for his loyalty to the men who go to work for him should make him a hot commodity.

In a mid to lower table English club, Bradley could once again flourish amidst the opportunity of working with a smaller core of players and building them within his mold. He is a coach that helped construct the expansion Chicago Fire and immediately took them to an MLS Cup title. Later, following a disastrous first league season, he stepped into the Chivas USA, righting that ship. No longer burdened with the daunting task of scouting, selecting and fielding a team from the (relatively) vast US player pool, Bradley’s strong, personal relationships with individual players would serve to strengthen a club, rather than cause public outcry.

Fitness

As a Spurs’ supporter I remember a time in the not too distant past when Martin Jol (selected to manage Fulham until Ajax refused to allow his departure) was sacked from White Hart Lane following some truly dreadful results. When his successor, Juande Ramos took the reigns he was appalled by the awful diet and conditioning habits of many of his senior players. As a supporter, I was disgusted to hear that many of my favorite, albeit underperforming, players were as many as 20 pounds overweight based purely on their unsupervised diets.

Enter Bob Bradley. With the decidedly American approach to nutrition, conditioning, and strength training carefully calibrated to each individual player, is there anyone who could doubt the kind of results he would achieve in the fitness of his entire side?  While there would initially be whining about the strenuous preparations, players competing at the top level of the game would be remiss to not buy in to Bradley’s program.

Unity

As the US battled through a grueling pre-tournament training camp, the sentiments of the players were largely redundant. They hated the running and they hated the extra running and they really did not enjoy the weight training on top of the extra running. But, to a man, they all knew it would help them and they were all thankful for the opportunity. Those type of situations breed unity and teamwork, forging relationships amongst players who not only understand each other as soccer players, but also want to work hard for their teammates. Every time Ian Darke or Martin Tyler marveled at the Americans’ resiliency, Bob Bradley should have earned a gold star.  Character players help make cohesive teams, but without a manager properly pulling the strings in the build up to a major tournament, that type of unity does not occur.

The almighty 4-4-2

"My Name is Peter and I can't find the goal."

While Bradley spent the run up to the World Cup hammering square pegs into the round hole left by Charlie Davies, one needed to only pause and look at the Americans’ first opponent England to see the same story playing out. With Wayne Rooney (injured or not) attempting to lead from the front with a bevy of talented midfielders set to support him, Fabio Capello almost begrudgingly stuck with the traditional 4-4-2, trotting out Emile “Shrek” Heskey and Peter “I Suck at Soccer” Crouch to miss chance after chance. While England sulked their way out of the tournament through poor performances, the Americans’ fate was sealed not because of poor performances, but because of lack of sharpness and pedigree around goal.  In a country that prizes the formation he preaches, Bradley would have the option to fill out his lineup with players that suit his preferred tactical methods.

Not coaching his son

Here to stay.

If there is anyone still out there who thinks that Michael Bradley starts every important US match because he is the coach’s son, you are wrong. Very wrong. That said, while they are two frequently scowly men, it’s hard not to wonder if questions about favoring his son above the other players wears at the elder Bradley. A parting of ways might see a new coach put the extra work into the talented young midfielder to help him realize his enormous potential without shouts of nepotism because Michael Bradley will be the anchor of the US midfield for a long time.

So, please US Soccer, free Bob Bradley.  Don’t sack or demean him. Don’t remind him of what could have been. Thank him for his service to our country and wish him safe travels. Hopefully he will get an opportunity abroad and his efforts there can continue to enrich the American soccer tradition.

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