National team soccer coaches generally get canned right after the World Cup — or in the case of the Saudis, even in the middle of the tournament. It’s sort of the rhythm of the job: your team loses, you’ve disgraced the country, get out. Coaching a national soccer team is a job with the least amount of tenure in sports. It’s the Kleenex box of coaching.
But U.S. coach Bob Bradley didn’t get the boot after the World Cup, even though the U.S. was eliminated in the round of 16 by the same team, Ghana, that knocked it out of the tournament four years prior. Although the U.S. advanced to the second round, that was largely via a gift 1-1 draw with England, an exciting come-from-behind 2-2 draw with Slovenia, and a last gasp winner against Algeria.
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And that’s a problem. A team like the U.S. shouldn’t be struggling with minnows like Latvia and Algeria, as exciting as those games turned out to be. But after getting slapped around by world-champion Spain in a friendly match, losing to Paraguay at home, and then blowing a 2-0 lead against arch-rival Mexico in the important Concacaf Gold Cup final, Bradley was fired by U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati. Backwards is not a good direction for any team.
Although Bradley had signed a new four-year contract last summer, Gulati sacked him after a meeting at the team’s training ground at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. “We want to thank Bob Bradley for his service and dedication to U.S. Soccer during the past five years,” said Gulati in a statement. “During his time as the head coach of our Men’s National Team he led the team to a number of accomplishments, but we felt now was the right time for us to make a change. It is always hard to make these decisions, especially when it involves someone we respect as much as Bob. We wish him the best in his future endeavors.”
Why not change last year? That’s the question most of Bradley’s critics are asking. Although the U.S. has played credibly under Bradley’s tenure—the Yanks beat Spain in the run-up to the World Cup—they showed little threat of breaking through to the elite level of world football where the team could consistently challenge the giants of the game. Even against so-called lesser teams such as Poland the U.S. can seem overmatched, while a technical team such as the Czechs is still too much to handle. Stylistically, the Americans were hardly painting pictures. They’ve struggled to find a consistent goal scorer up front—and no breakout talent seems to be in the offing. Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey are rock solid in the middle, but where are the rock stars? On defense, the team has struggled to find a consistent pairing in the center half posts, and the left fullback role has been an ongoing disaster. In selecting teams, Bradley has been unable to come up with the combinations to answer the deficits.
So after a five year run—a long career in this business—Bradley is out, which rekindles the speculation: What about Klinsie? Jürgen Klinsmann, the former German national team coach and a California transplant, had long been the first choice of the U.S. federation but it could never sign him. Whoever gets this job has a surprising amount of work to do. Bradley labored hard, as did his team, to progress in the World Cup. But it’s the team’s play, not its work rate that has to improve, and U.S. Soccer no longer thought Bradley was capable of doing it.
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