Stars and Gripes

Occasionally interesting insight (and gripes) about the USMNT

Should Bob Bradley Stay or Go?

with 4 comments

As another World Cup cycle ends for the United States, new opportunities already beckon.  Along the path to what could be a seventh-consecutive World Cup Finals appearance in Brazil, veteran players will fade out of the national team picture, while new talents will be given the chance to emerge.

Yet before the next journey begins, a few questions must be answered, none more significant than who will hold the managerial reigns for the next four years.  While Bob Bradley’s contract runs through December, the decision by the United States Soccer Federation to extend the relationship or go in another direction will be made in the coming weeks.

By way of putting Bradley’s tenure into context, it’s helpful to note that these are rough days for international managers.  Fabio Capello, whose record of success includes league titles with all four clubs he’s managed, is being derided in England as an over-priced scam artist.  Marcello Lippi–he of a World Cup title, a UEFA Cup championship, and five Serie A titles in Italy–is being called out by Italian cabinet ministers.  Diego Maradona is still viewed as a lunatic, even as he sits on a 4-0-0 managerial record in the World Cup, while Brazil’s Dunga is being accused in his homeland of killing “beautiful football.”  Raymond Domenech, the now-former France manager, occupies a league all his own, and would be well-advised to simply stay away from his home nation for the near future.

And yet, all Bob Bradley has done is preside over perhaps the most successful quadrennial period in the history of the United States national team.  Boasting a record of 38 wins, 20 losses, and 7 draws since the team crashed out of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the Americans preceded their modest run into the knockout stages of the current tournament by reaching the final of the 2009 Confederations Cup and placing first in CONCACAF qualifying.

Bradley challenged his evolving team with a series of difficult friendlies and international tournaments, including matches with England, Spain, Brazil and Argentina.  This was all accomplished against the backdrop of significant generational change, with the likes of Claudio Reyna, Eddie Pope, Brad Friedel, Pablo Mastroeni, Eddie Lewis and Brian McBride making way for a new crop of talent.

I realize that claiming an individual is “underappreciated” or “overrated” puts one on a slippery slope, so instead, I’ll simply submit that Bradley did an admirable job during his time as national manager, and deserves praise.  While his loyalty to individual players served to frustrate some fans, his personnel choices succeeded more often than they failed.  Seemingly curious lineup decisions–such as giving Conor Casey the start in a critical qualifier away to Honduras, or Jonathan Bornstein’s insertion into the lineup for the final two matches of the World Cup–highlight his penchant for moves that were unpopular at kick-off, but richly rewarded by full time.  Bradley also proved his value as a game planner, with the famous victory over Spain a year ago providing a template that was later used by none other than Ottmar Hitzfeld to produce Switzerland’s surprising opening match victory over the same Spain side two weeks ago in South Africa.

Yet like an manager, there were also low points.  While Bradley lost only three matches during the course of qualifying, early 1-0 wins versus Barbados, Guatemala and Cuba did little to inspire confidence in the new regime.  And while calling the manager “tactically inflexible” would be as unfair as it is untrue, his seeming unwillingness to deviate from a rigid 4-4-2 formation with two “true” forwards in South Africa—except when circumstances forced him to—may be held against him, particularly given the inability to find a suitable second striker from the crop of Robbie Findley, Edson Buddle and Herculez Gomez.  Furthermore, his team’s inability to put together a full 90-minute match resulted in the loss of a golden opportunity to advance soccer in this country.

So, with all of that being said, why do I (a random guy with a blog and absolutely no inside information whatsoever) believe Bob Bradley and the national team will go their separate ways?  Three main reasons:

1. It’s simply difficult to coach a country for eight consecutive years.  Bruce Arena is the only American to attempt the feat in the last thirty years, and his reign ended with disappointment in Germany four years ago.  Even managers predisposed to the international game, such as Guus Hiddink and Carlos Parreira,  usually opt for a new challenge over staying for the long-term with one nation.  Bradley saw all too well how Arena faired, and it’s difficult to imagine him relishing the prospect of going through a similar period–or Sunil Gulati giving him the opportunity to do so.

2. Sunil Gulati wants to leave his mark with a “big name” manager.  The negotiations with Jurgen Klinsmann four years ago were a poorly-kept secret, but they showed the lengths to which Gulati was willing to go to landing a coach with international pedigree—a “name,” if we want to simplify matters.  Gulati’s legacy will rest on two pillars: his selection of the next national team manager, and the success of the American bid for the 2022 World Cup.  Another ho-hum hiring (which Bob Bradley was) would be disappointing for Gulati, and with the game’s popularity continuing to grow in the United States, the money should be available to attract the established professional he desires.

3. For the benefit of future American coaches at all levels, Bradley needs to manage in Europe.  The United States must avoid the mistakes made by England over the last thirty years, which have resulted in a lack of homegrown managerial talent.  Of the seven Premier League teams that qualified for European play next season, only Tottenham is managed by an Englishman, and The Three Lions were the only “contending” side in the World Cup to be skippered by a foreigner.

American coaches need international exposure, just as American players must be challenged in the top leagues around the globe.  For that to happen, an American manager must break the glass ceiling that currently exists, and Bradley seems the obvious candidate for the task.  If he can achieve modest success in Europe, the door will open for others to follow him, and the long-term growth of American soccer will benefit.

The American job is, in many ways, unique.  Unlike positions in Europe, Africa or South America, the sole focus is on qualifying for the World Cup, which frankly should no longer be difficult.  Preparation for the CONCACAF Gold Cup is negligible, and the tournament itself is used more as a lab to evaluate promising youngsters and domestic-based talent.  Yet the next United States manager will inherit an environment different from those presented to his predecessors.  Expectations continue to grow, and merely qualifying for the World Cup is no longer sufficient.  The new thresholds must be to qualify with some style, while the rounds of 16 and 8 should be the squad’s target destination in the World Cup.

It seems likely that Gulati and co. will look to a foreign coach, with an eye on bringing in a manager who can harness the emerging technical skill in the American talent pool, epitomized by Jose Torres and Benny Feilhaber, to name just two.  Based on nothing other than my own tuition, here are some candidates that are likely to pop up on the radar going forward, should the national team find itself in need of a manager:

Jurgen Klinsmann – Klinsmann was—rather infamously—Gulati’s top choice in 2006, turning down the job following a prolonged set of negotiations.  His shepherding of an un-fancied Germany squad into the semifinals—albeit on home soil—in the ’06 Word Cup made him one of the rising stars in international coaching circles.  To an extent, his work with Germany and Bayern Munich look less convincing by the day, with Louis Van Gaal and Joachim Loew having found success as his replacements for club and country, respectively.  That said, Klinsmann lives in Los Angeles, he is intimately familiar with the American talent system, and he would still bring the cache that Gulati desires.

Carlos Alberto Parreira – The Brazilian is one of two managers in history to take five different nations to the World Cup (Kuwait in ’82, the United Arab Emirates in ’90, Brazil in ’94 and ’06, Saudi Arabia in ’02, South Africa in ’10), winning with Brazil on American soil in 1994.  Parreira has some familiarity with the American system, having coached the then-New York/New Jersey MetroStars in 1997.  His pedigree is unquestioned, and following his admirable job preparing South Africa for their home tournament, a return to the United States shouldn’t be ruled out.

Frankly, the job seems to be a nice fit for someone like Parreira, who has reached the stage in his career at which he has very little to prove.  The United States has an easy route back to the World Cup, doesn’t have to bother with qualifying for its continental championship, and is still far enough off the mainstream radar that pressure remains a foreign concept.

Carlos Queiroz – If Queiroz becomes available, he’d be an intriguing option.  He has experience managing both Portugal and South Africa, and while some have been critical about his stint with the former, his record (12 W – 5 D – 2 L) is impressive.   Queiroz’s handling of Portugal’s “Golden Generation” two decades ago was widely praised, as he led a group including Luis Figo and Rui Costa—ultimately disappointing on the senior level—to consecutive World Youth Championships, along with a Euro U-17 title.  His two spells as Sir Alex Ferguson’s top assistant at Manchester United make his tactical nous nearly unimpeachable.

Furthermore, Queiroz is intimately familiar with American soccer, having authored the influential “Q-Report” in 1998 for the USSF.  It was that report that helped lay the groundwork for the evolving national player development structure, including Generation adidas and the U-17 residency program in Bradenton, FL.  Queiroz would seemingly check all of the necessary boxes—if he is available and interested.

Dom Kinnear – If Gulati is serious about giving an MLS coach a hard look at the job, surely Kinnear will be one of the first to be approached.  The Scotland-born defender played three years for the United States national team in the early ‘90s, following an extended club career in leagues throughout the country that preceded MLS.  He’s achieved success as the coach of the San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo, winning back-to-back MLS championships in 2007 and 2008, while being widely praised for keeping the Dynamo competitive in recent years despite a steady loss of talent to Europe (including Stu Holden, Kenny Cooper, and Ricardo Clark).  If Gulati brings in someone who lacks a familiarity with MLS/the American system, Kinnear could also be an astute choice as a top assistant or technical director in a role similar to the one held by Franco Baldini with England.

Steve Nicol – Another Scotland-born candidate, Nicol is a Liverpool legend, having played over 460 matches for the club from 1981-1995.  Though he remains devoid of an MLS Championship, he has led the Revolution to the Cup final on four different occasions since 2002, and was rumored as a possible successor to Bruce Arena four years ago.  More than any other candidate, Nicol blends significant experience overseas with a successful record working in the United States.  He won’t top list, but if the stars align, he could be in the conversation.


Written by Pete Kavanaugh

June 29, 2010 at 9:29 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. Biggest potential beneficiary of a Steve Nicol appointment: Michael Parkhurst. Can’t you see Nicol giving his 3-5-2 a tryout on the big stage?


    June 29, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    • I think Parkhurst will get a look. Would be interesting to see–a lot of people forget that Bruce Arena implemented a 3-5-2 for a large stretch of the ’02 Cup, to great effect. It’d certainly be interesting to watch.

      Pete Kavanaugh

      June 29, 2010 at 5:09 pm

      • I was thinking Sampson had used a 3-5-2 in France ’98, but I see I’m wrong — apparently it was a 3-6-1, which sounds right now that I think about it.


        July 4, 2010 at 8:16 pm

  2. Regarding Klinsmann, my uninformed opinion is the opposite of yours (“To an extent, his work with Germany and Bayern Munich look less convincing by the day….”). To me the German juggernaut seems to be the result of several years of development of talent. Löw’s done a great job, to be sure, but your implication seems to be that the pieces of the 2010 team were lying around waiting to be implemented by a more successful coach in 2006. Given the youth of the 2010 team, I’m not sure that’s really warranted.

    (Granted, this impression of Germany’s decade of youth development comes largely from Klinsi telling me about it on ESPN, so there’s some self-interest there.)


    July 4, 2010 at 8:14 pm

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