Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Devil You Know

The breaking news last night was the decision by the US Soccer Federation to keep Bob Bradley on as coach for another 4 years. Feelings are mixed among a lot of people, but no one seems too emotional either way. Is it a good thing or a bad thing that people seem to accept Bradley but not be enthralled by him? Let's try to break this down.

The Good

1. Bradley has been successful
In the past 4 year, the USMNT has reached both Gold Cup finals, winning one, made it to the finals of a FIFA tournament, won the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying group, won it's World Cup Group, and beaten home team on 3 different continents (North America, Europe, and Africa). Not many coaches in US history can claim these kinds of credentials on their resume. He is clearly a very good coach who has done great things with the US team.

2. The players like Bradley
If there is one thing that BB has done incredibly well it's protect his players. They know that what happens inside the locker room will stay there and they respect that. Bradley does not air out dirty laundry in the press, does not put himself above the team, but will tell players how it is even when they don't like it.

3. Bradley is good at bringing in new talent
Some have been hard on Bradley for not bringing in new faces fast enough, but I think that's off. Charlie Davies got called in when he deserved to get called in. Same with other young players like Bedoya. You can't be turning over the lineup every friendly to give each fringe player a shot. Besides, after watching him get eaten alive against Brazil, does anyone here really want to argue that Bedoya should have been on the team over another midfielder?

The Bad

1. Bradley is not a good tactician
That ugly 4-4-2 empty bucket reared its head for too long. I understand that the US gets by more on physicality, fitness and heart than having skilled players, but there need to be better game plans against the top squads. We've seen it too many times where one player is clearly out-classed by his assignment and there is no tactical change to provide him some sort of cover. We saw it with Neymar on the wings in the Brazil friendly, and we saw it with Ghana's midfield having way too much time on the ball in the World Cup. Very rarely will a plan make up for a significant gulf in talent, but the right tactics can make the US a better team than they are right now.

2. Bradley relies on his guys too much
This relates back to tactics. How long did it take for Beasley to finally fall out of favor? What about Mastroeni? Rico Clark and Oguchi Onyewu in the World Cup are two more examples of Bradley's difficulty with letting go. Sure his loyalty works as well. The calls for him to bench his son have disappeared as Michael Bradley has become maybe the most important player on the US squad at the moment. However, it's a dangerous game he plays and I think there have been more bad results from it than good ones.

I can understand if you think this is at odds with #3 of the Good list, but hear me out. Bradley picked the right 23 to go to South Africa. Where he had problems was putting the right people on the field without seeing someone fail first. Once Gooch looked slow and hurt, he was off. Once Bradley realized Rico didn't belong on the pitch he subbed him out in the 31st minute against Ghana. They shouldn't have been left off the team, but they should not have been starting. The problem is, he should have been willing to make these moves before poor play forced his hand.

3. 2-term coaches don't have good track records
Bruce Arena in 2006. Marcello Lippi with Italy. Raymond Domenech with France. Can Bradley buck the trend and provide 4 more good years? If Landon and/or Clint start to slip in their early 30's is a coach who has been relying on them for 7 years going to be able to say "Sorry guys, it's time for a young guy like Brek Shea or Mix Diskerud to take your place" or will he stay loyal?

Overall I would say I'm not disappointed that Bradley is sticking around. I think he has done an admirable job and I think we are in good not great hands going forward. I would have liked to see him take a job in Europe for a couple reasons (to open up the door for US coaches to move there and to bring in a new coach to lead the US team) but I'm not going to be upset that he is still in charge of the team.

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