One Slice of Humble Pie, Please.

>> Friday

I was feeling so cocky earlier this week. Fox Soccer was reporting that a signing deal with former Germany manager Juergen Klinsmann was imminent, that Klinsi and the US Soccer Federation would announce a deal within a week. I thought of posting, gloating with the news of a decision that I had predicted over a month ago. Yesterday Klinsi withdrew his name from consideration for the still-vacant position. So instead of gloating, I and more or less everyone else in the media who has been following this story are looking for a slice of humble pie instead.

I let myself be led astray by the promise of World Cup glory for a US team that admittedly has a very good World Cup (Quarterfinalists in 2002) sandwiched between two incredibly disappointing ones (0-3 in 1998, 0-2-1 in 2006). I thought it was in the bag, and hours later, it shuddered off the woodwork. Money was agreed upon, as I reported on November 3rd, but in the end, it came down to control. Klinsi wanted to have more control over the running of the US National team than USSF President Sunil Gulati wanted him to have.

Today, Club Deportivo Chivas USA head coach Bob Bradley was named interim head coach of the US National Team. I imagine the "interim" label will stick with Bradley until the end of next summer's Gold Cup and Copa America tournaments, and may largely, fairly or not, be based on the Yanks' performance in those matches. The Gold Cup Final is June 24 at Soldier Field. Copa America begins a few days later in Venezuela.

UPDATE: Yanks-Abroad reports the reason for Bradley's interim label is that Gulati is still considering two European coaches to man the helm of the USMNT, but they are unable to commit because they are in midseason. One of these two men is likely Carlos Quieroz, an assistant with Manchester United. Regardless of the outcome of the coaching search for the senior team, Bradley will helm the U.S. U-23 team through qualifying for the 2008 Olympics.

While Klinsmann was obviously the first choice, Bradley is a highly competent second. He has won more games than any coach in MLS history over 10 seasons with the Chicago Fire (where he won an MLS Cup and two US Open Cups), MetroStars, and now with Chivas USA.

Bradley is largely viewed in MLS coaching circles as first a developer of young talent (He played no small role in bringing DaMarcus Beasley from the projects of Florida to the pitches of Europe). This season at Chivas USA, two of his draft picks finished first and second in Rookie of the Year voting. This will be necessary as the old guard from 2002 fades away, to be replaced by up-and-coming Americans like DC United's Bobby Boswell, West Ham United's and former St. Viator High School product Jonathan Spector, and of course Freddy Adu enter the National Team rotation.

Bradley's familiarity with the American soccer system, which has been described as relatively unique in the world should also help bolster his credentials, at least in terms of avoiding friction with the USSF and MLS in a way that Klinsmann would have.

Bradley may also be a perfect fit because he has a reputation in MLS as a miracle worker, taking raw putty and turning it into if not something beautiful, something workable. He led the Fire to two championships in their first season. When he moved to the MetroStars, he took MLS's most criminally mismanaged franchise to the playoffs three straight seasons, something no other coach has been able to do in the Meadowlands. With Chivas USA, he took a team that went 4-22-6 with a goal differential of -36 in 2005 to the MLS Cup Playoffs and a record of 10-9-13 with a goal differential of +3 in 2006. So perhaps he's just the man to captain this ship of lost souls that is the USMNT.

The one thing that Bradley cannot change however, is geography. Situated in North America, the Stars and Stripes play in one of international soccer's backwaters. To gain revenue, the USSF has regularly scheduled friendly matches at home against mid-level squads from the region like Honduras, Guatemala and Jamaica. And make no mistake, the US is the regional giant along with Mexico. However, to emerge on the world stage, one of Bradley's first moves has to be to schedule games on the road. The players need to learn to play in loud, crowded, bright-light, hostile environments to succeed at the World Cup. The 4-1 blowout loss to Germany in Dortmund last March should have been a wake-up call, not an exception. While major European teams like England and Germany may be reluctant to play the States, perhaps scheduling friendlies against mid-level Euro powers like Greece, Holland and Sweden would pay dividends down the line. If anything else, they will learn to play in the bright lights of Europe.

Playing against Brazil, Argentina, and the rest of South America's best in Copa America is a good start, but for now, Bradley should begin preparing for his debut as USMNT manager in January against Denmark in Los Angeles.

5 comments:

Vinnie 12:16 PM  

"raw putty"? "ship of lost souls"? Is this Creative Writing Workshop now?

Mike 12:44 PM  

Bob Bradley actually is a skilled potter and the USMNT actually is a collection of the damned forced to sail the Seven Seas. Gyarrrrr.

Vinnie 11:27 PM  

Good. Otherwise we might have to trade you for Bill Plaschke.

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