For those of you who have taken a moment away from the NFL Free Agency Madness, you may have noticed that the US Soccer Coach that everyone loved to hate (me, too!) has been canned, following the Gold Cup meltdown against Mexico this past June. And a meltdown it was, as the US was up 2-0 in the early minutes of that game, only to lose 4-2. I don't put that on Bradley (or, I wouldn't, if it were the first time a Bob Bradley team had collapsed with a two goal lead in a tournament final. foreshadowing!). That's a US team that was outclassed by a superior team, and couldn't handle the gift the Mexicans had given them.
I thought Bradley should have been fired after the World Cup, mostly for his inability to use his talent correctly. He may have had fine tactics, and a decent sense of tweaking line-ups to improve at halftime, but there were clear examples of Bradley not evaluating his talent properly, and using an often inexplicable Starting Eleven (Rico Clark!). So, you know, I thought this was a long time coming, despite whatever successes Bradley claimed.
And the mainstream press is quick to give Bradley his due, because his accomplishments don't look too bad, as long as you don't look at them too carefully. Here's Steve Goff, of the NY Times, who absolutely knows his soccer, on Bradley's accomplishments:
Bradley went about the job in his low-key, cerebral way, and the results were mostly positive: first place ahead of England in the 2010 World Cup group stage in South Africa, a stunning upset of Spain in the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup semifinals and the CONCACAF Gold Cup championship in 2007.
What I mean by saying "not looking too closely" is that all of those accomplishments are undeniably good things. But maybe some of those aren't quite as impressive as they sound? The US finished ahead of England, yes. But England was a tad overrated (certainly Germany's almost dismissive destruction of them proved that?). We tied England because of horrible botch by England's keeper Robert Green. There were just 8 minutes left in the game when the US managed to score one more time to draw Slovenia. And let's never, ever forget that in a must-win game against an inferior opponent, the US needed more than 90 minutes and a miracle from Landon Donovan to beat Algeria. So yes, we finished ahead of England (on goal differential) but we barely escaped finishing third (or fourth) in a group that featured Algeria and Slovenia, for heaven's sake. Speaking as someone who knows a little bit about soccer, the way we advanced was just a little bit embarrassing, though the way we lost to Ghana would soon top that.
The Spain upset was undeniably wonderful; the following humbling by Brazil, less so. I don't feel that a US Coach who wins a Gold Cup should consider that a massive accomplishment. A trip to the Final Game should be expected just about every tournament. So, anyway--accomplishments, yes, to a degree. But not the kind that make you think, "They couldn't possibly find a replacement for this guy."
Of those games I mentioned, there is another aspect of Bradley-led teams that needs to be mentioned--the penchant for giving up early goals. It was such a pervasive sickness that some of the blame has to be on the coach. In the 2010 World Cup, the US surrendered their first goals in four and thirteen minutes, respectively, against England and Slovenia. In their knockout game against Ghana, they gave up a goal five minutes into regular time and after clawing their back way to tie in regulation, three minutes into extra time.
Collapses like this summer's Gold Cup Final against Mexico are also not new. The Confederations Cup of 2009, where the US beat Spain in the semi-final, did in fact have a final, and the US took a 2-0 lead into the half against Brazil. They lost 3-2. (Brazil scored their first goal in the first minute of the second half).
So, weigh those facts against Goff's above. Under Bob Bradley, the team has had a history of questionable personnel decisions (Rico Clark starting; asking Clint Dempsey to play any sort of defense), a history of staking teams to early leads, and a history of dropping big leads in Final Games. That's Bob Bradley's résumé to me. And when stated that way, it makes it much more clear that Bradley wasn't fired for the one travesty of letting Mexico beat the US (they are, on paper, the superior team, after all). The US Soccer Federation saw the same pattern that I laid out, and it was time to get out from under it, before the World Cup rolls around again. The next coach needs to be the coach for qualifying, which starts sooner than you would believe.
Other people thoughts*:
Rumors & Rants--"Somewhere, Jonathan Bornstein is Uncontrollably Crying"
That's On Point--"Bye, Bob"
Next post: Who Should Succeed Bob? Better Yet--Who Shouldn't?
*I lambasted Bradley's personnel decisions without once mentioning Jonathan Bornstein. I regret the error.