A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
Bob Bradley Named U.S. National Team Coach
By Andrew Dixon, III
Updated: May 22, 2007
MIAMI — He wasn’t the first choice.
Or the second. Or the third. In fact he probably wasn’t the fourth.
Yet after being unable to come to terms with its first choice and after having their hand forced by a string of positive results, the United States Soccer Federation finally named Bob Bradley the permanent head coach of the Men’s National Team, five months after giving him the job on an interim basis.
“Bob’s obvioiusly done very well. He’s treated the job as if it was his,” said US Soccer Federation President Suil Gulati. “Since I have gotten involved with the National Team program and have gotten to know Bob, I have known that Bob someday would, could and should coach our national team program.”
“He’s been successful at every level He’s an intellectual about the game and his development of young players and his dealing of senior players has been pretty extraordinary over the past ten years in MLS.”
“I have full faith that I’m putting the National Team and the direction of our programs in great hands.”
Really? Then why did it take so long?
The search for a new coach began soon after the United States was eliminated from the 2006 World Cup last year. The US did not perform up to expectations and it was thought in some circles that a coach with more international experience would be able to guide the US to next level and become an elite team.
Other attributes that were considered part of the ideal coach’s make-up were successful youth development and the ability to speak Spanish to connect Latino community.
When it was announced in July that Bruce Arena’s contract would not be renewed, ending a tenure of close to eight years at the helm of the National Team, many names of international renown were mentioned as candidates:
Argentina’s Jose Pekerman, a former U-20 coach, who guided many of his former players on the senior team to the 2006 World Cup quarterfinals, Gerard Houllier manager of France’s 5 time champion Olympique Lyon and even Peter Nowak, who was, at the time, head coach at DC United.
But the biggest target was former German legend Jurgen Klinsmann. The former international star had been living in California (in fact, a short drive from the US traning compound in Carson) for several years and had taken part in some training sessions with the Galaxy before he was tapped to lead his country’s side at the 2006 World Cup.
Using several younger players and instituting some American style management techniques, Klinsmann guided Germany to the semifinals where they lost in the last minutes of overtime to eventual champions Italy. He resigned after Germany captured third place so he seemed to be an ideal candidate for the USSF.
The US’ courtship of Klinsmann became the worst kept secret in American soccer and most fans figured it would just be just a matter of time before Klinsmann accepted. So it was to everyone’s great suprise when Klinsmann took himself out of the running to be named US coach in December.
Insiders felt that the two parties could not reach an agreement on the authority Klinsmann would have and the money he would be paid. The following day, Bradley, fresh out of leading Chivas USA to the MLS playoffs, was named permanent coach of the US’ U-23 and interim coach of the senior squad. Meanwhile, the Federation would continue to negotiate with other candidates, with Pekerman’s name being the most frequent to come up.
Bradley, for his part, embraced the opportunity and set about stamping his mark on a team that was fully in transition. Stalwarts such as Brian McBride, Claudio Reyna and Eddie Pope all had retired from international play and Bradley began bringing in new players such as Chivas USA’s Jonathan Borstein, Benny Feilhaber of Germany’s Hamburger SV, his son Michael who plays in Holland with SC Heerenveen and Houston Dynamo’s Ricardo Clark.
While Bradley was a long time assistant and friend of Bruce Arena, many were quick to point out that he was very much his own man. Though more personable than the sometimes abrasive Arena, he’s also less forthcoming with information about lineups and strategies. His training camps are said to be a little more regimented.
“He’s a little stricter, a little bit more old-school than Bruce was,” Landon Donovan told respected soccer journalist Andrea Canales. “It took a little adjusting.” Bradley also brought different tactics to his first few games in charge, employing two defensive midfielders as opposed to the one we saw under Arena.
All of this led to an ideal start to the Bradley era. After spotting Denmark a goal, the US beat that Scandanavian side 3-1 in January then turned in an excellent, disciplined performance arch-rivals Mexico a few weeks later in Arizona. Mexico was motivated to try and beat the US on American soil for the first time since one of the Reagan administrations and brought most of their World Cup team.
Yet the relatively inexperienced Americans hung another 2-0 loss on the Mexicans who themselves were playing their first game under a new coach, Hugo Sanchez. At this point the pressure began to mount on the Gulati to name Bradley the permanent coach, with former US player Eric Wynalda and Bruce Arena himself leading the calls from the ESPN broadcast booth.
The US continued their winning ways in Tampa beating a solid Ecuadorian side 3-1 thanks to a Landon Donovan hat trick and were held to a 0-0 draw against Guatemala just outside Dallas. In four matches, Bradley had earned the respect of his players, the approval of the fans and a four match unbeaten streak.
Gulati stated that he was going to wait until the end of the European season to name a permanent coach, presumably to see if he could entice a European coach to take the job but many feel that Bradley should have been named after the conclusion of the Guatemala match.
It was clear that he knew how to prepare a young team for big matches, knew how to run a training camp and knew how to get results. Still Gulati waited until last week to give him the position on a permanent basis. What else could Gulati have been waiting on? It only added to an unsettled situation that could not have been easy on Bradley or the players.
If Bradley was displeased about the step-child treatment, he did not let on. He never complained about being restricted to interim status and only spoke about being honored to be coach of the US National team.
“The opportunity to be the National Team coach, whether it was for a day, or a week or a month is something that so few people the chance to do,” he said at the press conference confirming his permanent appoiontment.
The Bradley interim saga has precedent. The US went through a similar process after the 1994 World Cup after the resignation of Bora Milutinovic. Steve Sampson was given the job on an interim basis in the spring of 1995 and earned the job on a permanent basis after the US gained the semifinals of the 1995 Copa America.
While the Sampson era crashed and burned with a last place finish at the 1998 World Cup, few expect the Bradley era to do the same. For one, he has a larger pool of players with more experience at his disposal. Moreover, Bradley has more top level coaching experience than Sampson did, especially domestically, having coached in MLS over the past several years and winning a championship in 1998 with Chicago.
Finally he has the respect of the players, something that Sampson never quite had, espcially the longer his tenure worn on.
Bradley will get his first real test this summer as the US defends its Gold Cup title and ventures to Venezuela to play in the Copa America, the South American championships.
The learning curve for Bradley and this newer, greener US squad will steepen in a hurry, especially with the Copa. Though he may not have the international experience the USSF was looking for, there can be no doubting his preparation and commitment to the task at hand.
Let the Bob Bradley era begin.