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U.S. rehires Bob Bradley through 2014

30 August 2010

Why did it take two months to get a new deal? Ask Sunil.

Since I’m a more passionate fan of the U.S. men’s national team than Fulham, even with my growing devotion to the Cottagers, this news is worth a post tangentially related to this blog.

When I heard the news, my emotions were sort of blank, much like they have been every time I have considered whether Bob deserved to come back for a second term. Personally, I didn’t want him back, since having watched practically every match in his first four years, my subjective opinion of his work is lower than what the accomplishments on paper actually should be worth.

Every one of Bob’s accomplishments comes with a serious caveat. He led us past Mexico in the 2007 Gold Cup, with the 2009 Confederations Cup berth at stake, with our guys playing probably their best 45 minutes of soccer in his tenure. However, few recall that Canada was utterly robbed of an injury-time equalizer against us in the semifinals and had all the momentum and was up a man heading into what should have been 30 more minutes.

We advanced to the final of that Confederations Cup by virtue of an upset for the ages over now European and World champion Spain and almost took out Brazil, too. Of course, the first two games in the event were red-card addled losses, with the first meeting with Brazil strongly in the running for worst performance of the decade for the Nats.

We finished first in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament, but had Carlos Pavon not skied a late penalty kick and then somehow missed an open header from five yards out, we would have headed into the final game against Costa Rica needing a result just to be sure of qualifying. We also got thrashed in Costa Rica for what feels like the 12th straight time and allowed Mexico a late winner to lose once again at the Azteca.

We won our group in the World Cup for the first time in the modern era and showed onions Bill Raftery would be proud of, but we only led for a total of three minutes in the weakest group we have ever drawn and lost a Round of 16 game to Ghana that clearly was winnable, with a very possible path to the semis in place.

By the end of his tenure, Bob Bradley clearly had found the switch for his team and could draw colossal effort from them. That should be applauded. Then again, maybe they wouldn’t have needed such heroics if he could fix the team’s maddening problem of allowing early goals and his World Cup lineup/formation issues that required repeated early substitutions to fix. It’s like Bob learned how to make in-game adjustments but fell into a Memento-like problem of not carrying those lessons learned into the next match, only to repeat them.

I don’t generally like the idea of a coach earning a second term with a national side. That’s eight years of the same ideas, same biases, same thoughts, which basically encompasses an entire generation’s prime. You have to be very certain that your coach is worthy of that type of impact and, despite all of Bob’s accomplishments and loyal service, I saw more than enough during the past four years to say I think we should have tried harder to find someone else.

That said, he’s our coach (again) and I look forward to next summer’s Gold Cup and the start of World Cup qualification in 2012. To his credit, Bob really built up strength and depth in the midfield this past cycle, and now he’ll have to overhaul the defense in this one. Fortunately, there’s a lot of good young backline talent that should blossom in time for the Cup in Brazil. If we can find a forward or two that can stick a ball in the back of the net (get the citizenship process started on Danny Mwanga NOW!), we could fare quite well next time around.

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