A Bolt From The Red, White And Blue
A year ago, the news was expected. Today, it caught almost everyone by surprise. Bob Bradley has been removed as head coach of the US men’s national team. For all of the complaints, so many good things happened on Bradley’s watch that absence will certainly make the hearts of US fans grow fonder. History will be kind to Bradley. Over his five years in charge after taking over from Bruce Arena, Bradley guided the Yanks to a record of 43 wins and 12 draws in 80 matches. Winning a Gold Cup title, a finalists berth in the Confederations Cup and winning their World Cup group in South Africa are all worthy accomplishments. However, the World Cup as a whole was a disappointment, and an embarrassing run through the recent CONCACAF championship was apparently the final straw. Many fans and several commentators have been asking for Bradley's scalp for years. A Cinderella run through the Confederations Cup and Landon Donovan's timely heroics in South Africa gave him a new lease on life. Bradley was given a new contract for another World Cup cycle. That almost never goes well. I've gone on record many times saying it was time for a new direction and that Bradley should go. However, I always took care to add that this was only if the US had a better coach already locked up. We'll soon find if that's the case. Bradley’s critics need to beware. They’ve just been given what they’ve asked for. Now what? For me there are several groups of potential candidates to consider. The Best of MLS would consist of Sigi Schmid, Jason Kreis and Peter Nowak. Schmid says he's ecstatic in Seattle while it would be a risk, in my mind a good one but a risk nonetheless to hire a coach as inexperienced as Kreis. That leaves Nowak who would not need much of a breaking-in period but would likely need convincing to leave his promising project in Philadelphia. Then there are the MLS coaches that would have been near the top of the list but for bad timing. Dominic Kinnear and Frank Yallop have had lots of success but are mired in a dry run. Preki's glitter rubbed off in Toronto and Steve Nicol seems to be grasping at straws in New England. Among the foreign legion, Juergen Klinsmann is once again the hot topic. Remember though, that Germany continued to progress after Klinsmann left while his magic touch turned to dust at Bayern Munich and so far at Toronto. If this had happened a few weeks earlier perhaps a call to Marcelo Bielsa or Rafa Benitez might have hit paydirt. Former Portugal boss Carlos Queiroz is available, but it would likely take more than a reprint to make the author of Project 2010 attractive after the disaster in South Africa. Italy's Marcello Lippi is also available and while the name might be attractive, just like Brazil's Dunga and Carlos Alberto Parreira I hope US Soccer President Sunil Gulati looks elsewhere. While Bradley’s replacement will have to solve the problem of constantly allowing early goals, any coach’s over-emphasis on defense is a knockout blow for me. The US soccer public is eager to break out of the shell and show off a bit. It’s a flawed axiom that you win championships with defense. One I subscribe to is that you win fans by playing an attractive system. However, a truism, one expressed to me by Bradley many years ago, is that coaches are judged by their victories. It's hard to argue. A victory over Mexico in the Gold Cup final, no matter how lucky or ugly and Bradley would still be the US coach. Back in this universe, Gulati is now responsible for lining up the next man in charge. My short list, in addition to Kreis, includes Barcelona assistant Tito Villanova, former Brazil youth coach Marcos Paqueta, now in charge in Libya and former Argentina boss Jose Pekerman. All have shown an ability to mold young players into an attractive, attacking team. If not now, when? My gut tells me Bradley's replacement is either Nowak or Klinsmann. After a dozen years of Arena and Bradley, there are bound to be some dramatic changes no matter who takes over. Whether Thursday’s decision is a launching pad towards future success or just another pit stop won't be certain for years. For now, US soccer fans just hope they’re not being taken for a ride.