This is part one of a two part series. Part 2 on Why Bob Deserves Praise will follow shortly
It seems the only way to be a committed follower of the USMNT online is to hate on Bob Bradley. It’s understandable. The disappointment was palpable when The USSF settled on Bradley after Klinsmann turned us down. U.S. fans thought they were about to date the hot foreign exchange student in school and ended up with the girl next door. I get it. I have plenty of tactical quibbles with Bradley. But this happens with every manager in every sport, no matter how good they are. Managers should be criticized, but the incessant calling for Bradley’s head is not reflective of any deep knowledge or understanding of the game – but of a general child-like impatience and fantasy-manager mindset that believes there are quick fixes to making the U.S. a great world power. There aren’t.
In general, US fans have not given the guy enough credit for managing the team and turning this World Cup cycle from one that once clearly seemed about rebuilding, to one about competing. Here are five arguments why hating Bob Bradley is wrong.
First, the sky is falling view of U.S. soccer that calls for Bradley’s head contradicts itself. For instance, see the MLS Talk podcast with Kartik at MLS Talk, Jamie Trecker, and Richard Farley of World Soccer Reader. They first make the claim that we don’t have talented players – asserting that this US team is not as good as the ones that came before and that US soccer is falling down in producing talented players. But in their next breathe they argue what is needed is a new coach. That doesn’t make any sense. If we have no talent, a new coach would do little or nothing to improve the situation. If all the players suck than Bradley should get even more credit for confederations cup and WC qualifying. The only way their arguments make any sense is if they believe that it is Bob Bradley’s job in the few weeks of the year that he coaches US players to transform them into American Xavi’s or Iniesta’s.
Second, these doomsayers neglect actual results. Bradley has had a very successful record as manager. We have reached a real global CUP FINAL – that contrary to their dismissive claims was a big big deal, it drew a lot of attention, and was clearly cared about immensely in Spain and Brazil (Lucio’s tears?). We also beat Mexico in a tournament final to get to South Africa. We are on top of Concacaf qualifying when the region is the best it has been in years. We are more and more respected abroad as a footballing nation and more of our players are breaking through in the best European clubs.
Third, yes the performances have been uneven and Bradley deserves criticism, but that is partly because of the way lesser sides approach playing us now. I think many fans expect the U.S. to dominate lesser sides, winning comfortably and playing beautifully. And that is at times a fair expectation. But we have to remember that we are now treated as giants in concacaf, which means unlike 15 years ago teams sit back against us, hoping for a draw or to knick a winner. It is therefore hard for us to break other teams down. A well-organized and disciplined team can give anyone fits. Top sides in England don’t always roll over the bottom sides, because those sides put 10 men behind the ball to make it difficult.
Bradley does deserve criticism for some of the uneven performances and the genuine lack of urgency from the players in Trinidad, but uneven performances happen in international soccer. After England’s game against Slovenia, many in the British press jumped on it saying it showed that England wasn’t that great after all. Now after Croatia there are shouts of England winning the World Cup. Getting consistency out of players you get for a few weeks a year is tough. We should expect more, and Bradley should have probably sent a message at half time by taking off Dempsey or maybe Clark – but in the end these are tactical disagreements and in he left Clark in and WE WON.
Fourth, I don’t really hear a strong tactical critique. I am not sure what any of the critics would really do all that differently in terms of team tactics and strategy. On the MLS Talk podcast I heard ideas of Dempsey upfront (who sits?), get rid of Bornstein (agree totally, but Boca is not exactly speedy), and clamors for Torres (again for whom?). I don’t disagree all that much with those points really – but there are some tradeoffs in each and I don’t see how any of these disagreements merits firing the guy.
Fifth, foreign managers are no guarantee of success – and can be very risky. Believe me I was all about Klinsmann as well. It would be great to have someone from outside the U.S. assess our talent pool and our development system. Maybe Klinsmann would have transformed the U.S. into the free flowing attacking team that resembled the German 06 world cup side. But perhaps we would have disappointed just as Bayern Munich did last year. Maybe he would have been a disaster like Sven was with Mexico. So I read with dismay MLS Talk already lining up a replacement: Leo Beenhakker who just got fired as Poland’s manager after a miserable qualifying campaign. Really? A guy who had a decent Polish side and failed to make an impact is the answer?
Underlying the calls for firing Bradley is a deeper self-doubt about America’s place in the soccer world. Frankly, the idea that it is somehow beyond an American to effectively manage at the highest levels, is something I don’t expect to hear from Americans! We may not yet have managers that are tactical geniuses, but we have a pretty developed winning culture in this country known for producing excellent managers. On the bright side, part of developing a better soccer culture is developing a rabid fan base that demands managers to be fired before the season even starts – looks like we are well on our way.