This is part two of a series on Bob Bradley. Read Part 1. Deconstructing the Bob Bradley Hate
U.S. fans have been highly critical of Bob Bradley since he took over after the 06 World Cup. As I said last week, we thought they were going to date the hot foreign exchange student in Jurgen Klinnsman, but ended up with the girl next door. The disappointment was palpable. While Bradley deserves some criticism – as all coaches do – he has not gotten enough credit for transforming a program that was entering a new World Cup cycle in real flux, into one that looks settled and strong a year before the World Cup. Additionally, U.S. soccer has never been more respected internationally than it is now, leading to more and more Americans playing at the highest levels abroad. Bradley deserves credit and recognition for being a solid manager and a good steward of the US program.
What Bradley has done right:
1. He successfully rebuilt a decimated squad. Following the 06 World Cup any honest assessment of the U.S. team would have said that it was in a rebuilding period. In the last few years, the U.S. could have easily regressed due to the instability. Yet Bradley has overseen the transition smoothly, and has exhaustively cycled through the player pool giving young players the chance to prove themselves.
To put Bradley’s challenge in perspective: The team that took the field in the first game of the 2006 World Cup team had 6-7 starters that also started the first game of the 02 World Cup (Donovan, Beasley, McBride, Pope, Keller, Mastroeni, Reyna technically didn’t play against Portugal). A projected starting 11 for 2010 (ie the team that started the confed final) would have only 3 players that started the first game of the 06 World Cup.
We lost talented players and the core of the team. We lost the best American striker (McBride), midfielder (Reyna, and perhaps O’brien), most consistent defender Eddie Pope, as well as important members, such as Mastroeni and Lewis, had to be gradually replaced. Additionally, Bobby Convey, who started the 06 World Cup faded due to injuries, and the only American to play in a champions league semifinal, Damarcus Beasley, lost form and may not make it to South Africa.
Bradley has called up a ton of players to the national team over the last three years, which has resulted in the discovery of budding young stars in Altidore, Davies, Edu, and Bradley. He has also added depth to the team, especially in the midfield. He has brought in players like Jose Torres who in the past might have been ignored. Finally, despite the large number of young players he has given them plenty of games, meaning we will enter the World Cup with a young but also somewhat experienced squad.
2. He has gotten results. We have done well in tournaments. We are sitting first in World Cup qualifying. We won the 2007 Gold Cup with a young inexperienced squad, which got us to the confederations cup. We got to the final of a big time global tournament and he took a B/C team to the finals of this years gold cup. His total record is 33 wins, 13 losses, and 5 draws. And is a solid 3-2-1 against Mexico. Pretty solid.
3. We have sought out top quality opponents and competition. Prior to the 06 World Cup, Bruce Arena scheduled friendlies against the likes of Morocco, Angola, and Venezuela. We played nobody going into Germany and as a result looked shell shocked by the Czech Republic in the opening game. US fans clamored for the team to consistently test itself against top European sides. And Bradley has done just that the U.S. has played in England, Spain, and Poland. We also played Argentina in New York. Smartly, this U.S. team has been to South Africa twice, once for a friendly and then for Confed cup.
Perhaps the most gusty decision of all was Bradley’s willingness to take a B/C team to Copa America in 2007. While we were slaughtered, the young players gained valuable experience and many have emerged as regulars or solid candidates for the World Cup team, including players like Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber. Charlie Davies, Sacha Kljestan, Kyle Beckerman, Marvell Wynne, Jay DeMerit, Jonathan Bornstein, and Brad Guzan.
4. He generally gets the tactics right. While we all have complaints – mine tend to focus on Bornstein and Brian Ching – he generally gets the approach to the game right. The formation he eventually settled on during the confederation cup was fantastic. Importantly, he has found a consistent role for Donovan. Even in some of the bad loses this year, Bradley often had a very sensible approach. Against Costa Rica, he put out a squad that was designed to attack Costa Rica and put them on the back foot (Hence, the inclusion of speedy fullbacks in Beasley and Wynne and Torres on the left) Even in the first game against Brazil, Bradley inserted Beasley in the hopes that his pace would neutralize Maicon on the flanks – we haven’t heard from Beasley since. His lineup against Italy a 4-2-3-1 had Italy on their heels and saw the U.S. ahead at halftime – later to capitulate playing with 10.
In generally, U.S. fans should be thankful for the stability that Bradley has brought and should acknowledge that the U.S. program is much better off and more talented than when he took charge. While he is definitely not the sexiest of managers, he has put the U.S. in the position to make a run in 2010.