Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

A rocky relationship

It was announced yesterday afternoon that U.S. Soccer signed Bob Bradley to a four year extension, thus stating he will be coaching the USMNT through the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.

Over the next few days or weeks, I’m sure we will hear the various reasons or rumors as to why they signed Bradley, and why he decided to sign on. Was it because they couldn’t find someone else? Were his options of coaching for a club team abroad just rumors? A combination of both? Who knows. This is not the point of this article.

This is a lose-lose situation for both parties.

Sunil Gulati was on record post-World Cup saying that he felt the USMNT was capable of more, and whereas they did progress to the group stages, that everyone felt disappointed in the end result and hoped the USMNT would have gone further. Certainly not a ringing endorsement.

Very few national team coaches coach for two World Cup cycles. Those that do typically do not very well on their second go-round. Bruce Arena and Marcelo Lippi spring to mind as recent second cycle failures.

Bradley's finest moment as a coach?

Bob Bradley has done a good job so far. He won the Gold Cup in 07, got second at the Confederations Cup in 09 and led the USMNT out of the group stages this summer, winning the group in the process. He’s put together a good core of players who are very industrious hard workers, and installed a brilliant never-say-die attitude that ensures their opponents can never let up for a second.

The problem is that he’s now fresh out of ideas. Bradley’s loyalty to players (e.g., Clark, Bornstein) cost them many a goal and game. Their inconsistency game to game was due to him not always getting the tactics right, but also due to who was available to him. How is any of this going to change in the next four years?

What made him successful in the last four years will not work in the next four. The USMNT, more than any other national team (aside from maybe Italy, France and England) are in need of a major overhaul. Bradley will have to let go of some of the older players that have been consistent with his time in charge (Cherundolo, Bocanegra, Gooch, etc.) and it’s always best to bring in a new coach to do so.

Change needs to happen from the top.

Bob Bradley
Bradley was a master of getting the best out of his players. With a couple of exceptions, the USMNT players were more formidable as a team than as individual players for their respective clubs. Bradley got them to buy into his system. Sometimes this worked (as did it against Spain, Egypt, the first half against Brazil, etc.), but when it didn’t, it had a lot to do with his pre-match tactics and the players he chose.

Sweats...doing the best with what he had.

The problem as a national team manager is you have to make do with what you have. You just can’t go out and buy a player to play left back. The USMNT were definitely lacking international class players in certain positions, so Bradley’s accomplishments were that much more impressive.

As a club coach, whether it be in the UK or in The Netherlands, he has a greater chance of formulating a team that he wants than he does with the USMNT. He can go out and buy players, oversee a youth system, and experiment with style and formation during a pre-season and over the course of 38 plus games.

He could then use his impressive motivational powers and coaching abilities to bring a team up from where they currently are and improve upon their standings.

Bradley would be best suited with a team that needs a kick in the pants and who would buy into his system. Bradley in turn needs a team that isn’t full of superstars and prima donnas, but one with players molded into the type of person he is.

Coaching a mid-level Premier League team, or better yet an up-and-coming Championship team, Bradley could then hone in on his weaker attributes (formations and pre-match planning).

After some time then maybe he could come back and coach the USMNT. He would be bringing in fresh new ideas and systems that could take the U.S. to the next level.

All in all this just smacks of settling. Two parties who just didn’t want to break up; who had a good run, but ultimately they should move on. Instead, they’re giving it another go. Hopefully they will work it out, but as we and I know too well, it rarely happens.

23 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Paul on 2010/08/31 at 8:47 AM

    Good points. Is Bradley just fresh out of ideas, or is he either too stubborn or incapable of getting his team to play well outside his preferred defensive style?

    My fear is that Bradley looks “safe” and “practical” at this point in the Cup cycle, but his inflexibility–in terms of tactics, formations, ability to motivate players–points towards a letdown in the coming four years. Can Bradley–against all evidence to the contrary—coach an approaching generation of increasingly offensive-minded players, adjust to contemporary five man midfields, successfully integrate non-favored players into the starting lineup, and fix continual problems in his squad (i.e. deep positioning of the mids and defensive line that allowed for far too many goals; the early goals and slow starts)? I have my doubts. Bradley looks safe because few options, beyond Klinsman, were examined, and the importance of change in international football was undervalued.


    • Posted by dth on 2010/08/31 at 10:16 AM

      See below as to his alleged inflexibility. It’s also tough to classify Bob’s teams as defensive when you look at the data:
      Hex: 1st in goals, 3rd in goals allowed
      Confed Cup: 2nd in goals, last in goals allowed
      World Cup: top 10 in goals, bottom 10 in goals allowed.


      • Posted by Paul on 2010/08/31 at 3:20 PM

        I did consider this info when writing my comment. Many American commentators wrongly assume that the US is still at the level of scoring merely through the dead ball or the counter.

        One can play poor defense but still be a defensive squad; further, scoring goals is not necessarily a sign that a team isn’t playing defensively. When arguing for Bradley’s defensive philosophy, I would put the emphasis upon the following points: first, Bradley’s favored 4-4-2 formation with two defensive mids; second, the emphasis upon defensive tactics and the counter when playing similiarly-skilled opponents; third, and most importantly, the superior play of the team when in defensive rather than attacking game situations. I would also point towards the raw experience of watching the US: did the US look more comfortable in attack–in all phases of the game–or when playing defensively?

        Bradley’s status quo seems to be more conservative, defensive play. This is a point I thought was universally accepted, but your argument is well taken. The facts do not back up how Bradley plays his team–which is a reason why I think the hire is wrong.


        • Posted by dth on 2010/08/31 at 3:32 PM

          Does Bradley really like playing two defensive mids? Seems to me Edu/Clark is a dedicated DM while Bradley plays a box-to-box role.

          And while I concede many of your points, I think it’s hard to argue with the fact that the U.S.’s strength was scoring goals, that the U.S. outpossessed its opponents three of the four World Cup games if you want to claim that the U.S.’s basic outlook is defensive. It’s hard to argue with this when you consider how much license Bob gives mediocre fullbacks to get up and down the pitch. In fact, I think the U.S. appeared most comfortable attacking in a 4-2-3-1 with Dempsey in the hole just behind a striker, with Feilhaber and Donovan on the wings with Bradley making runs into the box. That’s the formation that produced great soccer in the second halves of the Slovenia and Ghana games. So, no, I disagree: the U.S. looks most comfortable as an attacking team; that it has a dearth of top-tier offensive talent doesn’t change the fact that it likes to attack.


        • Posted by Jared on 2010/09/01 at 5:28 AM

          If Bradley isn’t defensively minded then why did he wait to go to the attacking 4-2-3-1 until the US was either losing or in need of a goal to advance? The team did look most comfortable in that formation but clearly Bradley wasn’t comfortable with it since he refused to use that at the start of matches.


  2. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/08/31 at 8:50 AM

    I agree. Both parties had ideas above their station – USSF thinking they could get somebody better, and Bradley thinking he could get a top tier club team in Europe. Both have had a reality check and landed back on earth.


  3. Posted by maxq on 2010/08/31 at 9:36 AM

    I don’t understand the “Bradley is too set in his ways” argument.

    Earlier in the cycle, he played a 4-5-1, later a 4-3-3, and then we saw a 4-2-3-1 in some WC games and the Brazil friendly.

    In terms of player selections, he had “safe” options in Conor Casey and Brian Ching, but chose instead to go with the in-form Buddle and Gomez. This point in particular is pretty remarkable, considering that Buddle and Gomez had hardly even been considered for the USMNT at any point prior to WC 2010.

    Yes, playing Rico instead of Edu v. Ghana was a mistake. So what? Coaches, even good ones, make lineup mistakes. See: Capello playing Millner instead of SWP.


    • Posted by Jared on 2010/08/31 at 11:49 AM

      We saw the 4-2-3-1 in the WC at halftime after we were outplayed in a 4-4-2 during the first half. Sweats then repeated that mistake in the next game and made the same tactical changes.

      He may have gone with Buddle and Gomez but it’s not like he actually used them very much. If he had used them instead of Findley the US would have done much better as Findley is useless.

      The Rico mistake is tough to defend though because Edu had done well in the previous games while Rico had struggled. Even Bradley’s excuse didn’t make much sense because he claimed that Edu was tired while the rest of his starting 11 in the Ghana game had played more minutes than Edu. As for Capello playing Milner instead of SWP, I’m not really sure that you can use Capello as an example of a good coach when it comes to the international game.

      It is tough to classify Bob’s team or tactics as I’m not sure they or even Bradley himself seems to know what is best for the squad. Which to me is another failing of his ability.

      I think he’s a better choice than switching to a different MLS coach like Sigi Schmid or Dom Kinnear though.

      I really hope that he finds a way to incorporate the passing ability of Torres without trying to force him into the Clark/Edu role alongside Bradley.


    • Posted by Paul on 2010/08/31 at 3:27 PM

      Yes, Bradley peroidically used different formations. However, a good number of those instances resulted from his overreliance on his version of the 4-4-2/personel decisions, and his teams really never achieved performed as well as in the 4-4-2.


  4. Posted by SamsArmySam on 2010/08/31 at 12:40 PM

    I’m just a fan, so don’t take my word for it. Let’s see what someone like Sir Alex has to say (quote from just after WC10): “I’m surprised the USA have not sprinted to his house to get him a new contact…. I think that what he’s achieved with the USA has been very good.”


  5. Posted by robbie on 2010/08/31 at 1:42 PM

    You guys are seriously overreacting. It’s a win-win for US soccer by hiring Bradley. Since his pay is so low (comparatively), they will have the opportunity to replace him pretty much at any time.

    Worst Case for USSF:
    For example, let’s say the US bow out next year in the Gold Cup to someone like Costa Rica. There have also been some poor showings at friendlies. Sunil gives Bob the axe and runs back to Jurgy. Two years into the cycle is way too late for Jurgy to try and change the culture of US Soccer, giving him no choice but to let the control stay with Sunil.

    Best case:
    Bob lights the world on fire and Sunil looks like a genius.

    Bradley is still squarely on the hotseat. Jurgen is not going anywhere, and Sunil knows that.


    • Posted by robbie on 2010/08/31 at 1:45 PM

      If the situation warrants it, Jurgen will be the coach. This isn’t the end-all decision it seems to be.


      • Posted by sfshwebb on 2010/08/31 at 1:50 PM

        Robbie – The issue isn’t the money per say, but hiring a new coach midway through a cycle is disruptive to players and whatever system they’re into (as you mentioned).

        Unlike with club managerial changes midway through seasons etc.. (which only help to potentially secure a club from relegation versus doing anything good with them), national teams don’t meet often enough for players to quickly learn a new system, coach etc… Likewise a coach doesn’t have much time to prepare and scout all the players he wants. With some countries it doesn’t matter (Mexico this past cycle when they fired Sven), but the USMNT needs stability and needs to grow under one person to really improve.


        • Posted by robbie on 2010/08/31 at 7:22 PM

          Yeah, I suppose it would be a major shock to the foundation. But if the building is crumbling, I’m confident that the powers that be will do what is necessary.

          I think we will all see by the end of next year whether or not Bradley has learned from his mistakes. If he hasn’t and is digressing, I’m not sure we will have any other choice.

          Jurgen is always going to be sitting there watching the proceedings. If things turn sour, I’d expect a move, and fast.

          Man, I just don’t know about Bob. A big-name foreign coach would generate muuch more excitement, but would excitement translate to positive results? Right now I want that excitement and the unknown, but I’m not sure it’s the right decision.


        • Posted by dikranovich on 2010/09/01 at 6:30 AM

          didnt klinsmann take over germany with just two years to go before the 06 world cup? really when you think about klinsmann, he would probably get bored if he had to go four years. and klinsmann as much time as he spends in california is probably just as up to speed on american players and american style than he was with germany players and german style back in 04


        • Posted by dikranovich on 2010/09/01 at 6:34 AM

          you know, when you really think about it, if klinsmann wanted the job of us mens team coach, he could easily get a job in MLS and if he did well, he would be a virtual shoe in to be national team coach. of course there is the pressure of him not doing well in MLS and as such he would maybe no longer be considered for the spot. would it be right for us soccer to ask the great klinsmann to sort of prove himself before he takes control of our national team?


  6. Posted by maxq on 2010/08/31 at 1:52 PM

    I hope Jurgen runs off to Korea or somewhere because I’m tired of hearing about him.


  7. Posted by Bob on 2010/08/31 at 11:58 PM

    I think this analysis is spot on. I have been trying to defend the decision all day, but it really is hard to do. If both sides were struggling to break up, then why not extend the deal for two years like England did with Capello? Then, a change could occur without a lot of drama as everyone would know from the beginning it was only a two year deal.


  8. Posted by KickinNames... on 2010/09/01 at 7:02 AM

    Excellent analytical, unemotional commentary above. But in my mind, Bob fired himself when he SUBBED Clark at 30 mins against Ghana. In that move, he admitted that, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, he had done major damage to his teams chances BEFORE the whistle had even blown.
    (Seriously, how many of us sent or received texts after the lineup was posted that day simply saying: CLARK!!??&%*@ etc. )

    Again, great points that his “adaptability” with 2nd half formations and players is not an asset. It’s an indictment of the fact that he makes poor, stubborn pre-game decisions regarding his players.

    Re Player development and player deployment- Buddle was scoring goals coming into the tournament even it at MLS level, he was scoring goals! Jozie was tweeting his way into oblivion with Hull (20+ GP/1 G). I know there is a lot of Jozie love here at TSG but in bigtime soccer you go with the goals. You make hard decisions and go with the goals.

    Bornstein at LB. He surprised against Ghana in some aspects but presented a ton of challenges for your CB’s and CM’s due to his shakiness as a wide option from the back in positioning, basic soccer sense and one on one defending in or near the box. You can see how his teammates stop playing the ball to and through him. Cuts off options. Bad.

    Conor Casey. Seriously. Conor Casey.

    He should get some credit for Charlie’s blossoming but where was he prior to Confed Cup? That looks more and more like lightning in a bottle (blind squirrel vs nut…)

    I actually was looking forward to a new coach forcing Mikey into a more disciplined role going forward that takes advantage of his best attributes. I don’t think his Dad has done that for him. It remains to be seen if he can find that discipline himself and take another step at the intl level. I think he has it in him to be a Ballack (vintage 2002) type player internationally for US but…

    I like the light at the end of the tunnel points voiced by a few. That low salary equals cheap CONCACAF early qualifyiing and I think that Klinnsman is still in their plans should Bob not be able to adapt.

    Good stuff.


  9. […] Federation director Sunil Gulati’s long-awaited coaching decision, and fixate they did. As this Shin Guardian poll and subsequent article indicates, Gulati’s choice to not “break up” with Bradley was polarizing, and the general public sentiment trended […]


  10. Posted by s44 on 2010/09/01 at 1:44 PM

    If Gulati can’t bring himself to go for new blood, then he’s showing that we need new blood in his spot as well.


  11. Posted by Nady on 2010/09/01 at 4:29 PM

    We need to get rid of both Gulati and Bradley. Unfortunataley USSF re-elected Gulati BEFORE WC in March. How smart was that? The whole thing stinks. I hope Bradley is booed in the next Friendly and there are signs hanging Gulati in effigy.
    Should have hired Klinsmann. Big mistake, AGAIN!


    • Posted by scweeb on 2010/09/01 at 4:33 PM

      Hmm so i always surf a couple soccer sites a day and it seems allot of people are upset with Gulati but really have no collective voice. So how can we change this so are voice is heard. How can we as american soccer fans not only on this site but on others and supporters club start being heard?


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