What has Bob Bradley done for U.S. soccer lately?

Jun 14 2011 - 5:41pm

I'm sure United States men's national soccer team manager Bob Bradley didn't think the wolf would be at his door so quickly.

Bradley knew the 2011 CONCACF Gold Cup was going to play a huge role in solidifying confidence in his rehiring last August.

But on Saturday, Team USA was rolled like fish, dropping a 2-1 decision to Panama for its first-ever loss in 27 Gold Cup group-play (first-round) games.

The USA should -- and I emphasize should -- move on to the knockout stage of the tournament for the championship of the North and Central America and Caribbean region by beating tiny Guadeloupe on Tuesday in Kansas City, Kan.

Still, Bradley should be feeling the heat.

It wasn't just losing to Panama, against whom the United States entered the game 6-0-2 all-time. It was that the USA displayed the same negative traits that had a lot of people, including myself, saying that the national team needed a fresh face when it instead took the safe route by sticking with Bradley.

Tell me if you haven't seen the pattern in the loss to Panama before?

The United States has shaky defensive play in front of goalkeeper Tim Howard and gives up a horrible early goal. The American strikers again show little ability to actually put the ball in the net. And then the United States scrambles to pull itself out of a hole, goes hell-bent for the final 45 minutes, but comes up a bit short at the end.

That's been the modus operandi for Team USA since the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa.

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa was fool's gold as far as actual progress for U.S. soccer under Bradley. Yes, the United States won a World Cup group for the first time in 80 years, but the disappointing loss to Ghana in the round of 16 left them with a sobering 1-1-2 record with five goals scored and five surrendered. Since the World Cup, Team USA is an unimpressive 2-4-4, with all four losses on American soil.

So, where is all the "building on past success" that U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said would happen when Bradley was reappointed? Gulati, himself, pointed out the negative history of coaches returning to a national team for a second World Cup cycle and then said he elected to ignore it.

"In the end, I came to the conclusion that the experience and the record, the work over the last four year, overcame any issues about staleness," Gulati said at Bradley's rehiring.

I wonder how Gulati and the boys in Chicago feel about eating stale, month-old bread?

Nothing has changed, and, honestly, it doesn't look like anything is going to change under Bradley anytime soon.

I'll ask the same questions I've asked for the entire Bradley tenure:

What style of play does United States soccer have?

What is the plan when USA soccer starts a match?

Falling behind and then switching to helter-skelter mode is not a style of play.

Being a national team manager is also about creating a direction that starts at the youth levels and continues to the senior national team.

Like the United States, a lot of nations have their best players playing abroad in more lucrative professional leagues. But when Brazilians return to their national team they incorporate their individual skills into the Brazil-style they grew up with. Germans play the German way; Spaniards play the Spanish way; Englishmen play the English way; Mexicans play the Mexican way, etc, etc, etc.

That common connection allows them to mesh into cohesive units when they come together with their national teams. For nations that don't have as much overall talent, like the USA, that dynamic is even more critical.

What's the American way?

When Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Stuart Holden return from the English Premier League to join Carlos Bocanegra, who plays in France, Jozy Altidore, who plays in Turkey, and Landon Donovan, Tim Ream and Juan Agudelo, who play in Major League Soccer, what style do they instinctively play?

That was the shortsightedness that Gulati and U.S. Soccer showed when they decided to stick with the same-old, same-old. It seems like Bradley's teams don't do much of anything with a set purpose.

But soccer nations are infamous for firing ineffective coaches. Bradley is contracted through the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but qualification hasn't begun. There is still time for USA Soccer to switch to a fresher vision.

The USA being eliminated from the Gold Cup, especially if it comes after a group loss to Guadeloupe on Tuesday night, might cause the wolf lurking at Bradley's door to viciously bite.

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