Bob Bradley, whose contract as coach of the U.S. national soccer team has been extended by four years, said Tuesday that he expects the team to be noticeably different at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil compared with the one that played in South Africa this year.
Whether it will be as successful is another matter.
In this year's tournament, the U.S. finished at the top of a first-round group that included England, Slovenia and Algeria, but it then lost to Ghana in the second round for the second World Cup in a row.
"I think it's hard to give a very specific answer on how different the team will look," Bradley said during a conference call from New York.
"Certainly, when I look back on what's taken place the last four years, I think … we brought some good players into the mix, we got them experience. The balance that the team had, with players who had been there before and with younger players, was a good one.
"We'll need to work in all those ways again. It's important to always make sure that the players in the national team program recognize the competitive part of it."
That recognition was notably absent when the U.S, despite fielding a strong lineup, was soundly beaten, 2-0, by Brazil in an Aug. 10 friendly in New Jersey in a game that saw the South Americans unveil their next generation of stars.
"The work that went into playing at a high level at both the Confederations Cup and at the World Cup, as we begin a new cycle, that begins all over again," Bradley said. "That game served as an important reminder to all of us that to get to that level and above takes improvement in all areas."
Of the 23 players on the U.S. team in South Africa, 13 will be in their 30s by 2014. With the exception of goalkeepers Tim Howard and Brad Guzan, the entire U.S. defense will have to be rebuilt.
Even players such as Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey will have passed the 30 mark, and the remaining younger players will either have to improve significantly or Bradley will have to find new players with greater potential.
Taking the 2010 World Cup squad as a starting point, the 2014 U.S. roster might well be built around a nucleus of goalkeepers Howard and Guzan, midfielders Donovan, Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Stuart Holden, Maurice Edu, Jose Torres and Benny Feilhaber, and forward Jozy Altidore. Whether forward Charlie Davies comes back into the fold after his injuries will be another interesting decision.
In any event, the upheaval on the national team should be significant, with some of the solutions having to be found in time for the June 5-25 CONCACAF Gold Cup in the U.S., with the final set for the Rose Bowl
The winner will qualify for the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil.
"We've all understood the importance of playing in the Confederations Cup, and you can't do that without winning the Gold Cup," Sunil Gulati, the president of U.S. Soccer, said Tuesday. "It's our regional championship, so it is absolutely the top priority."
Meanwhile, the decision to retain Bradley was fairly straightforward, given the coach's 38-21-8 record since taking over the team in 2007.
"His record speaks for itself," Gulati said. "The level of competition that we have had over the last four years is probably tougher than we have ever had in our history. We played Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Holland. The list goes on."
Gulati said he and Bradley had discussed the danger of "staleness" in an eight-year term and of World Cup coaches statistically faring worse the second time around, but these fears had been dismissed.
"I came to the conclusion that the experience and record over the past four years overcame any issue of staleness," Gulati said.
"We now have a coach who has coached 70-plus games internationally. That's experience that Bob didn't have four years ago. That's clearly a plus for us."
Gulati declined to say whether he had considered or contacted any other coaches for the position.
"I'm not going to talk about any conversations we may or may not have had with any other candidate," he said.