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Bob Bradley fired as U.S. coach

It's not all Bradley's fault that the U.S. team didn't advance further. Much of the responsibility lands on the players, and a lot of it is a cultural thing.

July 28, 2011|Grahame L. Jones | On Soccer
  • U.S. Soccer Coach Bob Bradley was fired on Thursday.
U.S. Soccer Coach Bob Bradley was fired on Thursday. (Srdjan Suki / EPA )

The inevitable has come to pass and Bob Bradley is no longer coach of the U.S. men's national soccer team.

Is that a sigh of relief heard across the land?

Is that a cheer from quarters near and far that a coach much unloved but nonetheless moderately successful has been handed his pink slip?

If so, don't sigh too quickly; don't cheer too loudly.

"Banality Bob," as Bradley was dubbed by veteran Soccer America columnist Paul Gardner, is not the sole cause of American soccer's inability to raise its game to a higher level.

The players have as much responsibility as Bradley for the failure by the national team to get beyond the second round of the World Cup in South Africa last summer and the failure to win the Gold Cup in the U.S. this summer.

They made far too many unforced errors. They believed the guff that pulling on a U.S. shirt was enough to cow opponents. For far too long they have exhibited a sense of entitlement. In short, they think they are better than they actually are.

Similarly, the coaches of college and professional teams all across the U.S. must also bear a good share of the blame. They have consistently failed to produce players who can make a difference at the highest level.

The American system turns out athletes — players who run, players who jump, players who put every ounce of physical effort and every scrap of energy into a game — but it does not turn out players who think, players who improvise, players who can conjure up magic because soccer is in their blood.

It's a cultural thing, and Bradley cannot be blamed for that.

After returning from the Under-17 World Cup in Mexico a few weeks ago, U.S. Under-17 Coach Wilmer Cabrera was asked by Soccer America's Mike Woitalla why the American youngsters had once again fallen short.

His answer was enlightening and helps to explain why Bradley on Thursday was dismissed by U.S. Soccer one year into his second four-year term.

"We have a group of players who cannot yet compete at the highest level with the top teams in the world," Cabrera said.

"At this age, our boys in the United States, they're very young, they're immature. At this age in the top countries, they're already men. They're more mature. They're more professional. They have a more professional mentality.

"In other countries, like Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina — at that age they're more survivors. They have to suffer more. They have to mature earlier.

"In Europe, they've been in competition and are being developed at younger ages. In Germany, the best athletes practice soccer. That's the most important sport for them. They know that's their life. That's their future. Over here, guys, they're teenagers and they practice soccer for fun.

"That's a cultural environment and we cannot change that in moments or days, or because there's a tournament."

The rest of the world has a jump start, in other words, and no amount of flag-waving motivational speeches, no amount of tactical lessons in front of a chalk board, no amount of training and planning can overcome that.

Bradley is an intelligent man. He knows his soccer. He enjoys studying the game. He delights in interacting with fellow coaches around the globe. He did not set out to fail. He ended up with a 43-25-12 record, nothing to be ashamed of by any means.

His greatest success came in defeating European champion and future world champion Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup. That was his high point. It was all downhill from there.

Gaunt, intense, shaven-headed, and all too fond of circling the wagons around his players and assistants, he exhibited all the signs of an "us-versus-them" mentality. If you weren't with him, you must be against him. The stare said you were an outsider.

It did not help his cause with the media or with the fans. They loved the players when the U.S. won; they hated the coach when the U.S. lost. It was a no-win situation for Bradley.

He walks away now, probably with enough on hand to tide him over until a Major League Soccer team comes calling, which it will, but no doubt with a sense of unfinished business.

The trouble is, it would never have been finished. Bradley needed to shake things up, he needed to go out on a limb and take some risks, he needed to do what he could not bring himself to do.

The answer — for whichever coach is named as his successor — is to explore new territory. Go beyond the ranks of MLS and the U.S. players overseas. Go into the barrios. Look for kids playing in unregistered leagues. Do some real scouting at the grass-roots level. Accept that the price of long-term success might be short-term failure.

If Mexico can do it, so can the U.S.

Gardner's observation after Mexico had beaten the U.S. in the Gold Cup final at the Rose Bowl was right on target.

"That Mexican team that shredded the USA last Saturday . . . that could be the USA," Gardner wrote. "Simply change their shirts — because we have a growing abundance of Latin talent in this country that could produce that sort of team, with that sort of style."

The question now is: Can U.S. Soccer summon up the courage to find it and the right coach to develop it?

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