This post originally ran on sister site Project 2010. It’s a good piece that addresses a hot subject in US Soccer. Thus, I have reposted it here.
We’ll admit that we have never been Bob Bradley’s biggest fans, but we’ve also tried to refrain from calling for his head. That was until the Brazil match. Given the US’s performances over the past few weeks, it has become doubtlessly clear that our current coach is not the man for the job. While all of our problems can’t be attributed to Bradley, we have a number of problems for which he is either partially for fully responsible:
SQUAD SELECTION – If you look at our history of posts, it’ll be pretty apparent that we tend to disagree with Bradley most of the time–we’d prefer more opportunities for Cooper and fewer for Hejduk, for example. These are admittedly minor disputes. But Bradley continues to make more and more indefensibly poor decisions. Players like Pearce, Johnson, and Kljestan have been given numerous opportunities long after they lost their form. The worst of all is Beasley. Bradley’s decision to give him a start against Brazil–three games after it was abundantly clear that he should not be seeing the field any time soon–is absolutely unforgivable.
TACTICS – I don’t like the 4-5-1. One can make a valid argument about why this is a perfectly fine formation, but it’s becoming quite clear that the US are unable to execute it effectively. Even against poor opponents, most of our goals come from set pieces–not from the run of play. It is extremely hard to score goals when you play a formation and set of tactics that are designed solely to stifle the opposition. Against top competition (England, Spain, Argentina, Italy, and Brazil), we have now allowed 9 goals and scored only 1 off a penalty. Egypt is comparably talented (arguably less), yet they are able to take the game to teams like Italy and Brazil. This is because they are willing to take a risk and play creative, attacking soccer. To those who say we don’t have the tools, I would retort, despite what we see in Bradley’s system, (Michael) Bradley, Feilhaber, Torres, Adu, Dempsey, Donovan, and Altidore would benefit greatly from a more offensive approach.
While it is very difficult to find an effective system that utilizes all of the best available players in their preferred positions, it is important to mold your tactics and formation around the players you have available to you–not the other way around. These have become the norm: Dempsey as a right winger; Donovan as a left winger; Beasley as a left back; Bradley as a strict defensive midfielder; Kljestan as a defensive midfielder; Altidore as a lone target striker; Bocanegra as a center back; etc. There is no reason that we should have so many players playing out of position on a regular basis. As a coach, Bradley should be most concerned with figuring out how to get the most out of each of his players, not how to jam them into his preferred formation.
MOTIVATION – In 3 of the last 4 games, we have given up the first goal in the first 7 minutes. In 4 of the last 5 games, we have gone down 0-2, 0-3, 0-1, and 0-3 before scoring a goal (if we scored at all). The team is obviously not coming out of the locker room ready to play. Obviously Bradley can’t be blamed entirely for this, but it is a clear problem that he has failed to address.
DISCIPLINE – Again, this cannot be blamed entirely on Bradley, but there is something very wrong with a team that consistently tackles hard and lunges in late. Not only are we giving up too many free kicks in dangerous positions, but we’re receiving far too many yellow and red cards. You don’t want to let teams like Brazil and Italy walk all over you, but keeping 11 men on the field should be a priority.
WHO WE SHOULD BRING IN – I know this is vague, but it should be a proven coach from outside the US Soccer system. The problem with the USSF is that it’s the ultimate “good old boys” network–everyone seems to be a lifer. For years, our only hope to stay competitive was to play a stifling brand of soccer that usually keeps games close against superior competition (and unfortunately keeps games close against inferior competition, too). Everyone in the system is intimately familiar with this style (NOTE: Wilmer Cabrera might be the exception to this rule), and it is not the style that’s going to take us to the next tier in world soccer. We need a fresh perspective. We need someone who doesn’t already have a set of favorites. We need someone who is willing to approach the USMNT (not the entire USSF, mind you) and rebuild it from scratch, best utilizing the tools we have available to us. A big task–yes. But with about a year until the World Cup, it is still possible to accomplish this task. I’d say, if we’re going to get rid of Bradley, we should do it right now. If, however, we’re only planning to replace him with the next in line in the USSF, I’d say don’t bother.
This brings me to another point–the idea that we need to have someone who knows the “quirky” US system. I don’t buy this at all. In fact, I want someone who knows nothing about the system. I don’t understand why, when so many people acknowledge that there are so many problems with player development in this country, these same people demand someone who “gets it.” All that does is further the problem.
Let’s look at former San Jose Earthquake Guus Hiddink as an example. (Yes, I’ll admit it. He would be my dream choice. And yes, I know he’s not available.) Do you really believe that the player development infrastructure in South Korea is the same as it is in Holland or Russia? I really doubt it. Yet he went to South Korea and Russia, shook things up, and got these teams playing as a unit and above their ability. While Russia has good individual talent, as a whole they are not much better off (if at all) than the US. Yet they were able to make a great (and entertaining, unlike some teams…cough…Greece…cough) run at Euro 2008, fearlessly running at supposedly superior teams. I realize that Hiddink is arguably the best manager in the world, and that not every new foreign coach would have this effect, but that is not my point. He was able to succesfully step into unfamiliar systems and shake things up. And it would seem that not knowing the system–the ability to approach his job with a fresh set of eyes–was key to helping him accomplish this.
WHY BRADLEY PROBABLY WON’T GET FIRED – There seem to be two ways to get fired from the US head coaching position:
1. Fail to qualify for the World Cup
2. Fail to get out of the group stage of the World Cup
The first is extremely unlikely to happen, so almost all coaches get at least 4 years to implement their systems. Confederations Cup, Gold Cup, Copa America, and other like competitions don’t mean too much to the USSF. As long as we continue our streak of World Cup qualifications, all is OK. Here’s the scary part…
If, by some miracle, Bradley gets us to the knock-outs of the World Cup, prepare yourselves for four more years.