On the field… not nearly as much as some will make out. All I was thinking was that if that Brazil doesn’t come out for the second half like a speeding freight train, Dunga makes Bob Bradley look like Knute Rockne. But Dunga isn’t a bad coach (just a bad dresser), and Brazil was demonstrably better at 10 out of 11 positions than the US. Does the loss hurt? Tremendously. Does the achievement of beating Egypt and Spain to reach a FIFA semifinal still count for something? Yes.
Most importantly for many fans, Bob Bradley clearly saved his own skin here. Nothing other than an outright collapse in the remaining qualifiers can cost him his job now, and there simply isn’t anything anyone can do about it. Do I think there are better coaches available to US Soccer than Bradley right now? Yes, I do, but it is completely and utterly irrelevant. To paraphrase a far worse leader than Bradley, “You go to South Africa with the coach you have, not the coach you want.”
On the field, this tournament proved two big things to me:
- The national team’s biggest problem (not their only one) is a mental one. For 2-1/2 matches, this team proved, that when its head is in the right place, it can stand toe-to-toe with nearly anyone. Will they always win? Nope, but when everyone is clicking, this team can, at least, frighten any team in the world. The key question going into the World Cup to me, what has to happen for the US to have the correct mindset consistantly.
- Secondly, Bob Bradley already knows exactly who is going to play at the World Cup. Don’t expect any surprises and that includes Edgar Castillo or Jermaine Jones. As we’ve seen, once Bradley decides he likes you (Beasley, Dempsey, Kljestan, Bornstein, Casey), it takes a near self-immolation in form (Beasley, again) to spur a change. Freddy Adu is not going to play in 2010, neither probably is Jose Francisco Torres. Practically nothing they could do outside of starting for Real Madrid appears to be able to change that. Bradley knows who is going to be on that plane, and I suspect very little can or will change his mind.
Meanwhile.. to off the field:
I think for the first time, we really saw ESPN put its full hype-machine powers behind a soccer event and it was, in turn, both gratifying and somewhat frightening to hear it grabbed on to by just about everyone in the sports media both in and outside of ESPN. Anyone who thought ESPN was going to short-shrift the 2010 WC, was both dumb (they spent a boatload on this, remember) and quickly proven wrong as ESPN put out a release saying they they’re going full-bore including sending lots of folks to South Africa. PS: Please stop moaning about Tirico going as a studio host. This is not a Dave O’Brien situation. I’ve written about this in the past, here.