Bradley and Gulati have settled for each other – not unlike this, erm, “lovely” couple.
Well, I have to say that Sunil Gulati deciding to renew Bradley’s contract for another four years come as a surprise to me. And yet, doesn’t it feel like we’ve been here before? Of course, it’s because we have.
Yet again, the big question on everyone’s mind is why Gulati didn’t give the job to Jurgen Klinsmann. Was it this nebulous concept of control that kept the two parties apart. Was it possibly money? I hope this time around we find out a little more of the true story.
If I had to speculate, I’d guess that Klinsmann asked for something “stupid” in terms of control of the USMNT. Maybe he demanded total control over scheduling and venues. Maybe he wanted to blow up the embryonic system of MLS academies and the USSF development academy system in favor of some idea of his making. Look, I don’t know.
But what I do know is that, like two not-so-attractive people in their mid-thirties, Gulati and Bradley settled. Both realized that at this point in time, the other was simply the best option they had. Neither side will feel like they got the best possible result they could, but neither side will feel like they have been screwed either.
The one side that will feel screwed is the increasingly vocal and ambitious group of US men’s national team supporters who, rightly or wrongly, see Bradley (and Gulati) and products of a disorganized and possibly even corrupt USSF environment. I’ll say this for Gulati. This is a courageous decision for him to make. He has made himself enemy no. 1 to possibly a majority of US Soccer fans out there. As we’ve seen at this World Cup, Gulati will have a tough time showing his face in front of too many US Soccer fans at any given time. That’s not an easy thing. I figured he’d succumb to the easy and “populist” choice of simply bowing at Klinsmann’s feet. I was wrong and I think Gulati deserves some credit for making what is, without question, the more difficult choice.
While Bradley signed a four-year contract, this second deal doesn’t guarantee that he’ll make it to the World Cup. If the US were to stumble out of the gates in qualifying or lay an enormous egg at the Gold Cup, Bradley could in fact be fired. Remember, he doesn’t have the ready-made excuse saying “you have to at least give him the four years.” He’s had his four years now. You can argue that these next four years are gravy. While his deal is for four years, I would say he is far more at risk of being fired between now and 2014 than he ever was between his first signing and 2010.
Moving to on the field matters, the big thing everyone will be watching is whether Bradley can and will change how he both approaches matches tactically and who he chooses to play. I expect very little change out of him with regards to his predilection to play “defense-first.” Have you seen the US defense? Does it inspire you with confidence? No? Then that means he needs to make sure this team thinks defense first. Its defensive talent isn’t good enough to afford Bradley anything else. With regards to selection, I think only his selection of Clark for Ghana was truly indefensible. It’s not impossible to argue that Bornstein was the best of a really crummy group of players at that position (US fans to Eric Lichaj: Please save us.) And as bad of finisher as Robbie Findley appears to be, he does have serious world class athleticism which, for the blather about US players being all athlete and no skill, really was something the 2010 roster was lacking. That’s why Findley was there and that’s why he had to stick with Altidore and Onyewu as long as he could whether hurt or totally devoid of form.
The fact is that Bradley is now under more pressure than any other coach in the history of American soccer. Whether realistic or not, US fans (and media) expect this team to win. The one thing I’ll say is that I think Bradley can handle that kind of pressure – the kind that no other coach in this country has ever had to face.
I still, in both my brain and my heart, think he’s a smart guy and a good coach. He players seem to love him and I think he has the capacity to evolve and improve as both a selector and as a coach. Count me as one the maybe eight people who will say this right now, but I still believe in Bob.