15 February 2007

Two Fundamental Questions, Part II

I want to step away from the traditional focus of this blog to talk about the US National Team coaching situation. I didn't write much about the US-Mexico match before or after the event simply because I didn't think it mattered. A win or a loss said nothing about the biggest challenge facing the United States: The World Cup. Bruce Arena's legacy should be that he has turned us into a continental power, and it was nice to see that 2-0 win maintain that impression, but the true test will be the World Cup finals. Unless we want to turn into the equivalent of Rangers supporters or boosters at certain NCAA football programs, we should not be evaluating this team, or this coach, on results against one rival, no matter how much they are despised.

Yet the victory over Mexico turned ESPN commentators, pundits, and bloggers into the Bob Bradley Appreciation Society. The evaluation of Bradley has been made on his performance in two friendlies, and I can understand the adulation. If that was all that mattered, then I agree that Bob Bradley should have that a shorter job title right now, and he should toss that word "Interim" into the stands like Bobby Convey's clothes. But all that proves to me is that Bradley has the program at the level where Bruce Arena left it. The USA is a monster in CONCACAF, but what about the 2010 World Cup and beyond? This series is two fundamental questions, and the fundamental question that people should be asking is "Which coach can take the United States from Continental power to world power?"

The answer may well be Bradley. It's possible. But when one is considering a four year campaign for the next World Cup finals, and the establishment of a structure to ensure competitive soccer in 2014, 2018, and beyond, two games is hardly a sufficient sample size.

To be fair, some Bradley advocates acknowledge this. Kent McDill writes in the Daily Herald :

He also is coaching the U-23 team that is the feeder system for the men’s national squad, giving him a great opportunity to work with the next generation of American soccer talent. Bradley will give this task his all, and he will do so without antagonizing either the U.S. Soccer Federation or Major League Soccer. He will do a solid job melding what different interests exist in the sport, including the players based in Europe with the players from the United States.

This at least gives us some sense of the sort of context that we should be viewing the head coach position. I want you to take a look at this organizational chart. Now, I have no first-hand experience, but I've read a great deal that makes it should like US Soccer is beset with competing factions and agendas. The Youth Organizations have well documented differences in agendas and approach. The professional leagues, the US Soccer Player unions, the youth organizations, the National Team, the Olympic committee, the US Soccer Board, the NCAA, Sunil Gulati... That's a lot of ducks to have in a row. Soccer United Marketing isn't even on the Org Chart, yet one should probably consider them a factor as well. What I've been convinced of is that fundamental structures in this country need to be reformed to make us a world soccer power. The Youth and lower Club systems are frequently mentioned as not ideal. However, given the apparent power of the various factions, reform is a difficult process. In order for reform to take place, it would take a concerted effort from the two most visible figures in US Soccer: the US Soccer President and the National Team Coach.

Quite simply, if Gulati and Bradley have a common vision, and a passion for that vision, of the future of the US Soccer Program as a whole, then perhaps something can be achieved. However, while Bradley enjoys working with young players and has success with them, I see little to indicate that he is interested in structural or organizational challenges, just coaching ones. That's fine and admirable, but not ideal when one is trying to change a system. Gulati probably does have a passion for those very issues, but finding someone that shares that passion with him, and adds stature to any reform movement, could be a tall order. Reports say that Klinsmann wanted greater organizational control of US Soccer. I have no problem with that impulse, but if his desires were not aligned with Gulati's than Sunil was right not to hire him. Additionally, we have no evidence that Klinsmann has the capacity to reform an organization instead of just a team, as opposed to someone like Jose Peckerman who has a demonstrated track record. Peckerman, in that respect, would have been a less risky choice.

Now, all of this being said, Bradley has done well so far. He works and plays well with others. And it is possible that perhaps his success has accrued him some political capital. If he does understand the need for organizational reform, and he shares a vision with Gulati for that reform, then by all means, let's hire the man. But if not, I have no problem with Gulati looking for someone who fits well, and who will hopefully work to take the United States beyond where it is now. We are a power in CONCACAF, but we require some work, change, and reform, from the grassroots levels upward, to become a world power. And that's the fundamental challenge.

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At 15 February, 2007 11:50, Blogger Oscar M. said...

I think the organizational structures won't change overnight. But, now that MLS teams can keep players they develop, I hope we see the most talented players gravitating towards playing on MLS youth teams and away from AYSO and its ilk.

At 05 April, 2007 11:01, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is quite unbelievable that anyone could watch the Bradley bunch and say that they were well coached. Just look at what the positioning did for the team last world cup. The US only switched the ball a couple of times in the last friendly. Starting his son. He did drift from the center of the field a couple of times. The other players would not pass him the ball for 1 reason -- he was not a national level player. There are several College Div 1 mids that are a whole lot better than Bradley. It is easy to "play good" when not in the game. IF this had happened in Europe -- can you say coach fired!!! There are a lot of players that are not in their natural position. AND what is this crap about calling Beasley over and have him sit on the bench. The team's positioning alone will preclude the team from doing well in the world cup. A top 10 club team is better positioned -- Memphis Futbal Club. WE NEED A WORLD CLASS COACH. At least Bradley did not to invite Eddie A to camp. He did better than that -- his son!!! But his son will never be good enough to play in Europe and may be not in the MLS... It is very embarrassing to see the "player" Bradley even on the field... he'd get killed against a better team. The last coaching US National team was not very good -- why invite some one that was apart of it back... 3-0 does not mean that the Coach is any good. Watching the games will indicate otherwise. You think Bradley could ever get a European coaching job -- NO...


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