It was a memorable four-year cycle for the United States national team. They won the Gold Cup in 2007. They beat Spain in the Confederations Cup semifinals and played well against Brazil in the final. They gave us possibly the most pivotal moment in American soccer history with Landon Donovan’s late winner against Algeria in this year’s World Cup.
That said, the 2010 World Cup is over for the USA, who were eliminated by Ghana for the second straight World Cup, and the loss has turned this team’s (and this country’s) moment of unbridled joy into a flat keg of bitters, and everyone is pointing their swords at the manager.
Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated is suggesting that Bradley started the wrong players throughout this World Cup, while Mark Lincir at 90:00 came right out and said it. Brooks Peck at Dirty Tackle has accused Bradley of “chronic mismanagement,” while Paul Gardner at SoccerAmerica is asking whether it’s time for “Banality Bob” to step aside. (I would tell you what’s being said at BigSoccer right now, but quite honestly, I’m afraid to look.)
Perhaps the most stinging assessment, however, is this neutral and even-handed review from Zonal Marking:
Bob Bradley has shown that he’s very good at identifying problems on the pitch and finding a solution with a change in tactics and/or personnel midway through games, but he doesn’t seem to learn lessons from game to game. The starting XI tonight was wrong, evidenced by the fact that he was forced to make two changes before 46 of the 120 minutes had been played. Had he fielded Edu and Feilhaber from the off, and been able to make changes to freshen up the side in the second half, who knows what might have been?
That pretty much sums up this four-year cycle under Bob Bradley. When he gets it right from the start, this team produces great results, but he gets it wrong from the start as often as he gets it right. The selection of Ricardo Clark over Maurice Edu was a disaster, as Clark’s turnover in midfield allowed Ghana to expose American defenders’ lack of pace and score an early goal. Robbie Findley should not have been in this lineup, either, as his finishing was poor, and he contributed little else to the side.
The discussion at Zonal Marking seems centered on why Bradley continued to deploy a 4-4-2 without Charlie Davies available to complement Jozy Altidore up front. In order to maximize the talent on the pitch, Bradley might have been better off going with a 4-2-3-1, with Altidore as the lone striker and Donovan, Clint Dempsey and one other attacking midfielder right behind him. Bradley had far better options in midfield than up front, and when Bradley switched to a 4-2-3-1 to start the second half against Ghana, the USA looked more threatening and more able to cope with Ghana’s packed midfield. The tie score at the end of 90 minutes proved that. So why did Bradley need 45 minutes of play to figure that out?
The fact that we’re asking this question suggests that Bob Bradley is not the right man to take U.S. Soccer to the next level. Some would say this team met expectations this year by winning its group and going through to the knockout round, but the USA lost a winnable game against Ghana, and it lost because the manager made poor decisions from which his team could not recover. What’s more, in three of the USA’s four World Cup games, the USA gave up early goals and had to come from behind to get results.
Oh, by the way, this team held a lead in this World Cup for a grand total of 2 minutes, and that was against a team ranked 16 places lower than the USA by FIFA.
If U.S. Soccer thinks that’s good enough, then this country still has a long way to go. The game will still get a huge boost here from the euphoria of Donovan’s game-winner, but that will carry the game only so far. The USA needs a manager with more refined tactical skills in order to advance further in this competition. Bob Bradley will get us this far. He might even win us another Gold Cup next summer. We should aim a little higher than that.