The website welcomes a new contributor, Matt Isaacson is a Drury grad and KC resident who will following the US National team. Here’s his opening salvo…
The US National Team is facing a critical period and a possible loss in identity. After being the undisputed kings of Concacaf for the majority of the last decade, Mexico has knocked us off our perch. With stronger competition for World Cup qualification, the path to Brazil will be incredibly difficult. To qualify, we must develop new young players that are capable of developing into reliable contributing members of the national team. The biggest question facing US Soccer is whether or not Bob Bradley is the right man to lead us to Brazil 2014? Past history tells us to question the decision making of the USSF.
Following a break through World Cup in South Korea/Japan 2002, where the team was a bad call away from a semi-final date with South Korea, the USSF decided to retain coach Bruce Arena. At the time, it seemed to be a good decision. Reward the man that took your team to new heights. But in hindsight, a change was needed, as the team did not improve in the four-year cycle between World Cups and was poorly prepared for Germany 2006. As any coach can tell you, if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. Now, the USSF is making the same mistake.
Other countries often limit their coaches’ tenure to one cycle. Of the 32 teams that qualified for South Africa, only 12 coaches are still leading their teams today. By the time European and South American qualifiers begin, the number will be further reduced. Many teams out of principle change coaches just so someone fresh takes a look at their player pool and stirs it up a little bit. The new coach does not have the same loyalties to the squad as the previous one. A new coach often drops players that are getting too old, that have underperformed, and has the ability to bring younger or otherwise overlooked players into the team. While many cite the US has a model of stability, it alternatively shows that we are unable to make difficult decisions and unwilling to pay a top tier coach and give him the control required to take our team to new heights.
Looking back at recent competitive results (Confederation’s Cup, World Cup, 2011 Gold Cup) Bradley supporters will point to reaching the final of two of those competitions, and being group winners at the World Cup. But when individual games are analyzed, the team has underperformed in the vast majority of them. Consistently falling behind early, and often times relying on the ability to comeback; the team has rarely played from a position of strength. When a team consistently gives up early goals, the team is not prepared to play. The coach is picking the wrong players to start, or is putting players in the wrong position. All of those issues are Bradley’s responsibility, and our team does not have the talent to overcome those deficiencies against top competition.
At the Confederations Cup, the US was beaten convincingly by Italy, destroyed by Brazil the first time, blew a two goal halftime lead in the final to Brazil the second time, and beat Spain in a game where we were outshot 29 to 9. Considering the Spanish firepower and past record, that result was reminiscent of the Miracle on Ice. If the US had not found a way to hold on against Spain, the tournament would have been a complete disaster.
At the 2010 World Cup, the US was about a minute away from failing to get out of the easiest group at the tournament. It was the latest goal scored for a team to clinch qualification to the second round in the history of the World Cup. The reward for that late goal was top spot in our group and a game with Ghana to go to the quarterfinals. What has come to be expected, the concession of an early goal, finally caught up with the US, as we conceded early in the first half and almost immediately after extra time started. The first goal was especially painful, as Bradley had unexpectedly inserted Ricardo Clark into the line up and his error led to the goal. Bradley then replaced Clark in the first half, using one of three available substitutes to correct his error. It is rare to see a coach make a tactical sub in the first half, probably because most of them pick the right players to start the game in the first place. Having to use a sub early, we were left without a substation late in extra time when we were losing. With many established teams already eliminated, South Africa presented an opportunity for a deep run to at least the semi-finals, but Bradley squandered it.
The Gold Cup completed this summer was a complete roller coaster. While the US made the final as expected, two embarrassing loses show that a change at head coach is needed now. I’m not going to waste your time talking about the Panama loss. We shouldn’t lose to Panama at home in anything. Period. The game against Mexico was a microcosm of the problem with Bradley. He inserted Jonathan Bornstein into the game, and moments later a 2-0 lead evaporated in the hot California sun. How Bornstein was even picked to be part of the team is worthy of an investigation, as he has done nothing to warrant to selection. But Bornstein played for Bradley at Chivas and has continually been given chances only to cost the team each time he plays. The result was a humiliating loss that cost the US a major championship and the chance to play at the next Confederations Cup.
Looking ahead, the US is going to face a difficult road in World Cup qualifying. Mexico is strong, and getting better. Honduras and Costa Rica are very competitive sides, capable of winning here and even in past years were tough road trips. Jamaica and Panama are vastly improved. A home loss, like the one to Panama, could doom qualification for the next World Cup. The time is now to make a change; we can’t afford to stand still.