Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Bob Bradley's successful tenure

Coach Bradley's critics need to shut up.  The picture above is from his first game as interim coach in Jan 2007 vs Denmark.  I still remember him striding out of the tunnel and to the bench (and wanting to buy that track jacket - its sweet).  As he walked past our section, I recall wondering if he would be up to the task of leading us not only to the World Cup 2010, but into the future as a better soccer nation.  US fans were still reeling from not getting Klinsmann, a much more popular pick.

Yes, he won that first match vs Denmark (which marked Bornstein's breakout game, unfortunately).  He also won the next important friendly vs Mexico, 2-0.  What else has he accomplished?  He won the region's championship, the Gold Cup in 2007 (in a final vs Mexico) which secured our spot in the Confederations Cup in 2009 held in South Africa, an important trial run for the WC.  He beat Mexico again 2-0 in Feb of 2009 and finished first place in CONCACAF to qualify for the World Cup.  He lead us to a momentous and signature victory vs Spain.

And he did this all while introducing new critical players to the fold.  From the 2006 squad to this year's roster, Bradley has brought in 15 new players (of the 23) and 5 of which will likely be starters (DeMerit, Bradley, Edu, Altidore and one of Findley/Buddle/Holden/Feilhaber).  It is no easy task to start anew with new players in both central midfield spots.  No wonder Michael Bradley was essentially entrenched at CM very early on (2007) so as to be ready for SA.  Another interesting stat: in 2007, 61 players earned their first cap in 18 total games.  Bradley was willing to risk his interim title to do the job right.

Another reason I respect Bradley's tenure at the helm is his willingness to schedule difficult matches vs world class teams.  He tested the squad in 2007 vs Brazil (in Chicago which I attended), then England, Spain and Argentina in summer of 2008 (within a 2 week span), and Netherlands earlier this year.  (Of course in 2009, we played Italy, Spain and Brazil twice in the Confed Cup.  Had we played Germany, we would've hit all the major giants in this cycle.)  While we didn't win most of these games, there is no doubt that playing the best can only help us get better.  You better believe that it helped us win vs Spain last year.  And the experience of playing England then can only help us prepare for our WC matchup.

Other smart scheduling included playing as often as possible in Europe where we've always had difficulty winning including in Switzerland in 2007, in Poland 2008, and in Slovakia and Denmark in 2009.  And for the WC warm-up matches, instead of playing the likes of Morocco, Venezuela and Latvia as we did in 2006, we played the Czech Rep, Turkey and WC bound Australia.

All in all, Bradley has done everything asked of him and more.  He's done his best to take advantage of what we do well and continually presented numerous opportunities in difficult circumstances to grow the team.  His tenure must be considered a success.  Still, we all know that the real evaluation will be based on what will happen this next month.

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