Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bob Bradley fired, and other personnel news

Bob Bradley was officially fired today by Sunil Gulati as USMNT's head coach.  I've defended him before, one year ago in the lead-up to the 2010 World Cup (read here: post from June 2010), but since that loss to Ghana in the Round of 16 a year ago, we have not played well at all.

Though he finished with a 43(wins)-25(losses)-12(draws) overall record, our record in the year post WC has only been 5-5-4.  Our only wins have come against pushovers in South Africa, Canada, Guadeloupe, Jamaica and Panama.  During the past year, we were outscored 17-14 as well.

It is obvious that had we beat Mexico in the Gold Cup Final, Bob Bradley would never have been fired.  It is really his first major misstep - the first time in 5 years that he absolutely had to win and didn't.  Again, before losing our regional championship last month, he had met every single benchmark.  He had won that Gold Cup over Mexico in 2007 (and beat them again in home qualifying in Columbus), memorably upset #1 ranked Spain to reach the final of the Confederations Cup in 2009, qualified first overall in Concacaf for WC 2010 and won a WC group (which included England) for the first time in US history.

However, taking a closer look, there are many reasons for the increasing vocal discontentment of his reign.  In the 2009 Confederations Cup group stage, we had been utterly embarrassed vs Italy and Brazil by a combined score of 6-1.  It looked like we were completely unprepared and his decision to stick with a badly out-of-form player, DeMarcus Beasley, was clearly a bad one.  Then even after beating Spain, losing a 2-0 lead vs Brazil in the championship was frustrating, though understandable.  Also, needing an improbable Bornstein header in the last seconds of stoppage time of the last group to qualify 1st for WC 2010 was dramatic, but hardly confidence-building.

In the WC, relying on not one, but two come-from-behind games vs teams we should be better than, Slovenia and Algeria, showed our mettle, but not improvement in overall team play.  Though we (barely) won our group, all momentum and national interest was dashed when Bradley again started a subpar Ricardo Clark, to the dismay of all knowledgeable US fans everywhere, and eventually lost the playoff match vs Ghana.  It was especially disappointing because we had the easiest draw to the Finals that we'll probably ever see in our lifetime.

The last straw of course was one year later in the GC Final when Bradley inexplicably subbed in a completely out-of-form Bornstein (the US fan's collective groan around the stadium seemed audible), who's poor play subsequently allowed Mexico to defeat a first team US side outside of Azteca for the first time since 1999.  Even worse, they gave up another 2-0 lead in a 2nd consecutive championship game.

So to sum it up, Bradley essentially made an obviously bad player move in 3 straight international tournaments, 2 of which led directly to defeat.  It again doesn't help that he is fairly conservative in his tactics, consistently using 2 seemingly defensive central midfielders (although they may insist that they are not instructed to sit back).  Even with that mindset, we have in recent years started games looking uninspired or not ready to play and we've given up early goals (or at least the first goal).  Perhaps our players are thinking too much?

Also, with McBride's retirement from the US team after WC 2006, we are still unable to find a reliable goal-scorer, much less two strikers, to take his place.  Left back continues to be the other problem spot for over half a decade now.  We can argue that Bob has done the best job possible with the horses he's been given.  And its not his fault that the fact remains that we still do not have a bonafide world class star on our team.  Recently, our defense has gotten older and younger replacements are clearly not up to the task yet.

However, because a 2nd WC campaign does not ever seem to go as well as the first (see Bruce Arena) in addition to our team's current poor level of play, and the fact that a new coach will have 11 months before WC qualifying begins, Gulati's move to fire Bradley does make sense.  My guess is that since he's waited over a month since the Gold Cup probably means that he already has someone else lined up.  Klinsmann?  who knows.

I was there for Bradley's first game - Jan 2007 vs Denmark - as well as his last game vs Mexico.  In between those two matches, Bradley had accomplished as much as any US Soccer coach had.  Arena may have led the US to two WCs, but Bradley would have certainly done so had he been allowed to stay through 2014.  More than that, I appreciated the no-nonsense approach Bradley had which was devoid of ego or self-promotion.  He was always humble, hard-working, prepared and respected in the way he went about leading the team.  We as US fans should be thankful and proud that he did it the American way.

Top 5 moments of Bradley's US coaching career.

1) Algeria comeback to win World Cup group - Beating Algeria may not be that big of a deal but this happened on the biggest stage in the most dramatic way.  US won their WC group for the first time in modern WC.

2) Spain upset in '09 Confederations Cup - European champs, Spain was #1, and on their way to WC victory.  The US' triumph sent shockwaves around the world.

3) Gold Cup Final over Mexico - Benny's 2nd half golazo won Concacaf's championship and spot in the '09 Confed Cup.

4) Bornstein header to win 1st in Qualifying - though qualification was in hand, his stoppage time header to preserve draw and win Concacaf just days after Davies' accident was unforgettable.

5) Up 2 goals on Brazil - Beautiful goals by Donovan and Dempsey gave US fans hope that a world title was in reach.

Worst 5 moments:

1) '11 Gold Cup Loss - Our first team losing to bitter rival on US soil for the first time in over 10 years.  In championship game no less.  After 2 goal lead.
2) '10 Ghana Loss - the road was paved for WC glory but cloaked in failure.
3) '09 Confed Final Loss to Brazil - 2 goals up in a world title, but let in 3 goals in 2nd half.
4) '09 Gold Cup Loss - Even if it was our third team, we still got destroyed 5-0 by Mexico.
5) '09 Azteca Loss - ahead for the first time ever at Azteca but Landon was poisoned with swine flu.

SF Giants

Giants traded for OF Carlos Beltran.  wow.  We gave up a major pitching prospect in Wheeler for the best bat on the market, so I hope that Beltran isn't merely a one year rental.  But if he can help us overcome the Phillies and other contenders in the playoffs this year, it will all be worth it.  Losing Posey and Sanchez won't sting nearly as much now.  Anyway, it is clear that Sabean is trying to strike while the iron was hot, and I don't blame him.

UCLA Basketball

Senior PG Jerime Anderson was arrested for stealing a laptop yesterday.  The Fab Five recruiting class really has turned out to be a complete and utter failure hasn't it?  Though he was possibly slated to be a starter at off-guard for us, I hope Howland comes down hard on him.  We shouldn't tolerate this kind of character on our team.  We are not u$c or Auburn.

Our 2012 class seems to have gotten to a great start as we've nabbed two 4 star recruits in PG Dominic Artis and SF Jordan Adams.  While neither seem to be a obvious future NBA allstars, maybe that means they will stick around school for awhile.

SF 49ers

Alex Smith will again be our starting quarterback after signing a 1 year deal for $5 mil.  This will be his 6th year with the team and his last chance to prove that he's not a bust.  While he has only finished with a .500 record as a starter only once, I am ready to give him one more shot.  His leadership and work ethic this summer has been impressive at the very least.

Frank Gore is holding out, looking for one last big contract before he turns 30.  I'm betting the niners are more inclined to let him sit, since Harbaugh may not want to start his tenure by giving in to a holdout.

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