Bradley’s firing gives hope to U.S. national team

The first post in a multi-part series on how American soccer can improve.
The firing of head coach Bob Bradley from Team USA can only mean there are good things to come American soccer.

A few inches one way or the other may have saved Bob Bradley's job as coach of the U.S. Men's National Team, but such is life in soccer. Onto the next.

The development of our national team and our professional league will happen eventually. Simply based on resources that build winning soccer, namely population and money, America can’t stay down for long. It’s not a question of if, but when.

What’s best for a country’s domestic league may not always be best for its national team, and vice versa. The success of one is not always interrelated with the other. Countries with very poor leagues have had success internationally, such as South Korea (2002 World Cup semifinalist), Russia and Turkey (both semifinalists in Euro 2008). Even Brazil‘s national league isn’t great. Conversely, the country with the best league, England, has had very little success in worldwide competition (last major win: 1966 World Cup).

The best way for Major League Soccer to get better is to have its players get experience with national teams, thereby improving the quality and reputation of the league, yet the best way for the national team to get better is to have its players play where the competition is greatest — anywhere but the MLS.

It’s good for American soccer to have American players playing in the American professional league. But that means country-wide feelings on the sport — TV ratings, youth involvement, general acceptance of game — not the U.S. national team.

We want our players playing in their leagues. It’s as simple as that. The competition is so much better. Is it good for soccer in this country — is it good for kids growing up on the game — to have Landon Donovan to be playing at home for the Los Angeles Galaxy? Of course. But would it be better for the national team if he played solely in one of the big three leagues (the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A), or even in Germany or France? You bet.

One of the most important features of a national team is the coach, the glue who brings it all together. If we want the best coach, where does it appear he needs to come from?

I liked Bob Bradley as coach of U.S. soccer, but the team would have more success with a foreigner. Bradley is from New Jersey and Bruce Arena before him was from New York. We need to broaden the scope. Western Europeans dominate soccer in all aspects, from players to coaching to tactics. Nowhere else in the world is not only quality soccer, but also ideas and ultimately, knowledge, so readily available across borders than in Western Europe. Not even Brazil can compare in that metric.

The best build off each other and become that much better that much quicker. Even small countries can learn quickly due to the excess of available information; take for example Greece, which won Euro 2004. In America, we only have ourselves to go up against, and we aren’t really that good.

Even the English, who continue to hold the belief they rule international soccer despite going winless in major tournaments in the last half-century, have swallowed their pride and hired an Italian manager for the national team in Fabio Capello. The big four clubs combine for a grand total of zero coaches who were born in England. Two at least are from the U.K., Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson and Liverpool’s Kenny Dalglish (both from Glasgow, Scotland). The others come from abroad: Chelsea’s new head man André Villas-Boas is from Portugal and Arsenal’s Arsène Wenger is French. Even in a local example, the U.S. women’s team, best in the world, is coached by Pia Sundhage, a Swed.

I don’t know if I like the idea from a theoretical standpoint because I think a national team should have to have all of its coaches, trainers, et cetera from that country, but if it helps the USA and it’s within the rules, there’s no reason not to do it. The only coach in the last three World Cup finals not from Europe was Luiz Felipe Scolari, who led his native Brazil to a second-place finish in 2002. A non-European coach hasn’t won the World Cup since 1994.

The Europeans have the experience, the contacts and know-how. They’ve dealt with more talented players than any coach in the American system and might finally be able to whip the Yanks into a winning formation, not Bradley’s midfield mush.

Some players need to be developed as much as they need to be taught. “Mold 21-year-old Jozy Altidore into a star” should be the first bullet on the job description after “play winning soccer.” Here’s hoping the U.S. can get out of its own way and find the right western European coach, a Spaniard, perhaps, for the job. I’d welcome him with open arms.

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USMNT vs. Argentina recap

Landon Donovan plays a nice ball off of a set piece, which was eventually finished by 18-year-old Juan Agudelo for his second international goal.

Argentina came into New Meadowlands Stadium last night as winners of three straight under new coach Sergio Batista, who took over as head man after former Argentinean superstar Diego Maradona’s contract was not renewed following a disappointing World Cup performance.

The Argentineans had been playing well under Batista, defeating Brazil, Spain and Portugal by a combined score of 7-2. After dominating the first half and taking a 1-0 lead into halftime, Argentina did well to hold off the U.S. late and escape with a 1-1 draw.

Even without international superstars Carlos Tevez, Gonzaolo Higuain and Diego Milito, Argentina came out and controlled play in the first half. Lionel Messi, arguably the best player in the world, put on a clinic of close control as he expertly used teammates and shifty moves to slice and dice the USA’s 4-2-3-1 formation.

Desperation defense, most notably from Jonathan Spector, and superb play from goalkeeper Tim Howard kept Argentina off the scoreboard for most of the first half. Messi and Angel Di Maria both had good looks at goal but shot wide; however, even when they got through, Howard was equal to the task.

In the 42nd minute, the left-footed Messi worked a series a one-touch passes in the box before finding Di Maria right in front of goal. Howard sprawled to make the save, but Esteban Cambiasso came through unmarked and put the rebound into the top of the net from the 6-yard box.

U.S. coach Bob Bradley subbed out Jermaine Jones — who had a shaky first half — and Spector at halftime in favor of two up-and-coming players, 18-year-old Juan Agudelo (third international appearance) and 20-year-old Timmy Chandler (first), as the States switched to a 4-4-2 formation out of intermission.

The extra man up front seemed to disrupt to Argentina’s possession play that was so relaxed and controlling in the first half. The Americans had much more success when attacking as a unit, opposed to Jozy Altidore’s get-it-and-go style he tried as the lone striker in the first half.

A foul in the attacking third awarded the U.S. a free kick in the 59th minute. Several red jerseys moved forward as Landon Donovan lined up a set piece, which were so futile for the States in the World Cup.

Donovan lofted a nice ball over the line Argentina defenders held just inside the 18-yard box. Several players went up to win the head ball and a shot was directed on net. Mariano Andujar made the first save, but Agudelo was waiting on the doorstep and knocked the rebound into the goal to level the score at one.

Both teams went back and forth over the final 30 minutes as play really started to open up. The Americans were much more threatening in the 4-4-2, but neither side could capitalize the remainder of the night. The best chance belonged to Argentina when Di Maria got through in the 73rd minute, but Onyewu and Jay DeMerit combined to close off the attack.

Onyewu had another rough night on the back line and frequently looked flustered with the ball at his feet, but his size is almost always an advantage he has over attacking players. He got the better of Messi when the two went up for a head ball in the 24th minute, and Messi stayed on the ground after, holding his head. He went off briefly to be examined, but came back and played the rest of the game.

The next match for the USMNT is this Tuesday, March 29, when the men take on Paraguay in Nashville, Tenn. Game time is 8 p.m. EST (7 CST) and can be seen on Fox Soccer Channel and TeleFutura.

USA (4-2-3-1) — Bob Bradley, coach

Altidore
Dempsey-Edu-Donovan
Bradley-Jones
Bocanegra-Onyewu-DeMerit-Spector
Howard

Substitutions
IN: Agudelo, Chandler (halftime); OUT: Spector, Jones. USA switched to a 4-4-2 in the second half.

Argentina (4-3-3) — Sergio Batista, coach

Lavezzi-Messi-Di Maria
Mascherano-Cambiasso-Banega
Rojo-G. Milito-Burdisso-Zanetti
Andujar

Substitutions
IN: Biglia (73); OUT: Cambiasso.

Shots/on target: ARG 13/6, USA 7/4.
Corners: ARG 6, USA 2.
Fouls: ARG 9, USA 12.
Offside: ARG 1, USA 0.
Yellow cards: ARG none, USA 4 (Edu, 35; Chandler, 48; Donovan, 79; Bocanegra, 90+1).
Referee: Roberto Garcia (MEX).
Attendance: 78,936.

FIFA world rankings: ARG 4, USA 19.

USMNT vs. Chile quick recap

Six players earned their first career cap Friday night at the Home Depot Center as a young Team USA drew with Chile, 1-1.

None of the 19 players who dressed for the match were part of the 23-man World Cup roster last summer.

Chris Wondolowski led the MLS with 18 goals last season.

Chile took the lead in the 54th minute on an athletic finish in the box from Esteban Parades. The States answered 20 minutes later when Teal Bunbury buried a penalty kick into the lower right corner (video here, awesome call from the announcer).

2010 MLS Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski played 59 minutes in his first-ever game with the national team. According to US Soccer’s Twitter, Wondolowsi started the game as the lone striker for USA.

It listed Bob Bradley’s formation as a 4-2-3-1, but you wouldn’t have known by watching the game. Like the 4-3-3 he tried against Colombia, it ended it mushing into a 4-4-2, even with completely different players.

Twenty-year-old Brek Shea started his second straight game for the States. I don’t think he cracks the roster when Bradley has his pick of players, but he has showed some good things so far. If only he could take a decent picture.

The defensive unit showed its youth today and would have been exposed by a more talented opponent. There were a few breakdowns and some looks Chile should have finished.

It takes a while to get used to playing with new people, but the general feeling is that the United States should be able to beat Chile, no matter who is playing. It feels like yet another game that the soccer powers of the world would have found a way to win.

In the last four games on U.S. soil, the USMNT is 0-1-3.

Wondonlowski
Bedoya-Diskerud-Shea
Larentowicz-McCarty
Franklin-Ream-Gonzalez-Loyd
Rimando

Shots: Chile 9, USA 4
On target: Chile 3, USA 4
Corners: Chile 0, USA 2
Subs: Chile 2, USA 7
Yellow cards: Chile 2, USA 1
Red cards: None

The day Landon Donovan saved U.S. soccer

The game has been over for almost 12 hours now and I’m still pumped up about it. And if you knew how important today was for soccer in this country, you would be too.

Donovan’s goal is more than just an exciting goal at the end of a game. Way more. This year was the year for the United States. We had the right players and a great draw for our pool. There was no reason for us not to advance. For the sake of soccer in the United States, this was a must have.

For Donovan himself to get the goal, that was special too. He has arguably done more to advance the game in the States than any other American player before him, and this was huge for his place in world soccer, as well as the legacy he will leave behind.

But let’s think of this from the other way. What if a defender clears the ball and Donovan doesn’t score. The USA and Algeria play to a scoreless draw and we finish with three points in the group, behind both England and Slovenia.

For passionate soccer fans, their spirits are demoralized once again. It’s yet another year where our country watches the rest of the world, from the outside looking in. In most basic terms, losing is simply un-American. It’s not something we’re used to experiencing, and it’s certainly not a trait we want to become accustomed to.  But when it happens repeatedly… people don’t know what to believe.

For the casual fans, it drives them away from something we’ve been trying so long to promote, the idea of soccer becoming popular in America. Nobody likes a loser, especially one that breaks your heart. “We were supposed to do well this year,” they’d say. “But forget this team and their losing ways. Football… American football… now there’s a sport we’re can win at.”

Last, but certainly least, this would affect the soccer haters too. “See, what a stupid game. We can’t even beat countries that I’ve never heard of. Slovenia, who? Those foot fairies and worthless sport.” The worst part is, that criticism would be directed at passionate soccer fans, who have the purist motives of all. It’d be four more years of abuse and name calling, which can be enough to drive some people away from the beautiful game.

Years—perhaps even decades—of soccer clawing its way into mainstream America would have been ruined without Donovan’s strike. It’s one thing to be consistently bad (the Pirates still bring people out to the ballpark), but it’s the heartbreak that drives people away (say, the Mets, anyone?).  And this World Cup, one we should have had success in, would do just that. Had the U.S. not advanced, it would have been detrimental to soccer and soccer fans across the country.

It’s safe to say that what Donovan has built up over the years, he saved today with his already famous finish.

So the question has to be asked, is Donovan’s extra time goal the most famous goal in all of U.S. history? I certainly don’t know all there is to know about U.S. soccer, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s that long of a list. Off the top of my head, other famous goals might be:

  • USA over England, 1-0, in 1950. Such an upset that English papers thought it had to be a misprint and ran scores of 10-1, England
  • USA over Mexico, 2-0, in the round of 16, 2002. Always good to beat a geographical rival, and Mexico is best competition in North America
  • USA over Spain in the Confederations Cup, 2009. Not the World Cup, but a huge win for the States over a world-wide superpower

Of course, I’m sure I’m missing some. If you have one I forgot, comment below.

Other thoughts on the game:

Donovan saved Clint Dempsey’s butt. Dempsey did not play well and missed some open looks. The dives were on the soft side too. I know it’s Clint, but I was considering subbing him for Edson Buddle early in the second half.

Did the USA get the ref job again? Didn’t look offside to me… and if it was that’s an awful ballsy call from the side ref. But come on, Jozy Altidore’s yellow card was the softest call I’ve ever seen. The guy took two steps and then fell.

Michael Bradley had another solid game, but my new man crush has to be for his dad, Bob Bradley. I love the guy. He’s not sitting there all arrogant like Slovenia’s coach Matjaz Kek, and he gets visibly excited an angry with the rest of us. He has both the feistiness of Ozzie Guillen and the cool, collectedness of Joe Torre all in one. The shot of him after the goal called back today was priceless… and who doesn’t love when coaches get mad.

But on the other side of the spectrum, I can’t stand Algeria’s Hassan Yebda. I think they used his picture on UrbanDictionary next to “that guy.” I think the hair alone does it for me.

I do feel bad for Slovenia, not advancing after leading for so long, but if we would have missed advancing because of Edu’s called back goal (I’m thinking there’s a problem if I have to specify which one) I would have been seriously pissed at their country. We should have fought them.  I mean if we were in a war, we could fight their entire country 2-on-1 with the state of Kentucky…

And finally… wow! Look what happens when we have a clean sheet. Tim Howard finally had a shutout, and the team finally won a game. Coincidence? I think not.

Soccer fans, we’ve waited a long time for this day. I haven’t been this proud of U.S. Soccer since we were up 2-0 on Brazil last year, but this is way better than that. Before you go to bed tonight, I want to you smile—your team is undefeated.