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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Quick thoughts following USA-England

First things first, a draw for the States is a favorable result. With a weak remaining group schedule, avoiding a loss to England will go a long way towards advancing from our bracket.

English goalkeeper Robert Green puts his head down in disbelief after allowing the goal

Secondly, I can’t help but feel bad for English keeper Robert Green. It was nothing more than a bad bounce, and he will go down in history as the goalie who blew it against America. He could have gotten in better position to make the save, but I’m not holding it against him. I’ve scored on my own net before, and it’s the absolute worst feeling in the world. But on this stage? That will haunt him forever.

Personally, I would have stared David James in goal, but I’ll give England coach Fabio Capello the benefit of the doubt. After all, he is with the team everyday, and my knowledge is based on the fact that James is awesome in my video game.

Opposite of Green, U.S. goalie Tim Howard played spectacularly in net. The goal in the 4th minute was iffy, but after that he looked phenomenal and kept the Americans in the game. Howard also showed his toughness, playing through an injury in the first half that looked pretty painful. England had several open looks late in the game, but every time Howard was equal to the task.

I would like to see the American’s tighten up that defense, though. The Brits often had men open in the box and failed to convert on several open looks. They did a good job at containing Wayne Rooney in the first half, although he had some chances late. The only other thing I have to add is that I want to see American defenders find their marks sooner on second and third chances–there were a few times England had a man unmarked but they failed to find him.

Steve Cherundolo and Jay DeMerit had their names called on the broadcast more than anyone, and after they shook of the initial jitters they played good soccer.

England's Emile Heskey slides and crashes into Tim Howard (orange) in the first half

Check back throughout the week for more World Cup coverage. The other teams in group C are Slovenia and Algeria, who play each other tomorrow at 7:30 a.m. EST. The United States play their second match next Friday, June 18 at 10 a.m. EST versus Slovenia.  

Let’s go States!

O Captain! My Captain!

With the World Cup just seven days away, two squads took huge blows today when it was announced that their captains will not participate in the tournament. While neither player has fallen cold and dead, they both fell this morning and will sit out due to injury.     

The biggest loss is that of Didier Drogba, one of the world’s top strikers who plays for Africa’s top nation, Ivory Coast. You won’t find them on a map—they are officially the “Republic of Côte d’Ivoire” and prefer the French be used in all languages—but they have a legitimate shot at advancing from their bracket.     

Well, had.     

Without their leader Drogba, Ivory Coast’s chances take a serious nosedive. He is not only their most talented and widely known player, but their off-field leader as well. He is a cultural icon in the country, especially so after 2005 when he led Ivory Coast to its first ever World Cup qualification, one that put the nation’s civil war on hold.     

But now, he will be a mere spectator at the games after reports surfaced today that the 6’2” forward will not play due to a broken right arm suffered in a tune up game with Japan early this morning. He was subbed out in the 18th minute after having a knee collide with his arm during a tackle.     

A write-up of the injury says Japanese defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka was shown a yellow card for the tackle, but the match summary does not have any bookings listed for Japan.     

Drogba holds his arm on his way off the pitch

It should be noted that the report is coming from Ivory Coast players and that the Elephants have not officially ruled Drogba out of the contest.     

While no one ever celebrates an injury, this is certainly good news for Portugal, who will compete with Ivory Coast for the final spot to advance from Group G behind the mighty Brazilians.     

As someone who as broken an arm before, I would be disappointed in Drogba if he missed the tournament due to the arm. Certainly every injury is different and everyone’s body responds differently, but I know I could have played soccer with a cast on. Drogba is 32-years-old, which may make this the last World Cup he could play in, and it would be an utter shame should he miss it. I don’t think Ivory Coast has the talent to phase him out in four years, but his body may not hold up that long.     

Ivory Coast opens tournament play June 15 versus Portugal at 10 a.m. ET.     

England also lost its captain early this morning. Star defender Rio Ferdinand suffered ligament damage to his left knee during the English side’s first practice in South Africa.     

The injury occurred during training when Ferdinand attempted to execute what coach Fabio Capello called a “minor tackle.” He was later reportedly seen leaving a hospital on crutches, and England already has a replacement in mind.   

A fuzzy paparazzi shot of Ferdinand on crutches

The loss of Ferdinand will hurt England as he is one of the better defenders in the world, let alone on the English roster; however, England has more depth to cope with the loss than does Ivory Coast. The injury puts a damper on England’s spirit heading into the contest, but it does not drastically affect their outlook on advancing from Group C. I still expect England and the United States to advance from pool play, although this gives the States an edge against the otherwise more talented English squad.     

Steven Gerrard will take over as captain for England when they open against the USA on June 12. The game is at 2:30 p.m. ET and will be aired on ABC.     

Both Drogba and Ferdinand play professionally in the English Premier League; Drogba for Chelsea and Ferdinand for Manchester United. The video game FIFA ’10 rates Drogba as an 85 and Ferdinand as an 86.