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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Lack of killer instinct and nightmare officiating hurt USA

Something wasn’t right.       

There sat the ball in the back of the net, but the looks on the faces of the American players didn’t match the exuberant levels we were expecting. Then they showed a close shot of Maurice Edu, and his expression alone was gut-wrenching.       

The goal had been disallowed, and no one knew why. Not the broadcasters, not the coaches, or the players from either team. After watching the replay, it’s hard to believe the ref even knew why.       

After the game, Landon Donovan said that they repeatedly asked the official what the call was, and that he simply ignored them and walked away. He also noted that the ref hardly spoke English and may not have understood what the Americans were asking.       

“I don’t know how much English he speaks but we asked him numerous times in a non-confrontational manner to explain his call, but he just ignored us,” Donovan said. “Or maybe he just didn’t understand.”       

However, what I have found is a site (which I believe is Egyptian) that had a piece about the referees for the Africa Cup of Nations Tournament. Translated through Google Translate, the site says Koman Coulibaly, the referee in question, “Speaks French and English as well as local language of the country.”       

A bloodied Brian McBride in 2006 vs. Italy

No matter what happens in the final match, this game will be remembered in a number of different ways. For some, Coulibaly’s name will go alongside Jorge Larrionda’s in the annals of history and this will be marked as the second consecutive World Cup in which the U.S. was plagued by poor officiating.       

For others, it was a second half to remember. Slovenia was faced with an onslaught of attacks for the better part of 45 minutes and were lucky to escape with one point still in their pockets. As controlling as they looked in the first half, the United States were the enforcers in the second half and imposed their will on the European side. The desperation and intensity shown in the second half from the Americans is what we have been waiting for all along; the only downside is that we had to be scored on twice to wake up.      

What the USA needs to do in our final match with Algeria is come out with that same energy and reckless abandon that we had in the second half last Friday. We need to stop playing like this is some throw away game up in Rochester and realize where we are. We are competing in the world’s largest sporting event and, with a win, we will advance to be one of the top 16 teams. We weren’t playing bad soccer before we were scored on in the first half–passing well and didn’t look nervous–but there was no desperation. No forward runs, no defenders pushing up. We seemed almost content to knock the ball around long enough for the other team to screw up and then we would take advantage of it.      

This is the World Cup! Nobody is giving our freebies. The lack of killer instinct was maddening… similar to the Sabres power play against Boston. I’ve liked Bob Bradley as a coach so far, and the changes he got out of his team after the break really make it seem like he has a handle on his squad. All that’s left now is simple: win and we’re in.      

Other thoughts:      

I was very impressed with the play of Bob Bradley’s son, Michael. Even before he scored, he got himself involved and was committed to make a difference in the game. He was also the most vocal American in the moments after the disallowed goal and after the final whistle blew. Much like Tyler Myers sticking up for Ryan Miller, you gotta love a young guy with that kind of spunk.     

It was one heck of a strike by Donovan for our first goal, but honestly, what was their goalie doing? Instead of coming out to cut down the angle or at least make himself look big in the net, he got out of the way and hid in the goal. Not saying I would have wanted to get in front of that shot either, but… come on. Weak effort.    

With one game to play for each team in group C, all four teams are still alive, and three can clinch a spot with a win. For the downers who want to point out that we only have two of a possible six points, think about how some other fans have it; fans whose teams are normally a lot better than ours. England is a traditional soccer powerhouse, and they could be knocked out even if they tie their final game. And how about France? The runner-ups four years ago now look to be in complete dismay as they have earned only one point through two matches and dismissed arguably their top player, Nicolas Anelka. The day after he was released from the team, but rest of the players refused to practice in protest of his departure, and that led to France’s team director straight up quitting and going back to Paris. (More info here.) Not even last World Cup’s champion Italy is doing well, drawing both of their matches against much lower quality teams.    

Coulibaly was back on the field today as a fourth official, so it doesn’t look like FIFA will be banning him from other games. 

Vuvuzelas are awesome, and you too can own one for just $7.99. If you overhear someone talking about soccer and you want to know if they are a legitimate fan or not, the vuvuzela proves to be a good litmus test. If they don’t like the horn, well then they just aren’t a real fan. Simple as that.    

*******     

In a completely unrelated note, Mets’ pitcher John Maine made a rehab start Friday for the Bisons. He gave up only one hit in 4.1 innings of work with four strikeouts and three walks.  Never looked comfortable on the mound but got results; had a no-hitter through four. 50 strikes out of 88 pitches is a good ratio for a rehab start, but that’s too many pitches to throw over that few innings. Should make at least one more start with Buffalo.