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.


Reactions following Spain’s World Cup victory

Spain defeated the Netherlands, 1-0 in extra time, to capture their first ever World Cup. It’s a great day for Spain, South Africa, and soccer fans everywhere. Well, except in the Netherlands.

Quick thoughts following the game:

  • It’s THE NETHERLANDS. Not Holland. Period.
  • The dives were ridiculous, as were the number of cards. The ref got too caught up in the game, and started handing out cards for every foul. There were only three Netherlands starters who weren’t booked, one of which being the goalie.
  • The Netherlands really should have won the game in regulation. Robben had numerous chances that he didn’t finish, and the Dutch collectively had poor execution on odd-man chances and breakaways.
  • I know soccer commentators during the tournament weren’t exactly known for their energy, but the ones during the game were reallllyy boring. Given the magnitude of the game, I would have liked them to be more animated and made the chances seem like bigger deals. It’s the World Cup final, wake up.
  • I am glad though that someone scored and the game didn’t have to be decided by penalty kicks. Yes, they’re exciting, but that’s not the way to lose the World Cup. I’d be in favor of, for the semifinals and championships, adding an additional 20 minute session (two 10 minute halves) and giving each team one more sub.
  • I’m glad ESPN and ABC gave full coverage to the tournament. It did a lot for soccer here, and I’m sure it had similar impact for many other parts of the country, too. It’s a beautiful game, all it needs here is more exposure. (Side note– Thierry Henry looked past his prime for France this year, but I like bringing him to the MLS. We want our players playing in their leagues, but having some of theirs in ours couldn’t hurt either.)
  • Coming into this World Cup, only seven countries had won the tournament. I found this graphic online, which illustrates the number of cups per country. If you asked me, I could have named all of them, but seeing them laid out like this was an eye-opener. For those of you who are geographically challenged, it’s Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Uruguay, France, and England (and now Spain).
  • There will be people who complain how low scoring the game is, but I always argue back that it should be fun to watch because there is constant action. People say they like watching hockey but not baseball because of the difference in game speed, but really, soccer should be the easiest to watch. Constant gameplay, no timeouts, no commercials, no coaches challenges, no measuring for first downs, no pucks out of play, and definitely no switching pitchers after one batter. Just action, action, action.
  • After this showing from Team USA, they really need to go at least as far as they did this time for the next one to be considered a success. As mentioned before, soccer in this country can not afford to have the States eliminated in the group stage.

That’s all she wrote, folks. Congratulations to Spain for winning their first ever World Cup, and for becoming the first team to lose their opening match and then go on to win it all. Soccer doesn’t stop for four years, though. You can tune into the Fox Soccer Channel for some English soccer, or check out the MLS for America’s pro league. Locally, you can get out to watch FC Buffalo play (or catch their final home game in about 90 minutes at All-High Stadium). Knock the ball around with friends or get a game of World Cup together with the guys. This may be my last soccer post for a while, but that doesn’t mean the sport stops until the world reconvenes in Brazil, just over 1400 days away.

The U.S. Men play Brazil in New Jersey, Tuesday August 10 at 8pm. It’ll be live on ESPN2, or catch the game.

Go States. Go Soccer.