Saturday, August 14, 2010

It's Not You, It's Me, Wait, It is You: Moving Beyond the Bradley Era

United States national soccer team head coach Bob Bradley responds to a question from a reporter at a news conference in Irene June 27, 2010, one day after the U.S. team lost to Ghana in their second round match in the 2010 World Cup.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder  (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)


Last week news and rumors of Bob Bradley resigning from his post as coach of the U.S. National Team were swirling around the internet, both on new media and within so-called traditional news media too, like ESPN's web offerings. So far, Soccer House (i.e. U.S. Soccer) and Bob Bradley's camp have denied the news of his resignation and claim that talks are ongoing. All through this process there was, in my opinion, way too much neurotic hand wringing amongst folks that cover soccer in the U.S. in one capacity or another over how accurate the rumors were and whether it was best to sit back until there was some official word on the matter. A mannerism that, I fear, tends to stifle the creativity and analysis that is needed to elevate soccer beyond boring box scores and match reports within the realm of sports coverage in the US.

Well, I really don't care who breaks a news story first, breaking news isn't a primary focus of what I do, that being said I am of the opinion that it's foolish to ignore a rumor until there is "official word" because official announcements in the world of sports have become mere formalities. Face it, we all knew that Lebron James was headed to Miami (sorry South Beach) before "The Decision" aired on ESPN. Instead, with all this talk of a potential Bradley resignation, this is the prime opportunity for me to state my position that I hope Bradley resigns and that Soccer House takes the search for a new coach seriously this time.

That being said, here's a short list of who Soccer House should interview if Bradley does resign:

- Jürgen Klinsmann
- Sigi Schmid
- Javier Aguirre
- Dominic Kinnear
- Giovanni Trapattoni
- Dunga
- Martin O'Neill
- Luciano Spalletti
- José Pekerman
- Henk ten Cate

Let's face it, if you were to take a poll of U.S. Soccer fans asking who they want to be the team's next coach, Jürgen Klinsmann would be near the top, if not on top, of the poll. Following Bruce Arena's departure after the US's dreadful 2006 group stage experience, Soccer House seemingly put all of its eggs in one basket with said basket being Jürgen Klinsmann. We all know how that went though. In the end Klinsmann wanted certain powers that Soccer House wasn't willing to cede to him. No agreement was reached, so Soccer House took the word "interim" out of Bob Bradley's title. Is Soccer House now willing to cave on Klinsmann's demands? I doubt it, but we shall see if Soccer House now realizes it has to make certain sacrifices to see the team reach the next level.

One final note on Klinsmann, in my opinion, Jürgen is more of a general manager than a coach. That explains why he wants, nay needs, certain concessions from Soccer House in order to achieve any real success with the US National Team. My concern with Klinsmann is that I question how much of Germany's success during his tenure was due to Klinsmann and how much of it was due to Joachim Löw. Since it's unlikely that Löw would leave Germany to help Klinsmann with the US team, I'd be curious as to who Klinsmann would want as his assistant before offering him the US position.

Ever since Bora Milutinović's reign as coach of the US National Team ended in 1995, Soccer House has relied on Americans to steer the US National Team. First it was Steve Sampson, then Bruce Arena, and now Bob Bradley. In light of this recent history, Soccer House will definitely take a look at a couple of Americans with potential to take the National Team to new heights. In particular, Soccer House should interview both Sigi Schmid and Dominic Kinnear. While neither Schmid nor Kinnear were born in the United States, they are naturalized citizens who have carved out their soccer careers as Americans.

While both Schmid and Kinnear have managed similar achievements as coaches in Major League Soccer, they have taken very different paths towards becoming the coaches they are today. Schmid, who never played professional soccer or international soccer, launched his coaching career at UCLA in 1977, spending the next twenty plus years in Westwood until the opportunity to coach the US U-20 squad came along in 1998. Shmid would again coach the U-20 team between his coaching stints at L.A. Galaxy and Columbus Crew. Kinnear, on the other hand, spent 14 years playing professional soccer in the United States and abroad, retiring in 2000 after playing for the Tampa Bay Mutiny. Additionally, Kinnear was a member of the U.S. National Team between 1990 and 1993, getting cut from the squad prior to the 1994 World Cup finals. Kinnear had no interest in coaching, but in 2001 his long time friend, Frank Yallop, convinced him to be an assistant coach for the San Jose Earthquakes, now the Houston Dynamo.

The main argument in favor of hiring an American to coach the US National Team is familiarity with the pool of American players. While I believe an open minded foreign coach could become very familiar with the pool of American players, I admit that it would be nice to see what either Schmid or Kinnear could achieve when set free of the salary cap and bizarre rules of MLS. As I mentioned above, Kinnear was cut from the US Team prior to US 1994, a fact that would give Kinnear a bit of a Herb Brooks vibe should he become the National Team coach.

Probably the most controversial name on the above list is that of Javier Aguirre, the former coach of the Mexico National Team. I've tossed Aguirre's name out there on the radio and on twitter, and while I've received some positive responses I have also received some responses indicating that a chunk of the US National Team's fan base would not be happy with a former Mexico coach in charge of the US National Team. While I can understand where this sentiment comes from, I believe that the fact that Aguirre has coached Mexico might make him the perfect replacement for Bradley.

Aguirre is a foreign coach who is obviously familiar with American players and their skill sets; additionally, Aguirre is familiar with CONCACAF and what it takes to advance out of the region and into the World Cup finals. More importantly, Aguirre is familiar with the Mexican team and its weaknesses. US fans long for a solid victory against Mexico at the Azteca in Mexico City, Aguirre might be the only coach who can deliver such a victory at this point in time.

It helps that Aguirre makes his home in Florida, not all that far from Bradenton, potentially giving him a great platform for scouting America's untapped soccer talent. In particular, the Aguirre era could result in expanding Soccer House's scouting focus beyond the traditional youth soccer systems in the US. Finally, after years of having to deal with the Mexican press corps, it might be a pleasant experience for Aguirre to have a coaching job where the local press is not as rabid (something that could make the US job attractive to Dunga).

I'll spare you, good reader, a breakdown of all the names I've listed above, choosing instead to focus on the potential top runners and my personal favorite. Should Bradley move on, as I hope he does, I want to see Soccer House take several months to perform its search for a new coach. Interviewing several candidates, especially some of the ones I listed above, would raise the profile of the US coaching job, which is important when clubs consider dragging their heels in releasing players for national team duty. But more importantly, when you cast a big net, you might unexpectedly end up with the perfect catch.

So, who do you think Soccer House should interview should Bradley move on?