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Coach Bradley needs to be a tactical maestro for the US to make the semi-final or better

04/06/2010 4:41 PM - Coach Farrell

The Men’s USA National Team Head Coach Bob Bradley will surely be challenged at the World Cup as he goes up against the best coaches, players and teams that the world has to offer.

 

Bradley will have to match up against England in the first round, and could possibly face Germany’s Joachim Loew in the round of 16.  If the US can reach the quarter-final stage, they will probably face either France or Argentina.  If they make it to the semi-final, the odds are that the US will play Holland, Brazil, Italy or Spain.  All of these teams are world powerhouses and have experienced success in prior World Cups.  The US will have to be tactically perfect to advance through these rounds. 

 

The recent growth of professional soccer in the US has provided Bradley the opportunity to advance quite rapidly onto the world stage.  Most elite coaches in the world have accomplished playing careers behind them or tremendous experience coaching in the biggest tournaments, and they are able to draw on those experiences. Bradley has a different background and thus, different experiences to draw from.

 

Bradley started his coaching career at the college level. He was head coach at Ohio University from 1981 to 1983, before moving to University of Virginia as an assistant coach to Bruce Arena for two years.  In 1984, he took over at the helm of his Alma Mater, Princeton University. After Major League Soccer (MLS) kicked off its inaugural season in 1995, Bradley moved to DC United as assistant coach in 1996, and also became assistant coach of the U-23 USA Olympic team.  Two years later in 1998, Bradley became the head coach of Chicago Fire.

 

During the early stages of the MLS, it was not much more than an elite college league. Chicago was fortunate enough to bring in some eastern Europeans that were simply better than the rest of the players in the league, and the team went on to win the MLS Cup.  It was a successful period for Bradley, and I believe this helped him become a seasoned pro coach. Based on his success in Chicago, he was recruited to New York and became the head coach of the Metro Stars.  He found minimal success at the Stars in his three years and was released of his duties in 2005.  Bradley’s next step was to become the head coach of Chivas USA, where he lead the team to a third place finish in the western conference. In 2006, Bradley was appointed the interim coach of the US men’s national team after they had a disappointing showing at the World Cup.

 

Based on Bradley’s resume, one would certainly think that he was not the man to take the US to the World Cup quarter or semi-finals.  He certainly would not have gotten the job with any other country that is expected to make it fairly far in the World Cup rounds. However, he has brought the team to the final 32 and has progressed quickly at this level. At times, he has shown great naïveté and at other times, he has shown an excellent tactical mind that is cunning and calculated. This tactical side of Bradley needs to be on show at all times this World Cup. Any signs of naiveté will cause a lack of confidence in his players. Moreover, he will be eaten up like red meat to the lions of the world cup.

 

After returning from the Confederations Cup in South Africa, most of Bradley’s top players went back to their clubs in Europe for pre-season training.  The Gold Cup was taking place in the US and Bradley had to assemble a US team that was made up of the best American MLS players. This was an opportunity to see what players he could add to the world cup squad from home soil.  Although the US was basically playing with a B squad, they made it to the final against Mexico. The US was definitely the weaker side on paper, so Bradley had to play a smart tactical game to win it.    

 

The US played a compact game against their biggest rival, who played most of their star players. The game was close for most of the first hour. Then, Mexico was awarded a controversial penalty to take the lead around the 60-minute mark. Bradley had to deal with a capacity crowd at Giants Stadium and very high expectations from the US soccer public. He made a couple of substitutions which opened up the game in an effort to score and get back into it. By opening up the game in an effort to score, it allowed Mexico (who had far superior players on the day) to exploit the US on their home turf in front of 75,000 fans. Bradley needed to make a change at that point in the game, but he should have weighed the consequences of that decision.  He went from a four-man defense to a three-man defense with what he knew were substandard players, and he paid the price. Mexico won 5-0.   In the situation he was facing, the better choice would have been to keep the game tight and see if they could sneak back into it.

 

A month later in Mexico, the US faced the Mexican squad again in a World Cup qualifier. The game was played at Azteca Stadium in a hostile setting: very high altitude, 100,000 partisan fans, and a 100 degree temperature at the 2PM kick-off in August.  Bradley had his best players back, but knew the environment would be extremely hostile.  Although the US lost the game 2-1, Bradley nearly pulled it off with an almost perfect game plan.  In all honesty, the result was unfair to the US. The Americans played a very well executed counter attack game, and Bradley had the right players in the right positions. The US went up early 1-0 in the game from a goal by Charlie Davies. It looked like it would end up being a 1-1 tie; however, one mental breakdown late in the game allowed Mexico to take the spoils. That mental breakdown could not be controlled by Bradley, and he deserves praise for his coaching in the game. In my opinion, this game proved that he could handle a top-level game with everything on the line. His calculated decisions were almost perfect. He put the game plan in with consideration for the environment and even though the result was unfortunate, we saw a great coaching performance.

 

What Bradley will we see at the 2010 World Cup? Will it be the cunning and calculated, or the naïve?  This is a key factor that could determine the fate of the US in South Africa. Although not the pedigree of a top world coach, we have seen glimpses of Bradley’s abilities.  If the naïve coach shows up, the US may endure some more embarrassing moments. If his cunning and calculated side is present, the US may have one of its best World Cup performances ever.



 

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