Saturday, January 24, 2009

Running the gauntlet

Tonight is the first of many nights in which we, the American soccer public, find out whether U.S. Soccer President Sunial Gulati made the right choice in appointing Bob Bradley as the manager of the Men's National Team.

For the last two years, Bradley has overseen a squad that has performed admirably at times, depending upon which circles you surround yourself within. However, there's no debate that the Yanks' recent form has been proof positive that U.S. Soccer isn't as dead as it looked after a disasterous Germany '06.

Yet, the last two years, a period through which the National Team has gone 12-5-1, will mean little what will be an intense 18 months ahead. Bradley's charges will be tested like never before. World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Cuba are one thing; a Confederations Cup with Italy, Brazil, and Egypt as opponents? Get ready for teeth knashing and cold sweats.

And it won't get much easier thereafter. A year from now, we'll know who the U.S. will be grouped with for South Africa '10, and if the competition is anything like what it was during Germany '06, it may be a very long and trying year-and-a-half ahead.

Which brings us back to the original question: with a gauntlet of world-class competition up the road, was Bob Bradley the right choice? We all know one thing: he wasn't the federation's first choice. Their sexy pick for manager was none other than Juergen Klinsmann, ne' the manager of third-place Germany during the World Cup. The California-based manager and U.S. Soccer appeared to be a match made in football heaven.

Yet, for reasons widely speculated, U.S. Soccer was left all alone at the altar. Klinsmann decided to stay out of the spotlight for a few months, only to re-emerge as the man in charge at Bayern Munchen. Enter Bob Bradley, with the oh-so-flattering interim label affixed to his managerial title, and a media whirlwind filled with sharp questions and pointed criticisms directed at Gulati and the USSF.

Eventually, the eye of the storm passed, with names like Jose Pekerman and Sven-Goran Eriksson hurled around, Sunil Gulati eventually stuck by his man and named Bradley as his man for this World Cup cycle.

Two years into the Bradley regime, the results have been promising. Victories over Mexico and a gritty, well-earned result against Guatemala in Guatemala City, not to mention a thrilling 0-0 draw to Argentina have all been positive signs of of the club's progress.

However, let's not forget that they've stumbled badly as well. An embarrassing 2-0 loss to England last May, not to mention an absolutely futile Copa America showing two summers ago cautioned American soccer public not to get too far ahead of ourselves.

What can we expect tonight against Sweden? Without many of his regulars - namely Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard - at his disposal, it may be a wily, tooth and claw affair on the outskirts of Hollywood.

Whatever the result, though, there's no doubt tonight will be the first in a lengthy series of matches that will ultimately determine whether Bob Bradley is the right man for the job.


Jason D said...

I think Sweden could win the game 4-0 and it would still mean nothing. The really test for Bob doesn't start until February 11th.

Still, this year is the year that will ultimately decide if he's on the sidelines in South Africa in 2010

BrianTheOC said...

Just glad it didn't end up 3-3...jeez, talk about drama.

Unfortunately, I think Bradley's locked in as manager through next year, even if the NT plays like those kids in Big Green between now and the WC.