Thursday, August 26, 2010

About U.S. Soccer

(Photo: uncredited)

The United States Soccer Federation has really come a long way during the past thirty years. And by "long way," I mean "light years." What was once a small clan of volunteers that used to huddle up in hotel rooms and vacant office spaces back in early-80's has since morphed into a legit, moneymaking organization that delivered a World Cup to a nation that, at the time, failed to support a first division league.

Although the Federation lost its hastily-assembled bid to bring the 1986 World Cup* Stateside, it has since experienced a rapid renaissance that the sport has never seen in this country. In 1988, it was awarded the 1994 World Cup. In 1990, the US MNT clinched its first World Cup berth in 40 years. In 1991, the US WNT won the first-ever Women's World Cup. Three years later, the U.S. hosted the most commercially successful World Cup to date. Then, in 1995...well, you know the rest.

(*You probably already know this, but after Colombia lost its hosting rights due to economic concerns, the '86 Cup was up for bidding. In response, a slew of soccer backers in the States put together a proposal for FIFA to bring it here. I think Henry Kissinger was brought on board to negotiate. Needless to say, it failed.)

It was all good. For reals. To say that it's been an impressive run for a group that had to deal with more in-fighting than a season of Big Brother over the course of its not-so-storied history would be a huge understatement. The fact that it has lived to fight another day time after tumultuous time is a either a testament to sheer determination or pure stubborness. Take your pick.

But as many mountains U.S. Soccer has scaled since those seminal days, it still, to this very day, frustratingly flakes out when important decisions need to be made.

Four score, I mean, four years ago, the Federation mulled its replacement for Bruce Arena after the flameout known as Germany '06. They mulled. And mulled. And mulled some more.

At one point in time, they thought they had Jurgen Klinsmann in the bag. The problem: he wasn't in the bag. At all. And once the former Germany manager officially declined the post, the Federation, with egg on its face, scrambled and brought in Bob Bradley.

You know the funny thing about that hire? Bradley wasn't even given the job on a permanent basis. He was assigned the position with the glamorous "interim" label. It was a temp job. And it was obvious that the Federation still hadn't made up its mind. Amid the ambiguity, one thing was clear: Sunil Gulati and the guys up in Chi-town had no idea who the heck they were going to hire.

After falling flat on its face to find a manager not named Bob Bradley, the "interim" was dropped from Bradley's name tag, likely due to the sheer ineptitude that hampered the hiring process. Whether it was money, availability, commitment, or anything other reason, nobody cared. They just wanted the Federation to make up its damn mind already.

Fortunately, Bradley's successes made it easy to forget that little snafu. He went on to win a bunch of games, a Gold Cup, claim a spot in the Confedations Cup Final, and put the Yanks at the top of Group C at South Africa. Talk about dodging a grenade.

And yet, here we are - again - in 2010, and the Federation finds itself once again mulling its options on the managerial front. Will it be Bob Bradley? Or will it be Klinsmann? How about Jose Pekerman? Martin O'Neil? Bora? ALF?*

(*You wouldn't even have to pay him. Just surround him with an unlimited supply of cats.)

It's bizarre that well-paid employees of the Federation have let history repeat itself. While Brazil, France, and Italy have all since appointed new managers in preparation for Brazil '14, the USSF has once again left the national team manager position in limbo and, in the process, wasted a valuable two months worth of prep time for the national team.

If they wanted Bob Bradley, they would have paid him what he was asking and had him sign on the dotted line last month. And while some would have disagreed with that decision, many of us would have respected it. It is ultimately the Federation's decision to make. At least the team itself would know what direction it was going in.

However, it's fairly obvious that Bradley isn't their first choice for leading the Nats to Brazil in four years. The Federation is probably flirting with a few other familiar faces, all the while Bobby B puts on a brave face and sits on the sideline as a likely lame duck. Or, should all else fail, as it did in 2007, his contract will be hastily renewed, and the Federation will once again look sillier than Snooki outside a South Beach bar. Either way, I suspect this will not end well.

All of which illustrates that as far as this organization has come, some of the remnants that have dogged the Federation for so long - indecision, obstinance and politics - are still very much alive and well.

So much for progress.

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