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Bob Bradley tackles the big summer challenge
by Ridge Mahoney, May 25th, 2007 7AM

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TAGS:  copa america, men's national team

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Only a few prominent names are missing from the 23-man U.S. squad named by Coach Bob Bradley for the Gold Cup, and it's another team nearly evenly divided between players based overseas and those in MLS. It's at least two deep at every position (assuming a 4-4-2 alignment or something similar) and good enough to win the Gold Cup. At least a few players will also be on hand for the Copa America, which kicks off for the U.S. against Argentina just a few days after the Gold Cup final June 24, but those details aren't yet known except that Gold Cup keepers Kasey Keller and Tim Howard probably won't be heading to South America.

"It's not perfect, but we will travel as a team to Venezuela on Monday, June 25," says Bradley. "MLS players who are not a part of the Gold Cup roster will play with their MLS teams through that weekend and there will not be a separate camp for those players."

The juggling will start long before then. Only the European players will be at Home Depot Center Sunday when training commences. The MLS contingent reports June 3, the day after the U.S. plays China in San Jose, so Bradley will fill out his roster for the China game with under-23 players, such as midfielder Sacha Kljestan, who will be available because Chivas USA doesn't play that weekend.

Bradley could have used some under-20s, but most of them will be in Canada playing a pair of friendlies in preparation for the FIFA U-20 World Cup that begins June 30, and the others will be tied up with MLS duties.

Bradley did select his son, Michael, for the Gold Cup, among a group of eight midfielders that also includes DaMarcus Beasley, Benny Feilhaber, Clint Dempsey, Ricardo Clark, and Justin Mapp. After the Gold Cup, Bradley will join the under-20s in Canada.

Steve Cherundolo, Marcus Hahnemann and perhaps Josh Wolff could have been included for the Gold Cup. Defenders Jimmy Conrad and Chris Albright are injured. Bobby Convey recently returned to fitness and won't be called by Bradley for either event. Cory Gibbs has also resumed training but won't be ready for national team duty until the fall, if then.

Landon Donovan, Pablo Mastroeni, Dempsey, Beasley and several other Gold Cup and World Cup veterans are on the roster. The only uncapped player is Revs defender Michael Parkhurst, one of three New England players chosen. Steve Ralston and Taylor Twellman, the team leaders in assists and goals, respectively, with six in each department, are the others. (It seems the USA team may be the only one that can slow down the Revs.)

While U.S. Soccer wants to do well in the Copa America, it needs to win the Gold Cup. It also cannot force players to miss preseason training with their European clubs to play in the Copa America because, unlike the Gold Cup, it is not a CONCACAF championship event.

"I think our answer in the past has always tilted towards the idea that the Gold Cup," says Bradley, "given that it's the championship of our region and it also gives the opportunity to play in the Confederations Cup - the winner plays in the Confederations Cup in the summer of 2009 in South Africa - perhaps holds a little bit more weight.

"When we say that, however, we certainly all know and understand the history and significance of Copa America. We are absolutely set on trying to compete at the highest levels in both events."

Both events impose equal, and considerable, weight on Bradley. In four games at the helm, he's unbeaten, but also unproven. The U.S. under Bradley has yet to play any matches that count. U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati isn't sold on him, either, but has taken the best alternative available.

The Juergen Klinsmann caper, or fiasco, or tragedy - depending on point of view - will no doubt be periodically revisited, especially if the U.S. stumbles short of winning the Gold Cup or even if it doesn't blow out a CONCACAF minnow by enough goals. Certainly both he and Gulati could have conceded on enough sticky issues to broker an agreement, but in these situations, the ultimate power usually lies with the employer, not the prospective employee.

Gulati wanted Klinsmann badly, but they were not on level platforms. If Klinsmann had wanted the job badly enough, he would have gotten it, even if meant giving up more than he wanted to give up. That he didn't doesn't make him wrong or selfish or stubborn. Both men lost. Who lost more won't be known for some time.

Could Klinsmann possibly have wanted the job more than Bradley? No. Is Bradley a novice coaching a national team? Obviously. Is there an American-born coach more deeply steeped in the European and South American game, more knowledgeable of foreign players and coaches and tactics and strategies? I doubt it. That knowledge doesn't guarantee success, but it does ensure the U.S. will know what it's up against and at least have a viable plan in place.

Grandiose expectations of revamping the entire American system will have to wait.

Coaches -- and players for that matter -- can't be accurately evaluated in friendlies. For all his impressive showings in friendies, Jovan Kirovski seldom - if ever - delivered in an important U.S. match.

Jay DeMerit and Frankie Simek didn't put a foot wrong in their debuts against Guatemala in March and they might not get real tests in the Gold Cup until the semifinals. Their work for English clubs earned him callups but only good games for the U.S. will earn them recalls.

Where Bradley has proved himself is with the players through his blunt honesty, his meticulous attention to detail, his mantra of hard work and collective accountability.

"He never once wavered in the fact he was coach of the national team," says Howard of the "interim" tag being excised from Bradley's title. "Whatever prefix you want to put before it, he's the coach of the national team.

"It wasn't, 'We're going to do this for now' or 'Maybe this will be irrelevant later.' It was never like that. He's made sure the national team is a big priority for everyone involved. It's a testament to his character and his ability to bring the players along and buy into the system, and I think everyone's done that, y'know?"

How he prepares the team for these two competitive tournaments, and its results therein, will fill in many of the blank boxes on his checklist.

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Chivas USA), Tim Howard (Everton/ENG), Kasey Keller (no club).

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham/ENG), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Jay DeMerit (Watford/ENG), Frankie Hejduk (Columbus Crew), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard de Liege/BEL), Michael Parkhurst (New England Revolution), Frank Simek (Sheffield Wednesday/ENG), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United/ENG).

Midfielders: DaMarcus Beasley (PSV Eindhoven/NED), Michael Bradley (SC Heerenveen/NED), Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo), Clint Dempsey (Fulham/ENG), Benny Feilhaber (Hamburger SV/GER), Justin Mapp (Chicago Fire), Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids), Steve Ralston (New England Revolution).

Forwards: Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Eddie Johnson (Kansas City Wizards), Taylor Twellman (New England Revolution).


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