[USA] He will stay in South Africa until the World Cup concludes, and then U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati must deal with the complex issues involving his organization's most valuable property, the men's national team.
There's more to it than simply deciding whether to retain or dismiss national team head coach Bob Bradley, or who to replace him with. Bradley has compiled a respectable record, won some memorable games, instilled a sense of pride and spirit that infatuated a good portion of this nation, nurtured a few promising young players, and triggered virulent reaction at all points of the spectrum regarding his use of players, tactics, personnel, etc. Expectations of reaching the round of 16 were accomplished, but the squandering of an opportunity to go at least a step further can’t be ignored.
Bradley would certainly not admit that he’s taken the team as far as he can, as many critics have claimed. That’s not Bradley’s call, but in the next month Gulati will discuss with U.S. Soccer executives and his lengthy list of contacts in the soccer world much more than the future of Bradley. They and Gulati must ponder these vexing and intertwined questions: where is the state of the U.S. game, where does it go from here, and how does it get there?
Complex enough is the task of replacing Bradley, if that is the decision, with someone who can navigate the byzantine American soccer structure and achieve more with the national team. If all that someone had to do was pick the best available talent and hone it for international play, well, dozens of candidates would be lined up and the decision would be simply which one to choose and how much to pay him.
Of course, the precise role of the national team head coach can be tweaked to whatever Gulati, U.S. Soccer officials and the head coach himself want it to be. For about a decade, talk has swirled of a technical director, who would oversee all programs pertaining to the national teams. Ideally, the head coach and technical director would work together in many areas of player selection and development, technical and psychological aspects of training sessions, and integrate philosophies and concepts at all competitive levels of play.
But would one report to the other? Could both serve in equal but separate authority? Would they report directly to Gulati, or CEO/general secretary Dan Flynn, or the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors, or a national teams committee? How feasible is it to hire a head coach soon to start the new cycle as soon as possible, and then hire a technical director?
Is this the right time to restore the relationship with Juergen Klinsmann, wooed four years ago but ultimately discarded? Would ex-MetroStars coach Carlos Queiroz, who guided Portugal at the World Cup, again be considered? Dutchman Guus Hiddink is already employed as the coach of Turkey, but is there someone with many of the same credentials? Is there a viable domestic option in Sigi Schmid, Dominic Kinnear, Steve Nicol, Peter Nowak or Frank Yallop? Could Bruce Arena be enticed back into the fold, and if so, would it be the right move?
Gulati has striven to increase Hispanic representation on U.S. player rosters and national coaching staffs. Wilmer Cabrera, a native of Colombia, coaches the U.S. U-17s, and former U.S. international midfielder Claudio Reyna was appointed U.S. Youth Soccer Technical Director by Gulati in April. Will this philosophy have a bearing on the next national team head coach?
By rallying to tie England and Slovenia, and score in stoppage time to beat Algeria in a win-or-else showdown, the national team enchanted at least a few million Americans for the first time. In losing a daunting yet winnable game against Ghana, it drew a record TV audience while reminding those in the know that tenacity and spirit can’t indefinitely compensate for middling talent in a few positions.
Those four matches, set amid a colorful and controversial and historic first World Cup in Africa, served as a vivid reminder that by far the most visible property in U.S. Soccer is its men’s national team. The head coach is, at least publicly, the lead dog for a vast enterprise administered and guided by others. Including perhaps a technical director?
After the World Cup disappointment of 2006, a bit of pride and hope has been restored, but as any coach can tell you, the next jump – to being very good -- is dizzying.