[MY VIEW] The conventional wisdom was that Bob Bradley wouldn't return as national team coach next year.
By general agreement, Bradley mismanaged the biggest game of his coaching career, the round-of-16 match against Ghana at the 2010 World Cup.
And history suggests that the USA won't do as well in the next four years as it did under Bradley in its first four years.
So why was retaining him for four more years the only realistic option for U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati?
Spain victory trumps Ghana loss. For as strong as Gulati's post-game comments after the Ghana match were ("I think the team's capable of more. I think the players know it. I think Bob knows it."), he had spent a year trumpeting the U.S. success at the 2009 Confederations Cup. Nothing had awoken the international soccer community to the potential of American soccer quite like its 2-0 victory over Spain in the Confederations Cup semifinals and the second-place finish. And a year later, after Spain won the World Cup, that U.S. victory looks that much bigger. If Bradley was going to take the hit for the loss to Ghana -- the U.S. players were distracted by the hype of the late win over Algeria and the buzz back home and came out flat against Ghana -- he should get the credit for the Spain win.
There are bigger fish to fry. Any move to dump Bradley would have had to involve a radical change in approach, and Gulati simply won't have time to pull it off in the next few months. Big picture: landing the 2022 World Cup is a much bigger deal than who's in charge of the national team program over the short term, and it will require all Gulati's attention over the next couple of months. The timing of Monday's announcement was critical. With the FIFA inspection tour on the docket for next week, Gulati had to clear up the matter of whether Bradley would stay or go now. (The USA's 2022 bid is in good shape but there are no guarantees when you are dealing with a highly political body like FIFA.)
There's work to be done now. The 2009 Confederations Cup success was only possible because the USA won the 2007 Gold Cup. The 2011 Gold Cup, to again be played in the USA, is just around the corner with a ticket to the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil going to the winner. World Cup 2014 qualifying might start next year. FIFA has already announced it will move the 2014 qualifying draw up five months to July 2011, and Concacaf has proposed to play three stages of qualifying, plus a preliminary round. Bradley is around to get the train moving forward on both fronts.
The 2014 World Cup is a long way off. Just because Bradley has been awarded a new four-year deal, that doesn't mean he'll be around to coach the team in 2014. Even if there was no obvious alternative available now, there's nothing that says Gulati doesn't make a move later on, during qualifying or even after qualifying and before the finals in Brazil. Or he could bring in a World Cup specialist in the mold of Guus Hiddink to manage the team in the finals and get them to or past the quarterfinals. Buying out Bradley's contract if the national team begins to sag shouldn't be a problem. U.S. Soccer is loaded. It will be even more loaded if it bags the 2022 World Cup. The concern that the national team will stagnate under Bradley like it did under Bruce Arena in 2006 is legitimate. Bradley is more of an Xs-and-Os coach than Arena, but both are high-intensity coaches who've gotten more out of their teams than they might have otherwise accomplished thanks to their motivational methods. But there's the real fear these methods will get old under Bradley like they did under Arena.
The coach isn't the problem. Whether it's Bradley in charge, or Juergen Klinsmann or Marcelo Bielsa or Javier Aguirre or Vicente Del Bosque or anyone else, a coach won't win the World Cup. The USA will only win -- or challenge to win -- the World Cup when it has the players. And it doesn't have the players, nor are they on the horizon. Indeed, the the USA could soon be in for a few lean years with the generation after that of Landon Donovan and Co. The USA will only challenge for the World Cup when MLS starts producing young players en masse -- young players with citizenship papers who are eligible to represent the USA. MLS is only now ramping up its youth program. The 2022 World Cup -- hopefully in the USA -- would be a good time to be considered a legitimate contender.