By Ridge Mahoney Senior Editor, Soccer America
Whether or not Bob Bradley
was U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati
's first choice as U.S. national team coach is no longer relevant.
Bradley, whether he remains for two games, two years, or two decades, is a good choice.
An official announcement Friday will confirm Bradley as the next national team coach, wearing the
title as interim head coach, according to sources. He will be in charge for friendlies against Denmark Jan. 20 and Mexico Feb. 7. He might be in charge much longer.
His long-term status
is unclear, but sources did state he has cut ties with Chivas USA, which for the past day or so has been negotiating with U.S. Soccer a buyout of Bradley's contract. Bradley will be retained by U.S.
Soccer regardless of whether or not another head coaching hire is made, in case aborted negotiations with Juergen Klinsmann
are rekindled or someone else,
such as Jose Pekerman
, takes the job. A staff coach, in whatever sense, he will remain.
And the case of former national team coach Steve Sampson
comes up as well. Hired as interim head coach after Bora Milutinovic
was let go in 1995, Sampson earned the
full-time gig with strong showings by the USA at U.S. Cup as well as Copa America. That it all fell apart at France '98 doesn't nullify that some great U.S. results were achieved under Sampson.
During protracted negotiations between Klinsmann and Gulati, the former German international and national team coach mentioned both Bradley and Crew head coach Sigi Schmid
as men he could work with shaping the future of American soccer.
Former U.S. head coach Bruce Arena
stated he believes an
American should coach the American team. And so one shall. Not likely, however, is Bradley to use the same ways and means and methods as did Arena, despite their past liaisons as head
coach/assistant coach with Virginia, D.C. United and the U.S. Olympic team.
Precise details as to what motivated Klinsmann to halt negotiations this week may never be known. Money and a
supposed dispute between adidas, which has an endorsement deal with Klinsmann, and Nike, outfitter and sponsor of U.S. national team programs, were mere details that could have been taken care of.
Influence and power were the primary stumbling blocks, but not only as to what Klinsmann wanted control over, but also what he didn't want to be bothered with.
Klinsmann lived in Southern
California while coaching Germany not only because he likes the climate. He liked the insulation, the distance, the separation between him and the smothering bureaucracies of a national soccer
federation and endless annoyances dealing with players, teams, coaches and leagues. Multiply those federation frustrations a hundredfold and spread those pesky player details amongst maybe a dozen
countries to approximate the burden a national team coach could face without some buffer zones.
Anyone expecting Klinsmann to joyfully zip from his home to Home Depot to watch every youth
team training session or speak at every coaches' symposium, or travel to regional camps and tournaments, has got it all wrong.
He'd want to hire his own coaches and staff and set up his
own organizational structure to help him run the national team program. U.S. Soccer wants the strongest possible squad for the Gold Cup, Klinsmann wouldn't want anything less for the Copa America
as well, even though European players would have to skip one or the other to take a summer break.
Klinsmann made some controversial, unconventional hires during his stint in Germany and
just because he lives in America doesn't mean he'd follow American models, much of them mired in staid, stagnated bureaucracies. Ironic indeed it would be if a free-thinking German ruffled feathers
in this part of the free world.
He may get the chance, but not right away. Instead, a man steeped in the American game will take his country's top job. If he does well enough, in a year
or so, the question might not be "Juergen When?" It will be "Juergen Who?"
Said a fellow coach, "Juergen's name and reputation are incredible, and he would have been a great figurehead
for the game in this country. But you can't go wrong with the person they did get.
"From the grassroots to the colleges to the pros and MLS to the national team to the international game,
if there's one person who has his finger on the pulse of the game in this country and has shown he can do the job, it's Bob."