2. U.S. SOCCER: Timing, tragedy forced Gulati's hand

By Ridge Mahoney
Senior Editor, Soccer America

By his own admission, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati went a lot further than he probably would have gone with any other candidate to secure Juergen Klinsmann's services as the next U.S. national team coach.

But the search stretched over five months. Gulati interviewed 13 serious candidates and whittled that list down to five, then spent the last month and a half trying to nail down his first choice.

When Klinsmann broke off talks, Gulati quickly went with the only American on his final list. Bob Bradley was named Friday as interim head coach of the U.S. national team and head coach of the under-23 team that will attempt to play in the 2008 Olympic Games. He leaves Chivas USA after one season and takes over two teams with which he has been an assistant under former head coach Bruce Arena.

"In some ways, we're very similar but in other ways we're very different," said Bradley, who coached Chicago, the MetroStars and Chivas USA after serving as Arena's assistant at D.C. United. "We agree on a lot of the little details, but we don't always see players in the same way or how to do certain things. I think we both enjoyed the times when we didn't agree. We challenged each other and since I left Bruce I've worked with people who didn't always agree with me, either, and that has kept me on my toes."

The process isn't done. Club conflicts, according to Gulati, prevented two of the candidates - presumably Lyon head coach Gerard Houllier and Manchester United assistant coach Carlos Queiroz -- from accepting the position immediately, but they could resurface once the European season concludes in the spring. A hire could be made at that time. Former Argentina coach Jose Pekerman also remains in the picture.

Or Bradley could retain command through the summer, during which the U.S. will play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and Copa America. An impending January training camp forced Gulati's hand, as did a fatal heart attack suffered by U.S. assistant coach Glenn Myernick in early October. Myernick had been asked to coach the U.S. in a mid-November friendly and could have continued in that role indefinitely if the search wore on. That November date was canceled, and as talks with Klinsmann dragged, the pressure kept building.

"I said in October I wouldn't have any sleepless nights if we didn't have a coach by early December," said Gulati. "Well, I lost a lot of sleep in the first week of December. Timing is a key reason. You have to clear a lot of hurdles in negotiations. Juergen and I were able to clear a lot of them but we couldn't clear all of them. At some point you run out of time and that's where we ended up. On Jan. 2, we have to start a training program."

Of the final five candidates, Klinsmann is the only one eliminated, although Gulati did say there could be some other role for him in the future. Gulati refused to specify on which issues he and Klinsmann differed, except to debunk rumored obstacles of a Nike-adidas conflict or splits regarding control and influence.

Gulati did say other candidates could emerge in the next few months. He mentioned Dutch coach Guus Hiddink, who is under contract with the Russian national team and unless dismissed wouldn't be available until 2008. The search for a technical director will continue, with responsibilities and duties to be divvied up between him and the national team coach depending on the skill sets and characteristics of the people hired and their personal preferences.

"It's a wide-open landscape," said Gulati. "I don't think we need to limit ourselves in any way."
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