What's so special -- or stressful -- about coaching the USA?

By Paul Gardner

Bruce Arena, I see, has been speaking up in defense of Bob Bradley. That's nice -- coming to the defense of a friend is always an admirable thing to do.

Even so, it’s an odd sort of defense that Arena mounts -- if only because it portrays a “Bradley At Bay” scenario, with poor Bob being flayed alive by an army of -- presumably influential -- critics.

I really don’t think that corresponds to reality. Bradley has his critics, for sure. Is there a national team coach anywhere in the world who does not get criticized? Put in that global context, it must be quickly seen that Bradley has what is probably the easiest national team job in the world. Precisely because the pervasive pressure that comes with the job in, say, Italy or England or Argentina or Brazil or Germany, etc., simply does not exist in the USA.

When has Bradley woken up to find that his name is featured in unfriendly banner headlines in all that day’s newspapers? When has Bradley been afraid to turn on his television because he doesn’t want to hear his name being defamed and his work being trashed? When has he found going out -- i.e. living a normal life -- a problem for fear that he will be recognized and abused?

The very idea of such things happening to a soccer coach in the USA is ludicrous. Bradley also gets the velvet glove treatment from the very people whose job it should be to take him to task when he gets things wrong -- the media. Has Bradley ever faced a hostile press conference? Forget it, I’ve sat in on enough of these to know that they are pussy-cat affairs. Has he faced even a hostile question or two? Maybe -- but he always responds badly. He cannot, in fact, handle criticism.

At a recent conference, tired of his meandering non-answers, I asked him to give me “an unequivocal answer: did he consider the 2010 World Cup campaign a success or a failure?” That was too much for Bradley, who replied, “I’m not going to answer that question, put like that” -- and walked off. And this is the guy who, we were led to believe, was going to coach in the land of the English tabloid press?

In short, Bradley has a very American experience of being a national team coach. That, if I’m understanding Arena correctly, is the way it should be. “You need an American coach ... someone who understands the American way. This country, and soccer in this country, is different to anywhere else.”

Maybe so. But even if I accept that argument in toto it really doesn’t make a lot of sense because during the past 25 years the only foreign coach the USA has had was Bora Milutinovic, from 1991 to 1995 (I’m not counting Alkis Panagoulias as foreign, as he had already spent time coaching at the club level in the USA). Of the six World Cup teams during that time, five have been coached by Americans.

Their record is neither that good nor that bad. I’ve no idea whether it would have been better under foreign coaches. I suspect not. It would, of course, depend on which foreign coach -- and that is the problem with Arena’s “you need an American,” because it implies that any American would be better than any foreigner. Highly questionable.

Of no immediate concern, anyway. Bob Bradley is the coach we’ve got -- is it going to be a case of “second time around, Bob will be better” as Arena predicts? The stats on coaches who are allowed to continue in charge for a second World Cup say no, he is more likely to do worse.

Sunil Gulati is aware of those stats and has chosen to ignore them. Possibly correctly, for soccer stats are notoriously fickle. Even so, listening to Bradley take all the excitement out of the future with his talk of doing more of the same and reducing the sport to merely getting the little details right, is a depressing experience.

Does it matter that Bradley is consistently unable to give us a vision -- in words -- of how he wants his team to play? It ought not to -- no one said you had to be Shakespeare to get the job -- but it would be a lot more inspiring to know exactly where Bradley is taking us.

The worrying thing is that Bradley has already had four years during which to give us a team which ought to accomplish more -- or at least promise more -- than an assured ability to beat its Concacaf opponents. That is not exactly an impossible task. But Bradley has not achieved it.

His team is still -- as the U.S. national team has ever been -- a team in search of a style. There is never any guarantee of consistency from one game to the next. For any sort of success, it needs a lucky break or two. It got that, courtesy of England’s goalkeeper, in South Africa. But even then, for further progress, it needed comebacks and last-minute heroics.

Nothing solid is ever going to be built on that fortuitous basis. Bradley, an intelligent man, must surely know that, just as he must surely see that if he doesn’t become a good deal more adventurous in his selection of players, then he will preside over another four-year span of average performances followed by a disappointing World Cup.

The same old story, in fact. And that is what makes it so essential that Bradley opens his eyes to the full array of American talent and starts to build a team that has promise ... one that looks like a soccer team rather than a souped-up college team.

Can Bradley do that? Possibly. But while he’s at work, he may get criticized -- something he has to learn how to handle. The worst thing for him would be Arena’s wish about the critics -- “The best thing they can do is shut up. ... Just let him do his job.”

So now the coach is to be beyond criticism? No one is allowed to disagree with him? That’s strange, coming from Arena, who always did a pretty good job of handling the scraps of criticism that came his way. He knows what Bradley has yet to learn, that a coach who cannot handle criticism is a crippled coach.

23 comments about "What's so special -- or stressful -- about coaching the USA? ".
  1. David Hardt, September 3, 2010 at 7:57 p.m.

    It is not the coach/manager for the US, it is the messed up player development. Let's go with the biggest and fastest at the younger ages to win games with athletic ability not soccer skills and then when everyone catches up in size and speed, we have a team of no soccer skill and not athletically superior any more. Wonder why Kaka's and others are great in other countries, we stifle that ability and type of play in the younger ages and many of those players move on to other sports or give it up, or do not have high level experience when they catch up. Sorry for the rant

  2. cony konstin, September 3, 2010 at 8:20 p.m.

    Coach Arena and Bradley have done their best. Bill Walsh, Tom Landry, Vince Lombardi, and Phil knight were all world champions. The problem is that the only opponents that they competed with were all from the US. WORLD CUP SOCCER 200 plus countries participate. The US has no excuse of not winning a world cup in men's soccer. The women did it. Of course international women's soccer for many years has been oppressed so the US women have had a huge advantage but not any more. Why because just like the boys the girls play soccer in a day care environment. Soccer must be played 24/7 and 365 days a year. But instead what do American players get. Nice fields, $250 soccer shoes, soccer camps, coaching till the kids beg for mercy, and a lot of other mumbo jumbo. Everyone including Bradley and Arena should be preaching that if you want to be a passionate player then US Soccer must start a soccer revolution by building soccer playgrounds for kids in the inner cities of America, which is free and open 7 days a week. Leave the suburbs alone. That environment is to difficult to change. The HOOD is where US Soccer efforts should be emphasized. If we don't do this then our future magical players will never be given an opportunity to truly discover what the beautiful game is really all about. Criticism is a waste of time. What we need are solutions, creativity, leadership, and a new vision for where the US need to go with soccer. It starts with the game and ends with the game. Coach Arena and Bradley have done their best. No more criticism is needed. Now is the time for a soccer revolution in the USA. The US style of play should be creative, explosive, and elegant. Attack, Attack, Attack relentlessly like the pacific ocean in waves.

  3. Edvin Hernandez, September 3, 2010 at 11:04 p.m.

    Easy, Paul.

    Don't you get carried away too. You know that with such a question you left Bradley no way out. Either answer would have meant his head on a silver platter. We can agree that the USA's performance in the last World Cup was not successful, and our national team was eliminated by Ghana again. So the answer you want from Bradley is to admit to his failure, but then that would mean the end of his coaching career, right?

    Is impossible to be a salesman and admit to your critics that your product stinks.

    Thank you for making the tough questions and criticizing our national coaches, this is an important task that will always helps raise the bar of our national team's level of competition.

  4. Dirk Thomas, September 4, 2010 at 5:27 a.m.

    I believe that the issue is the lack of a creative and imaginative coach. All the other comments hit on valid points, but ultimately, for us to make changes in our culture, we need to make the best of what we have, which means picking the very best players from the pool, and then using them in the best possible way. I do not see this happening. that's the first problem. If the national team coach did that, he would eventually have a greater chance of forcing the knuckleheads that run US soccer to change their archaic and boring way of thinking. Why should they create a better system of developing better players, or reaching out to the poorer areas where creative and imaginative soccer is really played, when they seem to be happy with mediocrity? We aren't doing that well, but we aren't doing the badly either. For them that's good enough. And until we finally get a system here where a pro team can get sent down to a lower division, I'm not sure we will ever generate a competitive enough environment to even find the best players we have available. Sorry for ranting, but I think that the problems are actually pretty solvable, we just don't have executives or managers with the balls to get it done.

  5. Robert Kiernan, September 4, 2010 at 6:59 a.m.

    It's clear to me that when Sunil Gulati was allowed to make the National Team Coaching position into just a two man race... and that wasn't immediately jumped on by what laughingly we call the soccer press in the country, we were in for more of the same. That once Turkey signed Guus Hiddink, there really was little to no other candidate regularly talked up and so it was back to Bunker Bob and the adherents of Route One football played mostly by work rate wonders. But what did surprise me was just how long this took to come about...that was the part of Bruce Arena's little rant that did have a grain of truth in it...that Gulati and Flynn either should have backed the man or publicly castigated him, but instead did the diplomatic, rather gutless thing...and waited for him to leave, to be hired by someone in Europe ready to drink the Kool-aid...well they just don't come that stupid in the EPL, at least about hiring unproven coaches and outside of selling papers for Fleet Street, nobody of any real standing took that hype for reality and I doubt that even the boys over in Soccer House in Chicago, clearly looking for a way out without being seen to be the heavies, seriously thought that was going to happen.
    So now we have Bob Bradley safely entrenched as our fearless leader for up to another four years and just how will he really change the program now from what he has or hasn't achieved in his first four years? I tend to fear that most all of the weakness that has been shown will this rate we may NEVER actually have a left flank that works, certainly Bradley hasn't managed for several years now to make it work, so why would anyone expect anything radically new? No this just reminds me of an old Peter Cook and Dudley Moore routine, of an interviewer asking if after all these years have you learned from your mistakes...and the answer given was, Yes, Yes...I have Indeed learned from my mistakes and feel quite sure that I could repeat them all over again!
    I truly feel sorry for the players...this isn't going to be much fun for them or us I fear.

  6. Jeff Bradley, September 4, 2010 at 7:32 a.m.

    As a journalist (20 years in the business at places like Sports Illustrated, the NY Daily News and ESPN), I ask you Paul, why don't you ask those tough questions one-on-one, face-to-face? I've watched you for years, and you try to be a bully coaches in press conferences. To me, that's showboating and trying to embarrass the interview subject. As one other reader posted, How was Bradley to answer your question the way it was worded. He says, "Yes," you kill him. He says, "No" and it's forever held against him. Ever consider that the coach is taking his players into consideration when he answers questions? Now, go back to writing the same columns over and over again.

  7. Kevin Leahy, September 4, 2010 at 9:42 a.m.

    Bruce Arena talks about American coaches, so I hope he understands about one's right to have an opionion. Why should BB be immune to criticism? There are other people that have knowledge of the game other than the two of them! I believe that he has been the best American coach we have had, but he is not perfect either. If he had had continued to use Clark or Findley, he would have been blasted too!! Please, don't ask the national team coach to straighten out player development. The federation needs to do that.

  8. Walt Pericciuoli, September 4, 2010 at 10:14 a.m.

    It's not so much that we need a foreign head coach but a rethink of our entire player development program.After all, BB can only select from the players he sees and from what he knows. For a complete make over, I think we need to turn the keys over completly to proven experts that have shown they can develop the creative talented players we are all looking for; starting at the very young ages. I don't think those experts we are looking for are English trainers. I think it is time to move away from this American/English approach that now so many of our young players here are influnced by at their youth academies, super clubs and youth clubs.Instead, we should be looking to Holland, Spain,France,Brazil and Argentina who have proven they develop the most talented young players today. US Fed should cough up the money to bring in a top level guy (Cryuff?)and let him have free reign to hire his trainers,develop our US coaching systems and a style for all our American players as our culture is today. Give him a 10 year term before we make judgement as to the success of the program. Not necessarily winning the WC, but a competitive team that plays with a style, that plays with flair and creativity. A team we can all enjoy watching. I don't think this can happen until there are new people at the top willing to make change. For now, be ready for more of the same.

  9. Gus Keri, September 4, 2010 at 10:16 a.m.

    The massive criticism of BB's re-hiring showed the tremendous growth of soccer in this country. The soccer fans are no longer passive on these issues. They are taking responsibility and voicing their concern. They showed that they care. This is a sign of maturity. So, for Bruce Arena to tell them to shut up, is disgraceful. This is not a dictatorship.

  10. cony konstin, September 4, 2010 at 10:54 a.m.

    Blasting Paul or criticizing Bradley or Arena is not the answer. Choosing English or Brazilian systems of developing players in not the answer. Coaching is not the answer. Coaching is totally overrated. The answer is simple but doing it is what is hard. US Soccer or any of you who are writing on this site need to step up and created something for poor kids in America to do besides sending these kids when they grow to jail, war, or to their early graves. Soccer my friends is the answer for these kids. I know this for a fact because I have been working with these kids for 36 years. They don't give damn if we win a world cup. If Bradley and Arena were national coaches. If you or I played for Real Madrid. These kids just want a place to express themselves and have fun doing it. So enough debating who should be the head coach of the US or who should develop US players and lets start creating homes for poor kids in America so they can have a place to play the game everyday. Because once we do that then we are doing something right. Meanwhile talk is cheap and we are spending too much money to win a world cup and we don't have the right coach to win it nor do we have the players to do it as well. So lets invest our money in helping poor US kids to have a chance to become soccer magicians by giving them a place which they can feel is theirs. I have been coaching for 36 years and have traveled all over the world because of soccer. I know exactly what the US needs. The kids need a place just to play. Trust me if we do this for them we are making a real difference for today and the future for US Soccer.

  11. beautiful game, September 4, 2010 at 2:11 p.m.

    There are two major issues regarding this topic. First, quality players, how many and how effective. Second, a quality coach has to bring the players to the next level. Example, LD, technically skilled and probably the best on the USMNT squad. Problem, not enough touches on the ball during a match. Not enough desire to want the ball...where's the coach to address this critical isuue. Platini & Zidane orchestrated Les Bleus; Iniesta the same, so too Pirlo or Ballack...why is Donovan so spotty throughout the match; dare i ask the coach?

  12. Derek Dunmire, September 4, 2010 at 4:47 p.m.


    When you have some extra time please browse through your articles of the past. I think you will be unable to find one article that has a positive message. I personally could not go through life so negatively and write about a sport that obviously despise. Cheer up big guy !

  13. James Madison, September 4, 2010 at 7:06 p.m.

    As I hve written elsewhere (and said to anyone who will listen), Bradley does what can be done with what is available to him. The real issue, if we are concerned with not doing better competitively on the international scene, is the failure of Mr. Gulati's US Soccer to doing a better player development job.

  14. Philippe Fontanelli, September 4, 2010 at 10:04 p.m.

    Paul's last two articles were the best lately. Finally he called the spade a spade. It was long overdue as he has experienced quality soccer for much longer than most of us. I used to read his articles in "World Soccer" published in England. So Jeff Bradley you must be one of the Bradley cohorts and BTW we have never heard of you.
    As I said before your relative BB is an egotistical, narcist and sellfish person to accept the job, because he knows he is impotant as a coach. He is there for the job and the money. He is not able to carry US Soccer and the team to another level. Furthermore nepotism will continue again and it is not how well you do, but who you know and how well you brown nose the two Bradleys (mainly the Junior). MB for instance who has a "rented" position (for life or as long as BB is the coach)to be on the field at all times w/o ever being substituted.
    As for Arena it's a free country we have the right and the freedom of speech. He should keep his foul mouth shut the arrogant bum and s.o.b. He should pay attention to his own house (team) as it is burning down as the US National Team. The Arena and Bradley tandem along with Gulati dictatorship has to cease. Whatever happened to the saying "that you only as good as your last performance"? Well these men have not shown lately anything even mediocre with the National Team or any of the MLS clubs for that fact. Remember you only as good as your last performance!

  15. Paolo Jacobs, September 4, 2010 at 10:08 p.m.

    Well, we did upset #1 Spain a yr ago, and gave Brasil a run for their money in the final game.... the Players like Bob it seems... I'm ok for him for another 4 yrs... Like i said before, a healthy Charlie Davis, and Gooch, and we might had advanced further in this past World Cup...America has made great strides since qualifying in the 1990 World Cup... all the World's power team coaches know the US are a tough out! Thats progress... We're catchin up

  16. Bill Anderson, September 5, 2010 at 1:27 p.m.

    I will not support the US National Team and Federation in its current configuration. Dan Flynn, Sunil Gulati, and Bob Bradley must all be shown the door.

  17. Bill Anderson, September 5, 2010 at 1:30 p.m.

    A senior level player was having a bad day at practice last Thursday. When asked why he was struggling with his first touch and possession, he shrugged his shoulders. Later in practice he ran up and told the coach "I know why".
    He had just realized he had a US Men's National Team jersey on...

  18. Dan Phillips, September 6, 2010 at 6:43 p.m.

    Bruce Arena and all who defend Bradley are complete idiots. First of all Klinsmann would do a lot better in formations, and developing an attaking team. And second, and more important, whith Klinsamnn's high profile charisma it would have kept US soccer in the media spotlight, win or lose. As you remember, Gulati was lamenting that losing to Ghana kept the US from being in the media spotlight another 2 weeks in the WC. So it's an all around loss for US soccer to have rehired boring Bob.

  19. todd burkett, September 7, 2010 at 2:30 p.m.

    love the comments!!!!! bradley being retain for another four years doesn't really bother me that much....i was not that enamoured with the other candidate either.....i heartily agree with the reader (cony konstin) who suggested that there is a bigger role for soccer to play in this country, and that one of the residual benfits will be the organic development of the kind of creative attacking players that capture the imagination and dominate on the world stage

  20. Gak Foodsource, September 8, 2010 at 12:04 p.m.

    Jeff Bradley writes: "How was Bradley to answer your question the way it was worded. He says, "Yes," you kill him. He says, "No" and it's forever held against him. Ever consider that the coach is taking his players into consideration when he answers questions? Now, go back to writing the same columns over and over again."

    Jeff, with all due respect, this was the 2010 World Cup right? Wasn't the goal of project 2010 to win the World Cup? The answer to Paul's question was actually remarkably simple: Paul, you like I have high expectations for this team, and won't be satisfied until we are beating the best teams in the world. Any World Cup we don't win is a disappointment, as it is another lost opportunity."

    Bob Bradley's job is to win. It isn't to hold hands, to develop players, or to model nike coaching gear. And I suspect what angers Paul the most about this World Cup is that our leaders won't hold the team to the same high standards he has, hence why he has to write so many angry columns for all these years.

    Look at Gulati's comments in the conference call he gave with reporters after extending Bradley's contract, available on Gulati
    argued the US is only disappointed because it didn't get an extra game or two, as any of the other 31 nations in the World Cup would be, and even suggested fans would have been happier with the World Cup had we finished second in the group and lost to Germany 2-1 in the second round. Wrong, Sunil. We wanted to win the World Cup. And we don't want one or two more games. We want four.

  21. miguel abisaab, September 8, 2010 at 5:28 p.m.

    Good afternoon to all from Baghdad, Iraq
    Well it seems our passions for our national soccer team coach is coming out of the woodworks. Paul in the last twenty years since Italy 90,the USMNT under a US coach in the World Cup before Bob Bradley, have 2 wins(2002),2 draws(2002&2006), 10 losses(3)90,(3)98,(2)02,(2)06 11 goals scored,1 own goal(US vs. Italy,2006)25 goals allowed(8)90,(5)98,(6)02,(6)06 1 own goal(US vs. Portugal,2002)thats under Robert Gansler(90),Steve Sampson(98) and Bruce Arena(02&06).Bob Bradley in his first World Cup outing,the US finished first place in a group stage and not losing a game in the group stage since 1930. Granted some odd handling of England's goalkeeper, a referee from Mali and Donovan's goal brought a new deminsion to the national team. Ultimately it cames down to the matches, we believed that we had a good enough team to make it to the semi-finals. Did anyone noticed the days off between each match the US played? especaily after the Algeria game. Yes we lost to Ghana in overtime, however if the US would have won, could our defense been able to handle Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez? probably not. As fatigue was cited for the English team failure, the defense was ours. I am stating what is obvious that to justify opinions and coments we have to look beyond the game and the criticism.
    Paul and to all US soccer fans we have to be patient, our style will come in due time. A Soccer Digest magazine in 1990 prior to the 1990 World Cup,asked coaches from the MISL and the former coaches and players from the NASL to make predictions on the US. A quetion was asked to Dave Clemments, former Northern Ireland player and coach on what type of soccer player can a american become. If you find the magazine and read his answer you will agree with his answer, as I did twenty years ago. Take Care and the Best to All.
    SSG Miguel Abisaab
    US Army,FOB Falcon, Iraq
    If you wish to share opions and points of view on soccer in the US or anywhere please e-mail me at

  22. Brian Herbert, September 9, 2010 at 2:48 a.m.

    CONY is right on when he talks about US Soccer starting with kids having a place to play footie after school, passion grows when kids think of those early experiences with the sport and soccer becomes this safe, fun, challenging thing in their life. We parents and coaches and adults involved in our communities must do our part. I've kicked the ball with my son since he was 18 months old, by 3 he knew not to "toe" the ball and what part of his foot to use for a solid strike. I coached his teams for years, he's now a top notch U11 player and when he comes to me and says, "Dad, let's play some street soccer" I still drop what I'm doing because NOTHING is more important to me than to see him show initiative and passion for the sport. It's a sacrifice, but there is great reward when a young player wants to stay on the field after practice because he just can't get enough soccer. That is really the "momentum" we need to concern ourselves with that we can actually do something about.

  23. Dan Phillips, September 14, 2010 at 7:36 p.m.

    Fire Sunil Gulati, then fire boring Bob Bradley, and US soccer might have a chance. Otherwise forget it in 2014.

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