When the news crawled across the television screen, it was shocking to say the least.
USMNT head coach Bob Bradley was finished. He's officially an ex. Most thought he had clinched a stay through the next World Cup cycle, which culminates in Brazil in 2014. The U.S. Soccer Federation thought otherwise and now must find a new man to take the wheel.
But, this may be exactly what the United States needs.
I'm not a Bradley hater like so many in the U.S. fan base. But, it's hard not to admit that the United States was in a major slump coming off its successful 2010 World Cup. Of course, that "successful" run also came with a footnote that suggested the U.S. should have gone farther, given its fortunate draw.
But, since its loss to Ghana a year ago, the Americans have gone 5-5-4 -- four of those wins coming in last month's Gold Cup. The U.S. sluggishly advanced to the final, but the way it lost against Mexico -- a 4-2 drubbing at "home" after taking an early two-goal lead -- left so many people shaking their heads. Mexico, boasting a bevy of up-and-comers, showed it's ready to reclaim the throne as CONCACAF's supreme team. The USSF may have sensed that too, and it acted fast.
“We want to thank Bob Bradley for his service and dedication to U.S. Soccer during the past five years,” said Sunil Gulati, president of U.S. Soccer. “During his time as the head coach of our men’s national team he led the team to a number of accomplishments, but we felt now was the right time for us to make a change."
This "change" he speaks of carries tons of pressure. Picking the right successor is a mammoth responsibility, and given the United States' rematch with Mexico Aug. 10 in Philadelphia, it will come soon -- maybe Friday.
German legend and California resident Jurgen Klinsmann is the favorite. He's come close to taking the job twice, but the U.S. failed to see eye-to-eye with his terms each time. His coaching career is highlighted by a solid national team stint with Germany, which he led to a third-place finish on his home soil in 2006. But, a forgettable season with Bayern Munich followed. Still, the U.S. might appreciate how he took the reigns of a historically consistent German squad and implemented a fresher, more exciting system, which the U.S. desperately needs.
Did Bradley deserve to go? Probably not. But it's not like he locked up a right to stay, either. It will be very interesting to see how the squad reacts -- especially one temperamental central midfielder.
A new coach could be exactly what this team needs to make back-to-back runs out of the group stage at the World Cup, which has been devastatingly un-American in recent years. (1994 = great; 1998 = disaster. 2002 = awesome; 2006 = ugh. 2010 = nice; 2014 = ???)
The U.S. can't afford to lay an egg at the 2014 World Cup if it wants to progress the sport stateside. Would-be fans have been inspired by those great Cup runs of '94, '02 and '10. But after waiting around four years, then witnessing complete failure, they gave up and I can't blame them for that. It's kind of why I never really get up for Giant Slalom every four years.
Gulati thought the U.S. was heading toward another letdown. He acted. Now, if they weren't already, everyone will be watching his second act.
Bob Bradley's career:
Major tournament highlights:
2007 - Won the Gold Cup; Swept out of Copa America (with the JV squad)
2009 - Defeated No. 1 Spain, finished runner-up at the Confederations Cup; Finished runner-up at the Gold Cup (with a JV squad)
2010 - Won Group C at the World Cup (over England), lost to Ghana in the Round of 16
2011 - Finished runner-up at the Gold Cup