Can Bob Bradley Learn?

SOCCER/FUTBOL WORLD CUP 2010 OCTAVOS DE FINAL USA VS GHANA Action photo of coach Bob Bradley of USA, during game of the 2010 World Cup held at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg, South Africa./Foto de accion de Bob Bradley entrenador de Estados Unidos, durante juego de la Copa del Mundo 2010 celebrado en el Royal Bafokeng Stadium de Rustenburg, Sudafrica. 26 June 2010 MEXSPORT/JORGE REYES Photo via Newscom
Sitting here almost a week after the 2010 World Cup, I like many other US fans have been going over the many pros and cons of retaining Bob Bradley as the US manager.  US Soccer President Sunil Gulati and Fulham owner Mohamed Al Fayed probably have many of the same questions that we do,  as they decide what action they should take regarding Bradley.  But there is one question that keeps haunting me, one that I would definitely have to know the answer before I retained or hired Bradley, and that is,  Can Bob Bradley Learn?  Let me explain

During his tenure Bradley’s team have been chronic slow starters. These slow starts haven’t  just been a disease of the World Cup.   Starting  at the beginning of World Cup qualifying in 2008 to today the US has played a total 40 matches.  In 13 of those matches the US was trailing by halftime, that’s 32%!  Ten of those thirteen matches the US trailed by the 25th minute.  The startling aspect of these numbers are that these results came against CONCACAF teams during qualification.  Teams that are considered inferior competetion by the world’s footballing standards.  Now I am not saying the the US should expect to beat  all their opponents by 4 goals or that Bradley should have the US playing some sort of free-flowing, pass happy football.  He can only work with what he has. But  Bradley has regularly fielded teams that were unprepared in some aspect of the game, be it mentally, physically, or tactically.  After this World Cup the US will be taken seriously in any tourmanment it enters but their inability to start quickly gives the appearance that they don’t take match seriously.  For the first time the US can leave a tournament with international and domestic respect.  In the next four years lets have that respect because the US can field a team of truly professional, composed footballers and not because we are the spunky underdogs or the fighters who never quit.  Lets be the fighters who never give up a lead, the fighters that kill off games. Let teams chase us. This can all be done playing the brand of football we play right now!

Now the growth of this US team since 2006 can not be understated, but can Bradley grow and learn as a manager in the same way?   Bradley will not last long in a second tenure with the US or at Fulham if he continues to have his teams shoot themselves in the foot in the first halfs at matches.  In the past four years we have seen Dempsey and Donovan prove to us that they perform in a world class league and on the big international stage. We’ve seen them complete their growth as players.  Will we see Bob Bradley complete his growth as a manager?

26 Responses to Can Bob Bradley Learn?

  1. Martin says:

    “Now the growth of this US team since 2006 can not be understated, but can Bradley grow and learn as a manager in the same way? ”

    The first part of your sentence would not be possible without the second part of your sentence being true. Dempsey and Donovan didn’t grow the team, Bradley did that. I’m consistently amazed at how US fans think that only the players are responsible for everything good about the team and only Bradley is responsible for everything bad.

    “But Bradley has regularly fielded teams that were unprepared in some aspect of the game, be it mentally, physically, or tactically.”

    Every USMNT player I’ve ever read speak about it always talks about how prepared they are. This leads me to think you looked at these games differently from Bradley. I think what you see as an embarassed, unprepared US team was Bradley fielding experimental sides, trying out things and players.

    The last four years he was re-building the team and I believe was completely focused onthe World Cup. Therefore, the only games that matter to the USMNT are the World Cup qualifiers and the World Cup games themselves. And to tell the truth, he is right because unless it has to do with the World Cup (like the 2007 Gold Cup which qualified us for the 2009 Confederations Cup which served as a dress rehearsal for the World Cup) every game was just an exhibition. And the amazing thing about it is he built the team he wanted ( the Confederations Cup team)only to see it ravaged by injury and then had to rebuild it again in time for the World Cup.

    • Dave C says:

      I agree about how fans are quick to credit the players with everything that goes right, while blaming the manager for everything that goes wrong!

      However, regarding the team being under-prepared. I wouldn’t put much stock in the fact that everything you’ve read suggests that the USMT always feels well-prepared. The truth is that since Bob Bradley is still the current manager, NO player is going to come out and say in an interview “yeah we were totally unprepared…the coach totally didn’t do his job there.” Not if he ever wants to get picked again. The way most manager-player relationships work seems to be: (1) while the manager is still in a job, players are 100% supportive of him (i.e. butt-kissing) (2) the minute he’s gone, the worms come out of the woodwork and people admit his faults.

      I would say that the US were VERY unprepared for Slovenia, Algeria and Ghana. Tactically, each match showed the US being dominated UNTIL Bradley switched the formation later in the game. That to me shows a lack of preparation, AND an inability to learn.

    • Dave C says:

      I put too much stock into the fact that everything you read suggests the players claim they’ve always been fully prepared thanks to Bob Bradley. That’s exactly what they would say as long as he remains in the job (i.e. they’re butt-kissing to ensure continued selection). You might find that if/when he moves on, THEN players might start claiming that he didn’t prepare them enough (if that is the case).

      Also, I think the WC showed that the team were frequently un-prepared tactically. The games against Slovenia, Algeria and Ghana ALL showed the US being dominated UNTIL Bradley switched the formation/personnel later in the game. I think this also shows an inability to learn.

      Also, I would think that if Bob really prepared well, he would have noticed (from practice and friendlies) that Gooch was way short of being match-fit.

  2. ron preston says:

    Thanks for the comment martin. I do believe that Bradley has grown but I wad questioning if he can grow more, if he can take that last step to becoming an elite manager. I have to go back and look at my notes but I believe there was only one friendly included in that list of 13 matches where the US feel behind, the rest were either WC qualifiers, Gold Cup, or Confed Cup which in my opinion is no time to be fielding experimental sides.

  3. Abram says:

    Well put at the end Martin. I know that a 100% Gooch and a healthy Charlie Davies would not have won the US the World Cup, but they would have made a difference. Even if it is not Bradley going forward as the coach I would really like to see him taking some role with the team as far as scouting. He put a good (not great) team together, it may have been great if everyone was 90% healthy.

  4. james says:

    Bradley’s starters against Ghana shows he failed to learn when it really counted.

  5. Mike says:

    James hit the nail on the head. He had a line up that had turned two games around but he started the line up that left us a goal down or two goals down. In the World Cup he demonstrated an inability to adapt quickly.

    By the way, the line up that came out of the Confederations Cup didn’t come from Bradley’s master plan. We were all most of of that tournament in the group stages using the line up Bradley choose. Talk about have to dig yourself out of a hole.

    Despite winning our group, we barely got out of our group. We had the talent to comfortable beat Slovenia. Heck the way England played this World Cup we had the talent to beat them. Anybody could see the fear in Ricardo Clark’s eyes at the start of the England game. Why wouldn’t you start someone with big game experience against England. By the way, MLS playoff games don’t count as big games. They don’t compare to UEFA Cup games or Celtic vs Rangers games. CONCAF qualifiers are not even on the same par psychologically as those games. Another naive choice was plugging in Robbie Findley in the place of Charlie Davies. Findley may be a world class sprinter but he’s not a world class soccer player.

    • martin says:

      Mike and James-

      If Jones, Gooch and Davies had been healthy, this is a different story. So Bradley’s Ghana lineup shows me that the US has a very thin talent pool. We have Demspey and Donovan and maybe Bradley as above average outfield players. The rest are pretty anonymous. Clark made a mistake but I’ve seen Edu( a giveaway machine in the Slovenia game) and every other US midfielder get caught the exact same way. By the way, the Ghana game was 3 days after a very draining Algeria game. Bradley chose a fresh Clark over a drained Edu. That didn’t cause the first goal. Howard blew that near post save. A high school goalie would have had it. Our supposedly Superman goalie should have had it. Instead, he was alseep. But he’s a hero and Clark is a jerk so Clark takes the blame. Still,after that we should have won the game in the second half ; we certainly created plenty of chances but everyone missed.

      You know who we really missed? Giuseppe Rossi. If he plays for America, we’re in the semis. And if Jones, Gooch and Davies had been healthy, maybe we make the final

      But as it stood, if any of you think we have final 8 World Cup talent just look at the rosters of those teams, even Ghana. We’re a better TEAM than Ghana but they have better talent and are more savvy. For these guys, success is sometimes literally a matter of life and death. And don’t forget that Ghana was the home continent team. They will have more players this year playing in Champions league club than the US will. To date none of our players plays in a top flight, Champions league type club(Fulham and and Everton are mid table clubs and Gooch had 30 minutes worth of PT for Milan) . So our guys, evn though they have the skills, don’t get the kind of competitive exposure these other players get. It hurts their develpoment and their soccer “awareness”. If you spend all your time facing AAA pitching don’t be surprised if you suddenly have to face Mariano Rivera and don’t do well. And that is not down to Bradley since he can’t do anything about our guys’ club situation.

      Given what he had Bradley did a great job with a very average bunch of players.

      • Abram says:

        I think Howard has escaped a lot of blame. He did not have a good tournament.

      • Jared says:

        I’m sick of hearing the excuse that Edu was drained. He only played a game and a half prior to the Ghana game. Guys like Boca, Demerit, Donovan, Dempsey, Bradley and Jozy had all played much more and yet Bob didn’t think he had to rest them. Edu then played 90 minutes when you include the extra time periods without looking gassed.

        Bob screwed up and didn’t want to throw Clark under the bus so he used that excuse. You don’t change the team that performed well against Algeria unless a guy is injured. You certainly don’t bring Clark in after you haven’t used him for 2 games.

    • Abram says:

      But who would you have started in place of Findley? I know Findley was not the ideal choice, and if I was in charge (which I’m not for obvious reason) I probably would have taken Brian Ching over Findley. However if we’re not starting Fidley who are we suggesting? Edson Buddle has the same sort of experience, Gomez is not playing in a “top” league either. My guess is most of us would liked to have seen Dempsey or Donovan used more as a forward, but then Holden, Edu, and even Clark would have been playing a lot more.

  6. Paul says:

    Can Bradley learn? To me, this is one of the most important questions USSF needs to ask about retaining Bradley, a question that, for reasons others have mentioned, seems to be answered with a strong “No.” Sure, the team has improved from 2006 onward, and Bradley’s acumen was certainly a significant reason for the team’s improvement. The lineup gaffs during the World Cup, the tendency to give up goals in significant games against a variety of opponents, Bradley’s inability to get his team to successfully play aggressive, attacking ball against weaker opponents–all of these factors suggest that Bradley’s ability to learn may have peaked.

    • martin says:

      “Bradley’s inability to get his team to successfully play aggressive, attacking ball against weaker opponents”

      What weaker opponents?

      We beat Algeria 1-0
      England drew 0-0 with them

      We drew 2-2 with Slovenia and should have beaten them 3-2
      England beat them 1-0

      In a World Cup where New Zealand, the weakest team supposedly, draws with the reigning World Champs and goes undefeated in the group stages, the term “weaker opponent” is almost meaningless. What counts is advancement and the US did that.

      • Paul says:

        I was not speaking only of World Cup games, although the game against Algeria was close to being a tie. I was thinking of Costa Rica, El Salvador, ect.

        • Martin says:


          We finished first in WC qualifying. We were never really in serious danger of not qualifying. The US has a very thin talent pool and the very best of them were not always available or in the best form for any number of reasons.

          Qualifying is a long and tortuous road for the US with a lot of away games in very hostile hell holes. Did you also expect we would be undefeated and beat everyone 4-0?

  7. Nothing is impossible for a willing heart. The USA soccer teams do well in 2010.

  8. short passes says:

    No! I don’t think that BB can learn and grow. I was an early fan of BB because of his tenure with the Chicago Fire where I felt that he developed a skillful entertaining team that emphasized a quick passing, bring the ball out of the back on the ground game. At the time I never thought that he was afraid to try new players or was overly cautious in his tactics — may be I overlooked it. However as his tenure with the USMNT went on I became more and more disillusioned with his failure to utilize the more skillful players like Torres and Feilhaber despite their obvious talent. I should note at this point that I view the job of USMNT coach as being much broader than most US fans and certainly broader than coaches in other countries. My reasoning is that soccer in the US is in a unique position — we are a large, prosperous nation that for certain cultural and historical reasons has failed to develop a strong soccer culture. Therefore for me, the MNT coach needs to look at his job as not just selecting and coaching the MNT but also as helping to steer the development of soccer and of the player pool. IMO BB never did anything in this area. He was never a spokesman for improving the training and development of an improved player pool. For that reason, I hope that he is not brought back. In a more limited role, like Fulham, he may do well. One additional comment — IMO the “success” of the US team has been over-hyped. We beat/or nearly beat two teams that are far from being soccer powers and we tied a nation whose WC teams, this one in particular, have consistently been overestimated. So even Bardley’s “success” should not be idealized.

    • martin says:

      You have excellent criticisms but they should be for Sunil Gulati and the USSF not Bob Bradley.

      Bradley did not write the job description.

      They hired him just to put together and manage the team. It’s pretty clear they set limits on his scope, one reason they did not hire Klinsi in the first place. And if the same power structure is in place when the next contract is made, no matter who it is, that manager will have the same limits unless they get a little smarter. Which is probably why Klinsman isn’t the next manager.

      As for the overhyping of the US success, as I mentioned elsewhere, in a tournament where the winners lose their first game to Switzerland(??), Italy ties New Zealand (and should have lost to them), no team has a particularly easy time of it, and the eventual winners are the soccer version of Dean Smith’s North Carolina 4 corners slowdown offense of the 70’s and 80’s, it’s pretty consdecending to look down your nose at what the US accomplished with some very limited talent.

      The beautiful game doesn’t exist anymore, it’s all about results.

      • short passes says:

        Good point about Gulati. I certainly didn’t mean to overlook the massive share of the blame that belongs to him for the failure of the US to develop a larger and more talented player pool. However, I firmly believe that the USMNT coach has the ability to use his “bully pulpit” to raiseand promote issues like how our young players are developed and how our coaches are trained without having the administrative authority to make actual changes. Another thing that he can do — that IS strictly within his prerogative — is to choose players that represent the skills and style that US Soccer needs, like Torres,Feihaber, Holden. Instead he chose the cliche hard man, Clark, and the cliche speedster, Findley. I fully realize that he may have been under intense pressure from Gulati el al to get out of the KO round at all costs. assuming that that was true then it’s another strike against Gulati but also against BB. There are times when a national team coach needs to stand up for what is right for the long term interests of the USMNT and I don’t believe BB ever did that
        I remember when Gulati came in and everyone was happy that we had a real soccer person at the helm. With the experience of several years of Gulati’s “leadership” I now believe that the only thing worse than a lawyer to head US Soccer is a career-drive, cynical soccer person.

        • Martin says:

          With all due respect, Torres Holden and Feilhaber are talented and promising but flawed players.

          Feilhaber had a dazzling golazo in the 2007 Gold Cup final and has been living off that performance ever since. He’s not starter material as US does not do well when he starts but seems to do better when he comes in as a sub. Maybe he needs to get motivated. He’s not in shape half the time and is inconsistent at best. Look up inconsistency in the dictionary and there is a picture of Benny next to it. If it wasn’t for Bradley, I doubt Benny would still be a pro. Besides, he had Clark’s job with the USMNT at one time and was unable to hold on to it. He lost out to Clark so how good can he be? For the record, if he could get his head on straight and keep it on, I think he’d be MB’s best partner; but he hasn’t been able to and I don’t believe for one second that is BB’s fault.

          Holden had a great Gold Cup, but, after a good substitute appearance against Mexico at the Azteca, he has been anonymous since. He looked okay for a few minutes in the Netherlands exhbition before De Jong broke his leg. He was pretty unconvincing before the injury so I think you underestimate how much it might have set him back. He usually plays a wing position but can’t resist his tendency to drift inside constantly. Yes, Bolton likes him but so what? England is full of EPL players and they stink. Spector is an EPL player and he is a mess. Bolton and West Ham don’t play regularly in the Champions League or Europe.

          Torres is very talented but Pachuca play a completely different game from the US. So Bradley’s tactics don’t help but Torres hasn’t yet shown that he’s good enough to change the tactics radically just for him. Would you say he is in the class of Mesut Ozil? He might have, and I do mean “might” have , that kind of skill but he doesn’t have the arrogance and the confidence. He looked good in the second half against Turkey but that was an exhibition and in the second half, games open up a little. In the Netherlands exhibition and the Slovenia game, while he wasn’t as awful as some say, he didn’t seize the moment to make a statement either. He has been given chances to shine ( and will continue to get them) but has been uncovincing to date.

          You will have to come up with more skilled players that have been ignored by Bradley to make your point because all three of these guys have had plenty of chances to prove their worth and probably will get more. But to date they have come up short.

          But none of them are outstanding.

          • short passes says:

            Lots of great opinion but not much in the way of substance. Your opinion is as good as Martin Tyler’s and Harkes I guess but the proof is in the play. When Feilhaber came in the team played better — fact. If a player has “head” problems it’s the coaches job to solve them — fact. Bradley knew nearly 2 years ago that he had a talent in Torres and did nothing to develop it. Torres play in the T & T game was inspired and he was pulled at halftime. BB did nothing to mold a skilled team — he relied on the same tired old tactic that US coaches have used for 20 years. The big difference this time is that he had Donovan and Dempsey at the top of their game. It’s obvious that you are wedded to the picture of BB as some kind of super coach and of the US team as world beaters. I obviously don’t share that opinion and won’t be changing it based on your oppinions, nor you on mine sooooo bye for now. BTW do you have your B or C license ??? LOL

  9. short passes says:

    Martin, on a separate topic that you raised, I for one was thrilled with the play of the Spanish team as was the WC party that we attended and almost every major soccer blog reporter). Admittedly if you are a fan of the English style of “kick and rush” (as named by Beckenbauer) you will not have appreciated the skill and subtlety of the Spanish game. They did not just “pass the ball around” they were constantly probing for weaknesses or mistakes in the Dutch defense. The only way that they were able to continue this was because of their tremendous skill (passing trapping, running off the ball)
    I would also ask that you not portray the 4 corner offense of the Tarheels as pure negativity. Obviously you’re not a Tarheels’ fan but you should at least know/remember that Dean Smith used this tactic only to lock up a game that they were already winning.

  10. Sylar says:

    OK, Bob Bradley did an OK job for an average coach. The reality is that it is time to move on to the next phase which is to be among the world elite in the soccer world and Bob bradley DO NOT have the knowledge to lead us there. Look Bradley prove in very important games that he lacks the knowledge on how to close games. For example Brasil in Confederation cup and Mexico at Azteca. This is not taking into account the normal of always trailing the games in the majority of the times. Thank you Bob but it is time to bring in a coach with a better vision of the game. I strongly feel that it is time hand over the team to Klinsmann. Thank you Bob Bradley for the OK job. but for the sake of US soccer please resign and move on.

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