With the start of June close at hand, U.S. Men's National Team (USMNT) Head Coach Bob Bradley has one of the biggest tests of his tenure at the helm of the USMNT looming. But how much does it matter?
June 3 and 6 are two vital World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Honduras respectively. Following that is a stretch from June 15-21 in South Africa, where the U.S. will take on Brazil, Italy, and Egypt. Throw the Gold Cup into the mix in July, and of course the remainder of World Cup qualifying, and it seems like a daunting task.
The full slate of games on hand no doubt creates a pressure for the team perform. And that starts and stops with the head coach, to begin by bringing in the right players in. U.S. fans are clamoring for a full strength squad to head to South Africa and truly test the national team as the take on some of the best team's in the world.
Fast forward to this fall. Let's say, from a hypothetical stand point, neither the Confederations Cup nor the Gold Cup go well. People would roll their eyes and groan about a lack of results. Many would see it as a step backwards for the team. Failure against the likes of Brazil and Italy, while not surprising, would be a bit of a disappointment.
But that's not how it should be. The Confederations Cup is just a friendly tournament, a dry run for a World Cup. Why should it matter what the U.S. achieves there?
I would much rather see Bradley experiment with different lineups, tweak things around as to prepare for the actual World Cup, then take a tired or typical approach to a glorified exhibition. The status quo probably won't be good enough to beat a top tier team.
When it boils down to it, the World Cup should remain the pressure cooker for a head coach. That being said, Bradley should be under pressure to use both the Confederations Cup and Gold Cup wisely this summer.
Players in MLS and obscure players from abroad can be brought in to get some international experience, learn what it's like to be a part of the fold. The more experienced players Bradley has at his disposal, the better it is both for the present and future of the program.
Bradley shouldn't get a free pass if the team struggles monumentally. But if he loses while experimenting with new players and formations, he should receive some credit for being creative. Too often coaches play it safe to protect themselves. Bradley can stick his neck out a little bit this summer and see what happens.
People are always claiming the U.S. never plays any high-profile opponents—but who really cares if they do well in the Confederations Cup? I'd rather see a team playing with their eyes on the prize for 2010, not 2009.