Coaches are often made the scapegoats of a team's disappointing defeat, or a disappointing end to what was a promising season or tournament, sometimes fairly and unfairly. However, for all that good work USMNT Coach Bob Bradley has done with the team and the US Soccer program as a whole during his four years in charge, the 2-1 defeat to Ghana today is going to be mainly on him, and fairly so.
Sure, the state of US Soccer is much better than when Bruce Arena was fired after the United States managed only one point in 2006, when the hopes of a knockout round berth also ended with a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Ghana, and Bradley deserves credit for helping elevate the state of US Soccer to unseen heights.
Bradley's increasing of the USMNT talent pool over the years has improved the depth of US Soccer and the USMNT. As a result, there are many more Americans playing top-level football across the pond in Europe. Guys like Herculez Gomez, Jose Torres, Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley, and others would probably never have even come close to being picked by Arena for the 2006 squad, but under Bradley, they are key parts of what is a brighter future for football in the United States as a whole, and Bradley deserves a lot of credit for that.
However, tactical decisions have been the key source of complaints for fans fed up with Bradley as coach of the USMNT, and I can see that campaign for the firing of Bradley heating up after today's 2-1 loss to Ghana.
Today, instead of sticking with the same lineup that defeated Algeria 1-0 earlier in the week, Bradley made two key changes in the lineup that ultimately proved to be the wrong decisions.
In the midfield, Bradley brought Ricardo Clark into the lineup to play next to son Michael, sending Maurice Edu into the bench. Clark found his way back into the starting lineup despite a less-than-stellar appearance against England in the team's opener, when he failed to mark Steven Gerrard en route to the Englishman's early goal which put England up 1-0 (the game eventually ended up finishing 1-1).
Also up front, Bradley took out Gomez in favor of Findley, who is pretty much an "all-speed, no finish" striker.
Those two changes failed miserably.
First, Clark coughed up and lost the ball in the fourth minute, leading to a Ghana goal. It was the US's third early goal given up in four matches in the 2010 World Cup. Two minutes later, Clark earned himself a yellow card for a bad tackle. Realizing his mistake, Bradley took Clark out in the 30th minute, replacing him with Edu.
Meanwhile, Findley blew a fantastic chance later in the first half where he pretty much kicked the ball right into the Ghanian goalkeeper Richard Kingson's leg. After an otherwise invisible first half, Findley was subbed at halftime in exchange for Benny Feilhaber, who instantly brought speed and energy into the USMNT as the second half went on, which would have helped the team greatly in a lazy first half.
The lack of an experienced striker in the squad also hurt. There were guys like Brian Ching and Eddie Johnson that were left back in the United States; guys that were not necessarily in form prior to the World Cup, but could have been solid options as experienced World Cup veterans had things not gone well.
Instead, outside of Jozy Altidore (who himself had a pretty disappointing World Cup outside of the Algeria game), the three strikers in the USMNT squad had a combined 21 appearances and four goals. Hardly an imposing strikeforce.
In these times, where it is clear that soccer in the United States is seeing itself make its way into heights unseen before, and with the talent pool obviously improving, it is important to appreciate what Bradley has done to improve football in this nation since taking over for Arena in 2006. However, it is also important to consider a change in coach in anticipation for preparing for the 2014 World Cup.
An important question to answer is whether hiring a European coach, one that might be expensive, might prove to be what it takes to keep the USMNT on course for bigger things in Brazil. This question was asked in 2006 when Arena was fired as US Soccer showed key interest in outgoing former Germany coach (and German soccer legend) Jurgen Klinsmann, who had just led a low-regarded Germany squad to a third place finish in the 2006 World Cup.
Fans clearly wanted Klinsmann, but he proved too expensive. US Soccer as a result settled for Bradley, who was originally hired as an interim coach.
US Soccer must now revisit the question again four years later, and it might prove to be the case. With a key majority of the 23-man USMNT squad in this year's World Cup playing their club football in Europe (in fact, 17 of the 23 are playing club football in Europe, including seven in the English Premier League and three in the Bundesliga), maybe a European coach might prove to be what it takes to maintain the USMNT's position as the top CONCACAF team.
Sure, Bradley has been a key reason why US Soccer has greatly improved since the disaster in 2006, and under him, the depth of the USMNT has improved greatly. Judging from his tactical mistakes both in the past and in today's 2-1 loss to Ghana, however, maybe now is the time to try and lure a top-level European coach in the United States' run for the 2014 World Cup.