"Is this job really worth it?"
Rumors are circulating that Bob Bradley’s tenure as coach of the U.S. men’s national soccer team may be coming to an end.
After the 4-2 Gold Cup loss to Mexico, The New York Times reportedly asked Sunil Gulati, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, “Will Bob Bradley remain coach of the U.S. national team?”
Ambiguous, at best.
But what’s become very clear is the chorus calling for Bradley’s head. After a surprising 2-1 loss to a well-coached Panama team, and the humiliating-on-many-levels 4-2 defeat by Mexico in the Gold Cup final, the “Fire Bob” crowd has spent so much time online stoking the discontent over Bradley’s tactics and selections that the press in England would be impressed.
And, for the most part, this is a good thing. It shows passion for a sport that few in the U.S. cared about just a short twenty years ago.
The Gold Cup loss to Mexico was a painful, gut-punch loss, but as in any other job, an evaluation of a person’s performance should be based on a criterion that’s as objective as possible: a criterion such as the team’s record.
Since Bradley took over in 2007, not including the defeat of Mexico in which he was interim manager, the U.S. has had a record of 29-25-11. So, how does that compare to other countries?
In the same period, England has a record of 30-9-8, and Spain, who won the 2010 World Cup, has a record of 55-4-4.
In the Gold Cup final against Mexico, Coach Bradley’s open-attacking strategy did not work. The thought process may have been logical: teams that played defensively against Mexico lost, and with his defensive line as shaky as it was, going after Mexico and trying to get a third goal made sense. It did not work, but it made coaching sense.
Fair enough. Coaches get it wrong sometimes. Around late November of last year, even Jose Mourinho would have acknowledged that little piece of the coaching life.
Still, as the “Fire Bob” crowd says, in three World Cups, the U.S. has twice advanced past the group stage. With the resources and population pool available, the U.S. should be doing better, they say, pointing to the book Soccernomics.
Resources and population pool are important, but, according to Soccernomics, experience is the number one factor in determining a country’s success at the international level. Experience is something the U.S. has very little of, considering its first qualification in the modern era for the World Cup was in 1990. Prior to that, amateurs played in for the U.S. in the 1950 World Cup. Prior to that, it was the 1934 Cup.
The U.S has four players who are playing with clubs at the top-flight level: Dempsey at Fulham, Howard at Everton, Holden at Bolton, and Donovan at L.A and with Everton.
Compare that to the collective experience levels of any other team that the U.S. would need to defeat in order to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup.
Look at the next generation: Mikkel Diskerud, Tim Ream, Timmy Chandler, Teal Bunbury, Jose Francisco Torres, Juan Agudelo, Alejandro Bedoya, Eric Lichaj. They’re young and inexperienced.
Yes, they are talented, capable and the best the U.S. has, but they have nowhere near the experience level of the players on the big teams some U.S. fans expect them to beat.
The team we saw in the Gold Cup will qualify for the 2014 World Cup, but in its current state it won’t do well, regardless of who is manager. The players need touches—time on the ball—at the highest level to be competitive in the world’s game.
Patience and playing: it’s how teams grow. Anything else isn’t realistic and it isn’t helpful.