With questions about the timing and circumstances surrounding Bob Bradley's dismissal, what prompted the Men's National Team Coaches' firing?
Once America's winningest coach in history, recent losses have now placed him second behind Bruce Arena, and that's only one small piece of evidence that could have been used in justifying his dismissal.
While the whole story is only known to the few with access to the behind-the-scenes conversations and decisions at U.S. Soccer, here are 10 glaring reasons that may have forced Sunil Gulati's decision.
2009: 3-2 Loss to Brazil in the Confederations Cup Final.
2011: 4-2 Loss to Mexico in the Gold Cup Final.
Even though it is a tremendous accomplishment to make it to the Confederations Cup Final (beating Spain and Egypt as well), there's a level of disappointment whenever a game is lost rather than won by an opposing team, especially in the manner that Brazil did it when coming from behind to beat the U.S. in 2009.
What started out as an amazing run at the Confederations Cup ended with a team that looked overwhelmed and out-coached in a final match that the U.S. had all but won.
The same situation was repeated again in the 2011 Gold Cup final; however, this time, even more questions were asked of the coach.
Why didn't the team adjust its plan once it was up by two goals? Why were they overmatched defensively, and why weren't the proper adjustments made at half time?
Yes, a two-goal lead is the most dangerous in soccer (one goal and the other team is back in the game), but the end result in two finals carries a giant stigma.
Bob Bradley failed to get the result in two tournament finals, and results are why coaches are hired (and fired).
On both occasions, the U.S. could have won the game (even if they weren't the best team on the day). To go 0-2 in both attempts is a big stain on any manager's record. Once one considers that such an opportunity may never arise again, these type of results were unacceptable.
It doesn't matter that Ghana may be a better team than most people realize. The U.S. received a very attractive second round draw last summer at the World Cup.
However, the U.S. failed to make the most of the situation.
Bradley fielded a questionable squad (Ricardo Clark was subbed before halftime), the team's struggles on offense continued, and the United States gave up an extra-time goal on what looked like a lapse in concentration and discipline.
For the second time, the U.S. failed to make the most of its opportunity (one that may never come around again), and a failure on the world's biggest stage is noticed by everyone.
As with most sports, as long as you beat your rival, you're okay.
But that was something Bradley struggled to sustain.
Here are the last three results:
July 26, 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup Final: 5-0 L
August 12, 2009 2010 World Cup Qualifier: 2-1 L
June 25, 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup Final: 4-2 L
Outside of the difficulty surrounding the qualifier played at the Azteca (no U.S. team has won in Mexico City, although the U.S. has tied there, and they scored first on that day), three consecutive losses against America's rival are enough to dismiss any coach.
Not to mention, Mexico's resurgence and recent wins need to be addressed, and Bradley, either through the play on the field or reaction off, failed to stand up to the challenge presented by America's neighbor to the south.
Before the 2011 Gold Cup, the United States had never lost to Panama.
But the 2-1 loss to Panama became the culmination of all the problems plaguing the U.S. team.
Passionless, overwhelmed and mediocre, these displays reached a head (and a loss) against Panama.
Complaints by fans and criticism by the media were finally justified as the U.S. lost to a team they were expected to and should have beaten. Not to mention, it was not so much Panama won as the United States lost.
The team looked confused, uninspired and weak.
Americans don't mind if their team plays and lose...as long as they play their best...but the Panama game reminded everyone that ever since the World Cup the United States hadn't played its best.
Even more importantly, the game was tangible evidence that things weren't going well under Bradley.
Beating Spain, ties against Argentina, winning the CONCACAF qualifying group, making it to the Confederations Cup Final and advancing atop their group in the 2010 World Cup—all accomplishments under Bradley.
But almost all of these accomplishments were followed by disappointments (a number have already been mentioned).
The U.S. rarely had an extended run of excellent form, and that's exactly what's needed to win tournaments and advance a national team.
Also, the team never really felt like it was running on all cylinders. Maybe such an expectation is harder to measure, but the feeling accompanied this team.
Without having such a record under his belt (beating CONCACAF teams doesn't help), it became difficult to defend his tenure.
Add to it that too many times the team came out flat or had to come from behind, gains made the game before were nullified again and again by the next outing. These struggles take their toll—mentally and physically, on a team.
Too many times it would happen to a Bradley team, and a team can't succeed if it is always fighting itself.
It's a coaches job to motivate a team and inject it with life, passion, the proper morale and focus.
Rarely did a Bradley team seem to have the right approach.
Stagnation is one of the major fears in extending a national team manager's contract; players become comfortable, the manager can't inspire or energize the team any longer, the approach and player selection becomes predictable.
Almost all of these criticisms could be applied to the U.S. team following the 2010 World Cup.
There were few positive displays by Bradley's team following the World Cup (a few individual players stood out including Dempsey and Bedoya, but is that the result of a national team coach or other factors, say, like club-level playing time and influences?).
Bradley tried, especially through a change in tactics, but it didn't change the team's performance.
All the same problems facing a Bradley team before the summer of 2010 were still there—a failure to score, to execute productively from the opening whistle, and the inability to sustain the focus and high level of play from game to game.
By the time of the 2011 Gold Cup, a number of inferior teams had figured out how to make the most of this situation—make it twice as difficult for the U.S. to score, put pressure on the team right away, let the United States stretch itself in order to score, and then, take advantage of the situation through a counter-attack.
What also doomed Bradley was a four-year stick that could be used to rate the team's growth. It was easy to see that something was wrong with the team, and most commonly held practice to change the direction of a team is to fire a coach and hire a new one.
The only way to overcome these challenges is to see an advancement in team chemistry, on-the-pitch performance, and results.
There were few positives in any of these areas.
In fact, the 2011 Gold Cup display gave off a feeling that the U.S. team wasn't going to improve before 2014, that it was on a downward spiral while its chief rival was improving (The situation was compounded as both teams found themselves four years earlier with enough youth to improve before 2014; Mexico did, the U.S. didn't, whether or not player development is Bradley's fault, it reflected upon him poorly).
The easiest way to force a change: get a new coach.
What may confuse many analysts and casual fans that don't follow the United States team closely is why Bradley's tenure frustrated so many supporters.
Outside of the more measurable criteria (results, performance, improvement), Bradley's teams embody few of the characteristics American fans admire.
Bradley's men will always be labeled as tenacious and scrappy, but that's only one of many qualities past American teams have displayed, only under Bradley, again and again, these were the most needed qualities.
Perhaps, it was the result of instituting some much-needed discipline on defense, organization and team solidarity, but what qualities Bradley instilled in the team may have been his downfall.
On too many occasions, the U.S. came out with the feeling of "we have to execute Bradley's checklist," and usually that meant certain defensive expectations, but such expectations seem to create a box in which players had to play (i.e. fit) every game.
It appeared as if the team came out tense and uninspired. The players looked tight, and it took the team a good twenty minutes to get comfortable on the pitch.
So instead of the players beginning the game at a level and in a position to exceed expectations, it appeared as if the team had to live up to expectations.
The psychological effects of such an environment can have hugely detrimental effects on a team.
Of course, it's harder to document and measure such effects, and few American players are ever willing to come out an criticize their coach (out of fear, loyalty, whatever the reason), so no one may ever if this was the true feeling in the locker room.
But fans knew, and those that have seen other American teams know that this is not the way it had been in the past, nor the way it should be. Players should be encouraged to play above themselves, not within their abilities.
Rarely did this happen under Bradley (Even if other analysts like to claim differently. Did any of Bradley's teams ever truly eclipse or feel as successful as the 2002 team?). There were few breakout performances or evolutions in players' careers as a result of Bradley's influence.
Donovan and Dempsey's growth could be more directly attributed to what they did with their club opportunities than what they did while playing for their country.
Maybe such a situation isn't as important as results, but under Bruce Arena, a number of careers were advanced...Landon Donovan in particular but also Clint Mathis, DeMarcus Beasley, arguably Brad Friedel and Josh Wolfe to name a few.
Even as far back as 1994, American teams and players executed on a higher level than what was expected of them (Alexi Lalas ring a bell?).
There weren't quite as many under Bradley.
Quite similar to the last reason, but instead of a focus on individual performances, the team seemed to more often than not, just reach expectations rather than exceeding them.
Two glaring examples are the 2010 World Cup and the 2011 Gold Cup.
Results of Matches:
2010 World Cup
Ghana 0-1 Loss
2011 Gold Cup
Panama 1-2 Loss
Mexico 2-4 Loss
For the most part, Bradley's team did what was necessary but rarely exceeded that result.
Expected or small win margins accompanied by few upsets (in the win column that is) and a few upsets (in the loss column), and the team wasn't performing, surprising or improving in any way that helped defend the coach's job security.
The last time Bradley's crew exceeded expectations was the 2009 Confederations Cup game against Spain.
Considering the timing of that accomplishment and where the team is now in its cycle, the two-year drought is strong support for a change of manager.
Be it during a game (being up 2-0 against Mexico) or a tournament (the aforementioned draw against Ghana in 2010), great performance from an unexpected player (Stuart Holden, Benny Feilhaber, and Alejandro Bedoya to name a few) or tactics and substitutions that changed a game, it never seemed as if Bradley and company could make the most of what was given to them.
Instead, Bradley's teams seemed to get something out of the situation, but not everything.
In much the same way as wanting a team to play the best it can, every once in awhile, fans want their team to make the most of an opportunity, not end up with some sort of metaphorical Pyhrric victory.
There were too many lost opportunities under Bradley, and a team never knows how many they're ever going to get.
Rightly or wrongly, it's not so much what Bradley did right in these situations, but what was left behind, and because of that, there's always the question, "What would another coach have done"?
Every coach has his favorites (Arena had Jeff Agoos).
And every coach has his questionable call-ups, substitutions, starting 11 and tactics.
Unfortunately for Bradley, he never got the big payoff he needed to justify his decisions (just good enough is only good enough for so long and as long as the results are always positive).
The 2010 World Cup forward dilemma (again rightly or wrongly attributed to Bradley), never worked out, so there were always questions as to whom Bradley should have rewarded with a trip to South Africa or a position in the starting eleven.
Then there was Bradley's constant inclusion of Jonathan Bornstein, and this decision was almost unanimously criticized in all quarters.
Finally, there were the constant questions of nepotism considering his son Michael Bradley.
And while Bob Bradley was partly-exonerated by Michael Bradley's timely goals, average to below-average performances, strong competition from other national team midfielders, and never being substituted unless it was to protect Michael Bradley from cards, all eroded any goodwill Bob Bradley had generated.
Like Bornstein, Bradley wasn't able to reward his father with enough performances (or goals) to save his job.
Also, struggles with formation (adhering to a 4-4-2 when most of the world had abandoned it), how to get his best players on the field and which tactics would get the most out of his players were challenges Bradley could never really overcome.
While players, supporters, and media analysts came to Bradley's defense claiming he was doing the most if not more than what he should be able to do with the resources at his disposal, Bradley's late successes with a 4-5-1 and Freddy Adu weakened the argument, ironically at that.
The fact that differing tactics generated success during the 2011 Gold Cup (and more importantly with core players Bradley had used before) and a strong performance by a player he had ignored earlier raised doubts about Bradley's abilities.
Questions arose like:
Why weren't these changes implemented earlier?
And, what other players aren't being utilized?
Once these criticisms were added to all the other reasons, Bradley's fate was all but sealed, that is, as long as there was an acceptable replacement...and unfortunately for Bradley...there was.