Seemingly out of nowhere, president of US Soccer Sunil Gulati fired head coach Bob Bradley Thursday after five years of service to the men’s national team. The timing of the move was surprising to many who expected this to happen after USA’s failure to move past the round of 16 stage of the 2010 FIFA World against Ghana.
Bradley took the team to four finals in five tournaments, reaching the finals of the 2007 Gold Cup, 2009 Gold Cup, 2009 Confederations Cup and the 2011 Gold Cup. He only won one of those finals but leaves his head coaching position with a 43-25-12 record in five years after taking over for Bruce Arena.
Bradley removed the interim coach label after starting off his US coaching career on a roll by winning the 2007 Gold Cup, reaching the final against Brazil in the Confederations Cup, and topping Group C over powerhouse England.
Those accomplishes were impressive, but it has been what has happened since that has put Bradley on the hot seat. Losing to Ghana in a golden opportunity to make a dream run in the World Cup and getting thrashed by Mexico in two consecutive Gold Cup finals has resulted in a cry for US Soccer to make wholesale changes from the bottom all the way to the top. In the end, all of the frustration of the past few years has been pinned on the coach whether it is fair or not.
It didn’t take long for Gulati to name a replacement, though. After chasing him for five years, the president of the US Soccer Federation has found his man in Jurgen Klinsmann. The German coach nearly took the job after the 2006 World Cup but decided not to because he was not given full autonomy of the organization.
Five years later, Klinsmann will be given almost total control of all levels of US Soccer. From youth development to the senior national team, he will make the decisions. The move to let Klinsmann pull the strings might seem a bit risky for a man that has spent most of his career coaching across the pond, but it was the move that Gulati needed to make.
US Soccer needs to become a global power and it all starts with the coach. The country needed a high profile coach with the resume and experience of Klinsmann for the team to first overtake Mexico for CONCACAF supremacy, and then become a top team on the world stage.
The German coach led his national team to a third-place finish in the 2006 World Cup, coached German club Bayern Munich from 2008 to 2009 and has had experience working in American soccer for the LA Galaxy and Toronto FC.
His presence is much needed for a team that has been in decline the past few years. USA has dropped to the No. 35 ranked team in the world after previously holding a top-20 ranking. The aging team now has to contend with a young and talented Mexico team that has players coming up through the ranks from the 2011 FIFA U17 World Cup championship team.
USA’s stars such as Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard are all in their 20s and the future of the team looks to be in jeopardy as USA failed to even qualify for the U20 World Cup and its U17 team was trounced by Germany in July’s U17 World Cup.
Klinsmann has a lot of work to do to restore USA within the next three years. However, he can change the culture by bringing his European style of play to a national team consisting of many European-based players like Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley. He can also inject some confidence in a side that has lost some since the 2010 World Cup. Above all, Jurgen Klinsmann will finally create an identity for US Soccer.
He will focus on creating an organized and defensive side that will defend a whole lot better than they did in the 2011 Gold Cup final when they surrendered four straight goals after leading the game 2-0. He will likely bring in assistants familiar with American soccer, some even mentioning the name Sigi Schmid. He will also choose staff members and fill in the coaching vacancies left in the youth teams, dictating what exactly he expects from the organization.
One thing is for sure: Sunil Gulati is going big. No longer can he afford American soccer to be overshadowed by other American sports like football and baseball. This move was certainly a message to the country that USA’s men’s team wants to gain the nationwide attention that the women’s team gained this summer and finally become a serious World Cup contender.
It all starts with qualification as Klinsmann will have to first qualify for Brazil 2014 in a tough CONCACAF region consisting of teams like Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala among others. That will be the coach’s No. 1 priority.
Until then it will be interesting to see what players he will call up to the team. His first game in charge will be August 10 against none other than Mexico in front of a sold-out crowd in Philadelphia. It will be a difficult test to start off his US coaching career but nonetheless it is a chance for Klinsmann to make his mark on the team and show the country what type of team USA is going to be.
It will take him a while to reshape the team but he will have time. The move will help Michael Bradley relieve some of the pressure that he had to deal with when his father was the coach, and it will light a fire under a number of players, including Bradley. Klinsmann will bring about higher expectations and begin a new era in US Soccer.
Everyone will be watching Monday when the legendary Klinsmann will be introduced to the media. In the end, the decision to hire him was the right one but we are yet to see if he can finally get the results that we need.