After six long years of ongoing and rather public negotiations, US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati announced that the USMNT has hired former German internatioal player and head coach Juergen Klinsmann just twenty-four hours after dismissing Bob Bradley.
While I am not suprised at Bradley's replacement or the timing, I am suprised at how quietly the USSF (mainly Gulati) accomplished this switch. Just after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, it was reported that the USSF was courting Klinsmann to replace Bradley and for the second time Klinsmann spurned the USA and Gulati had to settle for Bradley. And I do mean, he had to settle for Bradley, make no mistake, Gulati has always made it clear that he wanted Klinsmann as the USMNT head coach. I just wish that fact was not made public after the 2010 WC because it undermined Bradley for the rest of his tenure. There was a decent group of USA fans who never liked Bradley's tactics, formations, his son playing center mid and always thought of him as a second rate coach and that came straight from the top of the USSF with Gulati. If you make a hire seem second rate, that's how he will be judged.
I would like to take the next paragraph to that Bob Bradley for his tenure and overall success as the USMNT coach. He took the USA back to the knockout stages of the World Cup after a dismal campaign in 2006 that ended Bruce Arena's tenure. He won the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup that qualified the USA for the 2009 Confederations Cup. In that tournament the USA defeated #1 ranked Spain 2-0 in the semifinals and earned the USA their first major FIFA men's competition final. He topped CONCACAF qualifying for the 2010 World Cup and took the USA back to the finals of the Gold Cup in 2011, their fourth straight appearance in the final.
But Bob Bradley will not be remembered for any of that. He will be remembered for his 3-2 loss to Brazil in the 2009 Confederations Cup Final and his final match, a 4-2 loss to Mexico in the 2011 Gold Cup final where in both games the USA held 2-0 leads but failed to hold on to their leads. He will be remembered for for continually putting out players that couldn't succeed at the international level, despite using over 100 players during his tenure as coach. He will be remembered for losing to Mexico 5-0 in the 2009 Gold Cup final with a "B" squad after his "A" team almost won the Confederations Cup just days before. Bob Bradley will be remembered as the man couldn't get the USA over top instead of the coach who repeatedly showed to the rest of the world that the USA could compete with anyone in the world. If you talk to fans from around the world, they'll ask why Bradley isn't a rock star in the USA for succeeding in a sport that most people in America only care about every four years.
I have never had any issues with Bob Bradley as head coach of the USMNT. Was I always happy with his team's preformances or roster selections, no, but Bradley never heard the criticism from the media or the fans. He just put his head down and worked, forcing the USSF and Gulati to remove his interm tag as coach for the 2010 World Cup cycle. But at the end of the day, the USA in the international soccer realm is supposed to accomplish the following things - Get to the Gold Cup Final, usually vs. Mexico, qualify for the World Cup and get out of the group stages. That's about it, that's where the USA is on the international soccer stage. And anyone who thinks the USA is better than that is delusional.
Think I'm crazy? Okay, 2002 World Cup - USA loses to Poland in the final group match but thanks to a South Korea's defeat of Portugal, the USA backdoored into the knockout stages, defeating Mexico in the first round before bowing out 1-0 against Germany in controversial fashion. 2006 World Cup - disaster. 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup - defeated Panama in penalties for title. 2010 World Cup - Defeated Algeria 1-0 on 89th minute goal to advance to knockout stages. That doesn't scream international powerhouse to me. But again, there are people who think the USA is supposed to just go out and beat the world at their game. Reality check everyone, the USA is not that great at soccer. Sure, Donovan, Dempsey, Howard and others are good, but they're going up against squads of world class players at the World Cup. Remember that in CONCACAF, it the USA and Mexico are 1 and 2 and nobody cares who is third because they suck.
But now, all that anger that I never directed toward Bradley is going straight for Sunil Gulati. I've never really liked him all that much, nor how he treated Bob Bradley at the professional level and now he has his golden coach in Klinsmann. Klinsmann and Gulati were never able to settle Klinsmann's control of the youth systems and player development and who knows which side won that battle. But if Klinsmann won, I'm going to expect, no I'm going to demand results from other US teams at the U-17, U-20 and U-23/Olympic levels. And then, I'm going to expect the USA to start making the quarterfinals of the World Cup and churning out professional players that will start dominating the UEFA Champions Leauge. Because I never expected to the USA to do more than they were qualified to do.
Now, that changes. Because Bob Bradley set a rather high bar for the USMNT. Now Klinsmann has to meet that bar at all levels of US Soccer. Otherwise, I'm going to demans that the USSF cleans house.
And I hope that never happens. I hope Klinsmann (who's coaching record is not that long) brings the USA to new unreached levels of success. But if they don't, I hope the USSF finds Sunil Gulati's replacement while he's still in office.
So he can get a taste of his own medicine.