Let me be clear: The person responsible for Bob Bradley getting a four-year contract extension is the president of the United States Soccer Federation, Sunil Gulati. In the end, it was his decision and he deserves the majority of praise or scorn depending on the results.
That being said, the small, yet influential United States soccer press corp are, at least, somewhat responsible for Bradley getting a second chance. In the face of significant evidence, no one with a large platform came out and said what seemed obvious to me and others — Bradley didn’t deserve to stay on for four more years. Strangely, no one among the U.S. soccer media elite stood up and took this stand. If Gulati really wanted to keep Bradley, he should have had to explain his decision to a hostile media. But instead of being under pressure to show Bradley the door, Gulati was, amazingly, under pressure to keep Bradley. Maybe Gulati would have made the same decision no matter what the media said, but he definitely kept him when media said he should.
Why did the media give Bradley a pass?
Hold up. What makes you so sure Bradley didn’t do a good job as USMNT coach? What’s this “significant evidence” you speak of?
You can make a coherent, logical argument Bradley did an O.K. and even a good job in his first World Cup cycle. I’ve written about this before, but the pro-Bradley argument goes something like this:
Bradley won the 2007 Gold Cup, finished an amazing second at the 2009 Confederations Cup, finished first in CONCACAF qualifying, won his group at the World Cup (the first time the Americans had in 80 years), reached the Round of 16 in South Africa, he’s a hard worker, his players respect and play hard for him, he understands the American system and he’s the best coach U.S. soccer can get.
Sounds good, huh? And all of those statements aren’t debatable except the last couple. But there isn’t any nuance to this argument and it ignores the obvious: The U.S. needed a miracle just to advance out of the group stages of the Confederations Cup (U.S. 3, Egypt 0; Brazil 3, Italy 0); the U.S. won its World Cup group, but it was in by far the easiest group of the tournament and needed a goal in the 90th minute against world-power Algeria to do so; the U.S. had a relatively easy Round 16 matchup and couldn’t deliver.
(Note: It’s worth mentioning if Landon Donovan shanks his 90th minute shot against Algeria, Bradley would have been axed before he got to the locker room.)
But when I say there is “significant evidence” I’m primarily talking about the decisions Bradley made during the World Cup: Selecting Robbie Findley on the team, starting Findley, starting Findley again, starting Findley again, beginning and ending the tournament by starting Ricardo Clark over Maurice Edu, not figuring out a way to use Stuart Holden and stubbornly sticking to a 4-4-2 when it became painfully obvious they U.S. was better playing some variation of a 4-5-1. Also, don’t forget the U.S. were terrible in the opening 15 minutes of matches and were suspect defensively in general.
I’m not Monday morning quarterbacking; I said all of these decisions were mistakes before they happened. These weren’t great predictions on my part, just obvious objective observations. Even people who didn’t know anything about soccer a week before the World Cup said, when seeing the lineup against Ghana,”That Findley guy is playing again? Doesn’t he suck?”
But, like I wrote three weeks ago, even if you’re willing look at Bradley’s tenure in the most positive light humanly possible, you should still be against him continuing as coach. Why? Because of the 17 coaches that coached the same national team in consecutive World Cups since 1990, only three did better the second time around. History tells us having the same national team coach for eight years almost never works.
I rest my case.
OK, fine. It’s your OPINION Bradley did a bad job and you have your reasons. But it’s only your OPINION. You even admit there’s a “coherent, logical argument” to keep Bradley. So what’s the big deal?
I went back and looked at articles written by influential U.S. soccer journalists since the U.S. was eliminated from the World Cup. To be specific, I researched Grant Wahl (Sports Illustrated), Steve Davis (Sports Illustrated), Ives Galarcep (Fox Sports), Martin Rogers (Yahoo Sports), Jeff Carlisle (ESPN), Steven Goff (Washington Post) and George Vecsey (New York Times).
After looking through their articles and blog posts, I found a grand total of zero articles or statements saying Bradley’s USMNT coaching stint should end.
Some came close, like Davis did in, “U.S. can draw some positives from World Cup learning experience,” where he was as critical as anyone of some Bradley’s decisions, but finished his thoughts by saying, “It wasn’t Bradley’s fault that the United States lacked depth at certain spots.”
Wahl also looked back at coaches that coached consecutive World Cups and found what I found (it almost never works). But he didn’t take the next step and say this is a strong reason why the U.S. needs a new coach.
Galarcep, Rogers and Carlisle also didn’t have a problem with Bradley continuing in his current job. Galarcerp wrote Bradley deserved to keep his job, Rogers wrote, a day before Bradley signed, the two needed to get on with it and make a deal happen and in a chat before the MLS All-Star game, Carlisle wrote, “I think Bradley has done enough to keep the job though. Is he perfect? Hardly, his decision to play a rusty Onyewu came back to bite him I think. But the team played hard for him, and that speaks well of the manager.”
Goff is more a reporter than commentator, but he has a blog where he spews opinion and in two months he never said Bradley shouldn’t be kept. Lastly, Vecsey wrote after the Ghana match, “My own sense is that an American coach is still preferable — at least until American players stop asking “why?” — and that Bradley, as the incumbent, is the best choice for the next four years.”
Waiting patiently for you to get to your point…
I believe all of these journalists wrote what they honestly believed. That said, how is it possible everyone with a large platform objectively looked at the question, “Should Bradley remain USMNT coach?” and all came to the same conclusion?
The easy answer is retaining Bradley is the correct decision and that’s why they all believe they should keep him. I reject this. For the reasons given above, I believe there’s a much stronger argument for getting rid of Bradley than there is to keep him. I wouldn’t expect everyone to agree with me, but I really wouldn’t expect the most influential soccer journalists in the country to all disagree with me.
So, why then? It’s important to point out five of these seven journalists are reporters (the exceptions are Davis and Vecsey, who are pretty much exclusively columnists). They all know Bradley, they have a relationship with him and his players. I’m not arguing they are protecting their friend, but I am saying their relationship has influenced their reasoning to at least some extent.
There’s a reason why newspapers try to keep their news department separate from their editorial department. A reporter is on the ground, calling sources, going out to lunch with people in the know, learning as much as they possibly can. But if that reporter is asked to write a column about the subject they are covering, suddenly they are putting their reporting job at risk. If a reporter covering President Obama writes a column about why President Obama shouldn’t be re-elected, it’s safe to say access won’t come as easy in the future.
Thanks for the Journalism 101 lesson, but it’s ridiculous to expect sports media organizations to have separate reporters and columnists for soccer. The sport simply isn’t popular enough and last time I checked media organizations aren’t swimming in money.
I agree with this. It’s not realistic for media organizations to have a soccer reporter and a soccer columnist. Therefore, though not ideal, they have to do both.
And, in this case, mainstream U.S. soccer columnists failed miserably.
I know it’s an opinion to say keeping Bradley was a terrible mistake, but I truly believe it was and I believe there will be real consequences.
There’s little reason to believe Bradley won’t continue picking the wrong players and tactics. I worry he will stay too loyal to players (relationships can also affect coaching reasoning) like Bruce Arena did (Eddie Pope) and I’m concerned he won’t tackle the job with the same amount energy he did the first time. U.S. soccer needed something new to push the program forward and keeping Bradley wasn’t it.
I hope I’m wrong and Bradley goes on to advance the U.S. further in the 2014 World Cup than it has ever gone before. I just don’t think I am.