"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." -- George Santayana.
This following little screed is not written with the intent of parading Bob Bradley into a digital village square, walking him up the executioner's platform and lopping off his head.
Far from it.
Anyone that's been reading this site since his official hiring in 2007 know I've never been part of "Bradley's Bunch." At times, admittedly, we picked him apart for no other reason than the fact he wasn't a) German b) had blond hair c) played California adult men's rec soccer under the name Jay Göppingen.
Having said all that, Bradley probably did just about as good a job as anyone with the current cast of characters swirling around the USMNT.
On his resume Bradley will always have on the plus side of the ledger:
* The 2007 Gold Cup title.
* A runner-up spot at the 2009 Confederations Cup, including a historic win over Spain.
* Top of the CONCACAF hexagonal qualification.
* First American coach to win a World Cup group.
* Helped develop a "never-say-die" ethos in the U.S. camp.
For all the good, Bradley accrued, he still fell one round shy of his former boss -- Bruce Arena -- in the World Cup, when Ghana knocked out the U.S. Saturday in the Round of 16.
And with that, it's simply time for Bradley to go.
There's not a lot of vitriol or rage involved with the decision. It's simply the natural order of things in international soccer. Or as George Harrison once put it, "All Things Must Pass."
The USSF made the mistake once before, retaining Arena after the 2002 run to the quarterfinals for the 2006 World Cup. It's been said all over the place, too, that the only nations to keep their coaches from 2006 to 2010 were finalists Italy (Marcello Lippi, though he'd left post-06) and France (Crazy Ray Domenech).(*)
(*) Greece's Otto Rehhagel should be listed here too, since he was at his post from 2001 until the Greeks exit last week from Group B. ... What a larf? Here's young Otto.
Most Americans probably don't realize that the lifespan of an international soccer coach isn't very long. Well, more specifically the same guys -- think Bora Milutinović -- are recycled again and again under the "have whistle, will travel" philosophy, but these guys never stay in one place for very long. Or just look at Brazil's Mario Zagallo, who coached the team to the 1970 World Cup and later came back in 1994 and managed the Seleccao in France 1998.
Coaching a National Team isn't like coaching the Pittsburgh Steelers. If anything, in most nations it's like coaching the Washington Redskins under Daniel Synder.
What it comes down to with Bradley, the more-and-more you think about it as the euphoria from Landon Donovan's heroics wears off, this was probably as good a shot as the U.S. is ever going to get in a World Cup, or at least make a deep run.
Ghana, we understand is a good team. Uruguay aren't slouches.
Ask yourself, when is the U.S. going to get a clear cut path to a semifinal without facing one of the established powers -- Brazil, Argentina, France, Italy, Germany, Spain or the Netherlands -- ever again. The fact the tournament was in South Africa opened it up like we saw in Korea/Japan 2002.
In four years who can predict what where we'll all be headed into Brazil 2014?
For some perspective, how many guys on the 2002 World Cup team were in South Africa this month? ... Three -- Steve Cherundolo, Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley. Trying to predict where the U.S. will be in four years time is futile.
Better yet, go back four years. How many of you honestly knew the names: Jozy Altidore, Charlie Davies, Benny Feilhaber, etc.? Meanwhile how many of us didn't have Freddy Adu penciled in for 2010?
As it stands, 2010 was probably as gilded at opportunity as the U.S. was ever going to get in the World Cup and Bradley whiffed. It's not all on the Ricardo Clark starting decision, naturally, but could we trust Bradley in a big spot four years from now?
Now is it Bradley's fault, per say, that the U.S. forward pool was about as deep as anything coming out of the brain of Audrina Patridge. Or is it all on Bradley's that the defense all of a sudden turned back into a pumpkin? That Oguchi Onyewu landed wrong blowing out his knee last October vs. Costa Rica and wasn't able to recover by June?
Can we wonder why Bradley seemed so committed to a straight 4-4-2 when this tournament has almost been a death knell for the tried-and-true formation? Will we wonder why Bradley seemed so afraid to play either Benny Feilhaber or Stuart Holden?
Yes on both counts.
The biggest question will loom how or why this team continued to leak early, preventable goals.
In the end, that's what doomed the U.S., since for all the positives it showed, the team only held the lead for about two minutes all tournament.
Like or not, you can't exactly fire the players, so the axe falls on the coach, rightly or wrongly.
Bradley got his fair shot and did the best with what he had. There's nothing for him to be ashamed of, either. He took this team as it currently stands as far as he could.
It's just time for a new approach, a new voice, a new set of ideas. Going back to war in four years with the same approach is going back to the two steps forward, three steps back approach. Screw up in 2014 and it's almost back to the drawing board time.
When his contract runs out, there's no need to fire Bradley.
A quiet, "Thanks Bob, you did a good job, you'll always be part of the U.S. Soccer family, but it's time for a new direction," will suffice.
For everything we've said and written about Bradley the last three-plus years, there's no need to drag his body through the streets or hang him by his ankles like a deposed dictator.
Remember, world soccer if a funny game. Who's to say Bradley won't be back in 2018 or 2022?
The easiest thing in the sports-talk radio/blog world we live in is to say fire the coach. It's a little harder to come up with a replacement. With Bradley's contract done in December, let him coach the August game at the Meadowlands vs. Brazil then make the change at the end of the year. The U.S. doesn't need a new coach this instant.
Right now, outside of Klinsmann there isn't an out-and-out, "we gotta get this guy" candidate.
I will admit I don't know who that is, though it sounds like a certain dapper dressing, bespectacled Italian might be available. Actually the ideal guy for the U.S. is six feet under the ground -- Brian Clough.
Laugh, sure but listen to be reasoning.
The U.S. is one of the weirdest, yet to the right person most attractive, jobs in world soccer.
Consider the facts:
* 300+ million people.
* A sporting nation, albeit not one with a soccer pedigree.
* Low pressure, non-oppressive media like, say, England, which might never ever win another tournament because of the weight of expectations heaped on them.
* The honest, hard-charging American work ethic, which leads to coachable players and smaller egos.
* The chance to achieve something most everyone thought was impossible, and with it soccer immortality by leading the U.S. to the promised land.
That last nugget is where the Clough part comes in. The U.S. needs, to some degree, a dreamer. Somebody that thinks big ... but also can comprehend what a unique nut soccer in America is to crack.
Part of the problem, though, instilling what it takes to make the leap from dogged underdog to cultural contenders starts at the youth level not at the National Team head coach.
And when you factor in that it's still a foreign idea in America for a 12-year-old kid to join a club's academy and train to become a professional, and many would-be coaches are probably turned off. There's only so much you can do as a coach to undo bad habits that seep in as result the high school and college system. Or more specifically the AYSO/Travel system that emphasizes winning trophies and tournaments more than improving technique.
On top of that, getting the nation's best athletes to focus on soccer, like most of the world, just might never happen with the easy millions on offer from the NFL, NBA and MLB. Whoever the next coach or coaches will be need to live with this fact.
Another turn-off toward coaching America is that you only get to prove yourself every four years. Maybe we all should put more stock in the Gold Cup and CONCACAF qualifiers(***), but the U.S. (and Mexico) have outgrown them. If only there were a way like Australia did, jumping out of Oceania to Asia, right?
(***) According to Grant Wahl, the U.S. won't be invited to the 2011 Copa America for sending out a C team in 2007. Can't blame CONMEBOL. The U.S. did at least win the Gold Cup that year, which got it into the Confederations Cup.
Plus every four years you're not only competing in the World Cup, but tangentially trying to prove soccer's worth in America.
Realistically, the U.S. is probably a few cycles from having enough top caliber and quality depth to make a challenge at winning the World Cup.
Finding the next guy won't be easy for Sunil Gulati, who was pretty blunt in his assessment of Bradley and the team as a whole.
He's got to find a guy that understands how U.S. soccer works, but can translate how the rest of the world works to U.S. soccer. It's about 17 different hurricanes all swirling into each other.
Mueller ... Mueller:
I tweeted about this a bit yesterday during Germany's 4-1 evisceration of England.
Isn't it incredible that Thomas Mueller is a mere 20 years old and has already played in a Champions League final and scored a brace in the World Cup knockout rounds?
Wasn't a certain somebody on the U.S. 20 years old, starting at the World Cup.
Not to hammer Jozy Alidore but it rises an interesting dynamic.
Do we want all the young talent in America hellbent on moving to Europe, struggling to find playing time, bouncing around in mid-tier leagues or on the bench of the Premier League? Or does it make sense for guys to get playing time and nurturing in MLS, where the standard of play isn't unbelievable, but better than skeptics give it credit for?
To me, it makes more sense to do like Joseph-Claude Gyau and Charles Renken did, signing with TSG Hoffenheim at 15 and 16 years old. Get seasoning with a club in its youth academy and reserves. There's less pressure, first off, and the development is organic. The club is investing in the player at an earlier age and is more willing to give time for an eventual pay off.
Will these two specifically turn into stars? Who knows. There just names, like every other projected, unproven, would-be player for 2014.
As we've seen with Altidore and Adu, going to Europe and wasting your formative years on the bench just isn't going to work. The world is littered with players who never fulfilled their potential, withering away on the bench.
There's no perfect system, though. Look at Eddie Johnson, who was a hot property in 2005, elected to say in MLS and never really blossomed when Fulham signed him a few years later.
It's amazing, isn't it. After 2006 the only talk was how everyone on the U.S. had to go overseas to Europe to improve, especially Donovan.
In the wake of 2010, we saw the best players on the field for the U.S. -- Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Michael Bradley -- all spending plenty of time cutting their teeth in MLS.
Just like everything when you start talking U.S. soccer, there isn't a magic bullet.
In the long run, what it may end up taking is an eight year old kid who was home on summer vacation watching today's Netherland's 2-1 win over Slovakia getting inspired by the skill and class of Arjen Robben's opening goal -- making three Slovak defenders look stupid -- and wanting to one day do that himself. Or to be able to drop a 60-yard pinpoint pass like Wesley Sneijder, which set up the goal. You know kids in Holland saw that play and probably ran out to the streets of Rotterdam or nearest field in Utrecht to practice.
Better yet, as Dan from "The Free Beer Movement" corrected me on Twitter.
We need that kid to run out and want to be the next Landon Donovan.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." -- George Santayana.