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All eyes on Bob

Bradley gets chance to take U.S. soccer to next level

Posted: Wednesday May 16, 2007 2:08AM; Updated: Wednesday May 16, 2007 10:01AM
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Bob Bradley took over as interim coach Dec. 8 and has a 3-0-1 record since.
Bob Bradley took over as interim coach Dec. 8 and has a 3-0-1 record since.

"Change is indubitable, whereas progress is a matter of controversy."

That's Bertrand Russell, a Nobel Prize-winning philosophical scamp from the turn of the last century who, when alive, probably would've rather been caught in a bordello than at a soccer match. Or in an online column about soccer.

But that's exactly where he has landed today. I thought about old Bert's quote when I heard Bob Bradley was being named full-time head coach of the U.S. national team Wednesday. Gone is that pesky "interim" caveat. Here is the "permanent" bull's-eye.

Opinions on the federation's decision are going to skitter around the Web and on the soccer fields of America. Or they won't.

To be honest, Wednesday's announcement is about as tepid as it gets: The media got word of the press conference just on Monday evening, 8:42 p.m. ET, to be exact, according to my e-mail account, and the buzz on the street ... well, there is no buzz. Compared to the fiery will-he-or-won't-he intrigue of the Jürgen Klinsmann dalliance, the U.S.-Bradley union is about as orgiastic as a Mormon wedding.

What a bummer, considering Sunil Gulati, current capo of U.S. Soccer, is (hopefully) telling the world Bradley is the man to take the national team to the next level. Even more of a bummer because Sunil's right.

After Bruce Arena's MacBeth act, Bradley's mix of quiet fierceness, stoic perseverance and us-against-the-world mentality (though I doubt he listens to Tupac) is just what this in-flux national team needs. In many ways, in the aftermath of 2006, this team is not really rebuilding; it's building -- new faces, new tactics, new expectations. A total change.

Bradley is good when he's starting from scratch. He forged the Chicago Fire into an MLS Cup winner in the club's first year. He made Chivas USA respectable. His failure in New York came about, arguably, because he was forced to remake the team using the cracked pieces that were already stumbling around Giants Stadium. That's not his strength. He needs things his way from the start -- the Alpha to Omega style. And when they are, good things result.

With Wednesday's announcement, he has the chance to create the U.S. national team over the next three years. He can take his time, not feel like he has to win to keep getting a paycheck. He can tinker, tweak, test. He can bring in some promising young players like Kenny Cooper, Chris Rolfe, Kyle Beckerman, Michael Parkhurst, and find out who's really got the goods to hack it at the next level.

But what if Sunil's wrong? Well, there's the controversy. The wonderful thing about coaching is this: Even permanent positions are temporary.

As soon as I heard Bradley was due to get the full gig, I went where everyone goes to find useless bits of nostalgia: YouTube. I plugged in "U.S. Germany 1998 World Cup." There, I found the ugliest goal the U.S. has conceded since it first started its run of finals appearances in 1990. Klinsmann (oh, the irony) eluding a flailing Thomas Dooley, chesting a ball down in the box, and storking home for a 1-0 lead. That goal pretty much said it all about U.S. coach Steve Sampson's reign. And it started him quickly toward the ax. Rightly so.

Sampson was the last "interim" U.S. coach to be given the permanent position after a string of good results. But there's a difference. Sampson's initial good results came with players and systems he inherited from the previous regime. Then he made changes, and it all went downhill.

Bradley's results have come, largely, with his own players, his own systems. Now he should be able to make progress.