How Bob Bradley explains soccer (cont.)
SI.com: How much soccer do you watch?
Bradley: A lot. It's hard to put into hours and stuff.
SI.com: Obviously, I assume you watch the U.S. players. But when you watch other teams and not just the U.S. players, who do you watch?
Bradley: I watch all around the world. I enjoy the big events when they come around. I think anybody who's a fan of soccer looks at Champions League, the way the Premiership is covered and presented. That makes watching all those games great. When you have U.S. players that are in the Premiership, it gives it an extra bit. If you look at where we've had guys play, you try to follow all the different leagues. When you're involved in U.S. Soccer, it's important to know what's going on in CONCACAF.
There are always going to be also just teams in all countries. If you've been to Argentina and had any chance to see what goes on at Boca Juniors, when they're on they're fun to watch, just the pure passion that Boca teams have. When you go to England, in recent years, Man. United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, we see how well they do in Champions League. The quality of the players on those teams, they've done really well to now be teams that have talented players, big players who work hard but also have a lot of skill. I think the package of everything in the best teams in England in recent years has come through by the results in Champions League.
When you watch a team like Barcelona, now you see a team that a lot of people say it's great when they win because they play the right way. And there's a lot of truth in that, because they are able to control the game with their pure technical ability, their ability as a team to move the ball quickly, efficiently, to have players at the right moments who are dynamic, who can go by people. And then you see a first-year coach like Pep Guardiola, who then with all those things that have been there, really emphasizes that if they're going to be a great team, they have to have the ability to do more when they lose the ball. And now he has such an ability in his first go-around as a coach to keep the technical aspect of their game, but to make sure they understand that if they're really going to be a great team they have to do more when they lose the ball.
So it's in all these ways that you watch and you see how all the little things go together. Even with all those great players he wasn't of the opinion that now they could just say, 'We're better than everybody with the ball,' and that by itself is going to win us championships.
So you find a way to push the players to understand that great teams also play like this when they lose the ball. And I think it's in all of that that when I say that you keep learning from the game, the two sides always challenge each other. You want to get really good with the ball, but as you get good with the ball you know that one day somebody is going to be able to make it harder so that they can pressure you better than you can play the ball, then eventually you try to play the ball better than they can press you, and it's in all of that that the game keeps going to a higher level. That's true in any team.
I think on a very simple level for all coaches, in any situation, if you have better players, if you just go out and say, 'We have better players, we're going to let 'em all play,' that's a great thing when you get results. But then there may be a day where all of a sudden you play against a team or in a league where you're no longer the best team. And if you don't learn from those games, if you just think, 'We're going to stick to what we've been doing up until now,' then chances are, you'll hit the wall. I think this applies in all sports. Sometimes even with our teams, I use basketball as a way of understanding this. You'll have a team in the NBA that's never made the playoffs, and now they'll get some better players and all of a sudden now, they'll have a year where throughout the year they're a little bit better, and suddenly they're a playoff team. There's a certain amount of growth to get to that point. Now you get in the playoffs and you find out that, OK, the things that got us to this point, that's no longer good enough to survive.
So usually there's a point where the players learn the hard way, and they get knocked out, and they've had a taste of harder games. And they realize that if we're going to play at that level we've got to raise the bar. Then ultimately you get to a point -- the Celtics team of two years ago was one that I would use as a good example. Because now you had some guys like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, and you got the sense they had all done a lot of individual things in their careers, but now they had gotten to the point where they understood to win in the playoffs this is what it's going to take. And it wasn't just each one doing what they wanted to do, it wasn't just each one saying, 'I want 20 shots a game.' It was now this more collective sense of, 'How can we make it hard for the other team and how when we get in the hardest games will we play?'
So you're trying to take all of that and now apply it with the teams that you coach. If you're a college team and you're the best team in college, then you may at first have the challenge: You're trying to get your team to understand that the things that we're doing in 16 of our games won't get us through in the other five or six games. And now then you may get a team that's good enough in those five or six games so they're at the top of the heap of NCAA soccer or NCAA basketball or whatever. If that team was then promoted and now got put to the test somewhere higher on the ladder -- if UNC basketball wins the NCAA championship but the next year the whole team is playing in the NBA -- then the same formula, the same things wouldn't be enough anymore.
So this is the process that goes on at every level. This is where you try to help players understand that, because as players move from one level to another, they have to grow, they have to take the things they're good at and move them up the ladder. They have to sometimes be able to have a picture of what kind of players they're going to be in this kind of situation. So you're doing that with your players, trying to help them understand that. You're doing that with teams, and you're hoping over time that these are the things that you move along.
SI.com: The obvious comparison to make with what you're doing here is you've got different levels of what this team is doing in World Cup qualifying and then, if you qualify, at the World Cup.
Bradley: Yeah. So in '07, as we were growing as a team, we won the Gold Cup. The team as a whole played well moving through the Gold Cup, winning against Mexico in the final. And now a month or so later we played Sweden in Sweden. And Sweden has a lot of talent. So now there's a moment where all of a sudden you sense there's a little bit of, 'What's happening here? Why did we not do this?' Some questions arise. And the most important point in that moment is for them to understand that, look, we had a certain level of success in the Gold Cup, and now all that's happened is we've come here on this day and guess what?
If you're a central defender and now throughout the Gold Cup on the plays that come into your part of the field you're dealing with some good strikers, but none of them are Zlatan Ibrahimovic. So now, maybe in the Gold Cup a player like Carlos Bocanegra, in the plays that come into his part of the field, is coming away winning almost every battle. And now we play against Sweden, and on the same kind of plays the percentage of winning those battles is lower.
And that's happening in a lot of spots around the field. There has to be a sense that in that moment it doesn't mean you're back to square one, doesn't mean you're back to the drawing board. There has to be a sense that, 'OK, we were able to do that at this level, now we get a taste, how quickly can we do the same things that we were doing in the Gold Cup? How quickly can we do them here?' So you're trying to move that along, knowing there's always a package of all these different things that on a given day in terms of the technical side, how are you doing? In terms of the competing side, the mentality, the tactical side, how are you putting all these things together knowing that on the highest level they're all important?
You don't typically succeed on the highest levels just because you're good in one of those areas. And that is how teams grow. It obviously is very helpful when it corresponds with players being challenged and growing in their club situations, so that when they come into the national team, they have experienced some of those things both individually and as part of a team on the club level.
So when you talk about coaching the national team in the United States, it's all of those things that you're trying to put your arms around. And it's not like you look at one part one day and forget about the other parts. You're trying to put your arms around all of them so that as many guys as possible can see the whole picture.