How Bob Bradley explains soccer
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- There are times, when you sit and talk for more than hour with U.S. coach
In our mind's eye, most of us can remember the images of big goals that have been scored in important games. But usually we only recall the spectacular finishes, not the entire sequences of small plays that led up to those strikes. Bradley does. Out of nowhere, four months after the fact, he can lead you through the little moments in last May's Champions League final that led up to
It's in those little moments, those tiny details, that Bradley lives and works. I have no doubt that he can do the same thing on thousands of other goals, too. I have no doubt that when it comes to watching soccer Bradley has exceeded
If you're hoping that I jabbed a finger in his chest and put him on the defensive --
On the eve of Wednesday's important World Cup qualifier for the U.S. against Trinidad and Tobago (7 p.m. ET, ESPN Classic, Galavisión), I can tell you that I learned more about the specifics of Bradley's priorities, including:
There would be stories of guys he would ask ... I think it was
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
You always want to give your team a picture of what the game might look like. So in that regard, in many of the games Spain had played, they have possession for anywhere from 55 to, who knows, 70 percent of the time. That happened throughout the entire European Championship. And quite honestly, when even our players saw some of the games where Spain played the Netherlands, Spain played Russia, Spain played Germany in the final, I think our guys realized we played pretty well in Santander [a 1-0 Spain victory]. So as you prepare for them again, you have that experience. And then you know their players and you know their team. So what you're trying to do is to find a way that now gives your team a sense that when Spain has the ball what their movements are like, which guys are most important.
So now you prepare that as they move around your sense of now how to stay tight as a unit, obviously with a guy like Xavi what you're trying to do is to see if you can make it more difficult for him to play the ball forward, make him play more balls square, more balls backwards, not allow him to receive the balls in the most dangerous areas where his penetrating passes are going to cause you trouble. So that's a big thought. You try to make sure there's a sense, to use an example, of the movement of a guy like
Then you try to make sure that when we have the ball that we are going to also play quickly, try to make it so that if Spain -- like Barcelona, at times -- wants to pressure right away, then can you play out of that first pressure? Can you make them defend a little bit more? And then what kind of situations can you create? So you try to do all that. On the day against Spain, it's a great team, but our overall ability to do some of those things was good. We took advantage of some of the situations we created.
We felt that in the right situations athletically,
In any game when you score, then in that moment the game will typically change. So when we took the lead against Mexico in Azteca, when it's a very important game for them, with the crowd, with the altitude, with the need for them to win, there's going to be a real push at that point. The urgency that they're going to have in their game, you're going to feel that right away. I think we had a good start to the game, we got a goal, and now they start pushing at us.
In that moment, you can't get stretched out all over the place. In that moment, you have to understand that the one thing going in when you only have a short amount of time to deal with the altitude and you go in late -- I think our players who had been there before said that's the best they had felt -- but nonetheless, the one area that you feel it a little bit is just when you make a hard run, then how quickly do you recover before you make another hard run? There are going to be periods in that game where now they have the ball and you have to be able to defend.
In any of these games, you always try to prepare a team to understand what the game will be like. You don't want to paint it black and white. On the one hand, when we have the ball, it's always the challenge to move well enough, to pass well enough, so that now we're a threat. And then when you lose the ball, it's the challenge to defend, to win it back as quickly as you can, and if it's deeper make sure now that everybody understands for this part of the game we've got to defend as a team.
Going back to using Barcelona as an example, they understood that to be a really great team that it was also going to take efforts when they lost the ball. This is true at all the different levels. At the end when you look at the game against Mexico, we got into the second half, we made two changes [bringing on Altidore and
But at the same time, if we stick to what we've done well, they're not getting many opportunities, so there's a real chance if nothing else to take a point. We had a few moments that didn't quite pan out attacking-wise, and now at the end of it, as is the case in most games, the combination of them seeing an opening, us as a team not reacting well, these are the moments that you get determined on.
You go to the Champions League final last year and you have a team like Man. United, and in the first five, six, seven minutes of the game they get four or five shots. And now there's one moment in the game, and it just starts off a ball that got hit by
This is what happens in soccer at all levels, where you can have a great game plan, you can have your team very tactically prepared for what's going to happen, but then it can be five to 10 seconds where all of the sudden, you have one, two or three reactions, or on the flip-side, a player gets a little bit of an opening and then there's a quick reaction by the next player and how they're able to capitalize on something. And then that will change the game quickly.
So once that happened, the ability for Man. United on the day to respond to that, both mentally and physically, in terms of playing against a team that's so good with the ball. And now as the day wore on, even great competitors like
So we were disappointed after the Mexico game because knowing what the game was going to be like, we still felt that we had given ourselves a real chance, and there's a period when we thought, 'OK, we can still get the second goal, and even if we don't, then we're not going to give one up.' And all it took was a quick little succession of plays, and now you're down. So it's a disappointment.
So with everything that has happened, it was still in that moment a ball that was a