Wednesday August 25th, 2010

Is the endgame of the stay-or-go saga involving U.S. coach Bob Bradley finally upon us? The U.S. World Cup coach's contract runs out at the end of December, but the uncertainty over Bradley's future was a sizable distraction for the U.S. players in their recent friendly against Brazil (according to team sources), and I'd argue that it needs to be resolved before the U.S. team gathers next in October for exhibitions against Poland and Colombia.

Bradley is set to discuss his future with U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati on Thursday (after a meeting scheduled for Monday was delayed), and it's possible that some news will emerge soon thereafter. What's the conventional wisdom on Bradley's future? "My gut says probably no" on a Bradley contract extension, U.S. star Landon Donovan told Fox Soccer Channel this week. That was also the consensus response when I spoke with several other people in and around the U.S. soccer scene in recent weeks.

Yet Bradley's departure is by no means guaranteed, especially if Gulati can't find a better option to replace him. The most frequently mentioned candidate is Juergen Klinsmann, the former Germany and Bayern Munich coach who lives in California and nearly took the U.S. job in 2006. But, while Klinsmann remains on good terms with Gulati, he may or may not be interested in the U.S. job --Klinsmann told me this week he's on vacation with his family in the Pacific Northwest and wouldn't be speaking to the media until he returns home next week.

Other than Klinsmann, few candidates to replace Bradley have come up. And while it's clear that Gulati isn't "sprinting to Bradley's house to give him a new contract," as Sir Alex Ferguson said he should do, the U.S. Soccer president has acknowledged that Bradley has posted good results when he's had his U.S. A-squad: winning World Cup Group C ahead of England, winning the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament and the 2007 Gold Cup, and reaching the final of the 2009 Confederations Cup.

While there has been talk about Bradley being a candidate to fill the open job at Aston Villa, I still think he'd be more likely to get an offer from a Scandinavian club or an MLS team like D.C. United or Vancouver.

Here are a few other things to keep in mind regarding the Bradley-Gulati talks:

• Just because U.S. Soccer is talking with Bradley does not mean that it plans to offer him a new contract.

• While Gulati refused to comment when I contacted him this week, his most revealing statement came in South Africa, soon after the U.S.'s 2-1 second-round loss to Ghana, when he was asked if the Americans had performed up to their capabilities in the World Cup. "No," Gulati said. "I think the team's capable of more. I think the players know it. I think Bob knows it. And so at that level we're disappointed we didn't get to play another 90 minutes at least."

• The history of coaches who have led the same country in successive World Cups is not particularly good, especially in recent years. The two "second acts" in World Cup 2010 -- Italy's Marcello Lippi and France's Raymond Domenech -- presided over two of the tournament's biggest flops. The lone U.S. coach to stay on for two World Cups, Bruce Arena, also fared worse the second time around (in 2006).

I went back and checked to see how many times a coach has led the same country in back-to-back World Cups. It has happened 48 times, with 25 faring worse the second time around, 13 faring better and 10 going out in the same round. Granted, the results have a few caveats. Coaches who exceed expectations the first time are more likely to keep their jobs for a second World Cup (and thus more likely to fall back toward original expectations). Also, these examples only include coaches who kept their jobs and then managed to qualify for the next World Cup. (No doubt there are instances of holdover coaches who failed to qualify.)

Still, it does provide for some useful reading that taught me a few things about the history of World Cup coaches and their "second acts."

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