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Bradley era ends as U.S. stagnates

Three thoughts on the firing of U.S. men's soccer coach Bob Bradley on Thursday:

Is it finally Klinsmann time? Two times the U.S. has come achingly close to hiring German legend Jürgen Klinsmann, and two times Klinsmann has left the Americans at the altar. Might the third time be the charm? The California resident is available, unlike a lot of other options, and presumably U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati has the same reasons for hiring Klinsmann now that he had in 2006 and '10. When I reached a U.S. Soccer insider on Thursday, he said: "You're not going to be surprised" by the identity of the new U.S. coach, who is expected to be announced as soon as Friday. That would point toward Klinsmann, who (if named) would be the first foreign U.S. coach since 1995. But even though Klinsmann took a young German team to the semifinals of World Cup 2006, he doesn't come without baggage. Ask anyone in Germany, where he had a disastrous single season at the helm of Bayern Munich, and they'll tell you he probably won't ever work in that country again.

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This U.S. team had gotten stale. When Bradley's contract was extended last year, my big concern was whether any coach, including ones who'd been more successful in the World Cup,would be able to prevent staleness during his second four-year term. After all, that was the lesson we'd learned from Marcello Lippi after Italy's 2006 World Cup triumph and (closer to home) Bruce Arena after the U.S.'s quarterfinal run in 2002. Truth be told, the staleness signs were evident from the start of Bradley's second term and only deepened during a Gold Cup in which the U.S. lost to Panama, got blown away by Mexico in the final and looked unimpressive throughout the tournament. Let's face it: The U.S. has been moving in the wrong direction, but removing Bradley doesn't take away all the concerns about the U.S.'s talent pipeline. My big question remains: Why did Gulati extend Bradley last year? And why did it appear that Bradley and Klinsmann were the only two candidates? Shouldn't have there been more?

Bradley deserves respect. Bradley isn't going out the way he wanted to, but he achieved several impressive feats during his tenure. In 2010, the U.S. won a World Cup group for the first time in the modern era (ahead of England, by the way). Bradley's Yanks also defeated world No. 1 Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup semifinals and won the CONCACAF hexagonal qualifying tournament for World Cup 2010. The U.S. beat Mexico in the 2007 Gold Cup final, one of four finals Bradley reached in the six tournaments he coached the U.S. team. (The U.S. lost in the other three finals: two Gold Cups and the Confed Cup.) When you look at the clubs where the U.S. players ply their trade, it's fair to say that Bradley's teams often punched above their weight.

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