What we've learned as U.S. draws closer to a 2010 World Cup berth
CHICAGO -- Well, that was a relief. The U.S. national team emerged from its toughest week yet of 2010 World Cup qualifying, bruised but standing tall. After getting abused and flattened in Costa Rica 3-1 last Wednesday, the Americans responded by rallying on Honduras 2-1 Saturday at Soldier Field, its first comeback win in World Cup qualifying in 24 years. The end result is that the U.S. stands in second place halfway through the Hexagonal final round of CONCACAF qualifying with a 3-1-1 record and 10 points.
With the first kick of South Africa 2010 almost exactly a year away, it's time to take a look at what we've learned, and that starts with head coach
"It was a little bit of, 'Crap, here we go again,'" joked U.S. captain
"One thing you try to get across to a team is, you can have a great idea of tactics you can have a great plan," said Bradley Saturday night, "but the ability to deal with the game as it unfolds, the ability to respond at the right moment, the ability to make sure that whatever is needed as a group, you go for it. That's what the game is about." He'll argue otherwise, but losing concentration early in a match is a failing Bradley needs to correct immediately.
Of course, the results aren't conclusive: While Altidore, despite some rust, looked generally effective up top and should probably stay in the starting lineup, Beasley clearly is suffering from a lack of confidence, looking horrible against Costa Rica and shaky against Honduras. "Sometimes you show faith in a player and he's ready and it's a good situation," Bradley said. There's no hard and fast rule for these situations since it's case-by-case for each player. We need to lay off Bradley for this one.
But the problem with it is twofold: 1) Trying that experiment in Costa Rica, in a stadium where the U.S. has never won, where the artificial turf makes normal passing near impossible and where the conditions are just all-around awful, was a huge mistake. That game was simply too high-stakes to experiment like that, and the U.S. never got its act together after surrendering that early goal and couldn't even hear each other over the deafening noise at Saprissa Stadium. 2) More importantly, the U.S. simply doesn't have the personnel to run that kind of offense. The 4-3-3 requires fluid movement up the flanks and close-ball skills that -- aside from
His reliance on his own son, 21-year-old central midfielder
"Any time you're a young guy and you get that opportunity, you've got to make the most of it," said Bornstein. "A lot of guys have been able to get the chance [under Bradley]." Giving youngsters a shot in critical games goes miles in building their confidence and giving them the experience they need for the big stage. That makes this summer extremely crucial: After the Confederations Cup in South Africa, Bradley will construct a "B" team to send to the CONCACAF Gold Cup next month.
Much like the experimental roster he fielded for the '07 Copa América, that group is expected to be a young unit. It may not be a sexy tournament, but it will give Bradley added depth when the time comes to make his cuts for the World Cup roster. And given the Americans' history with late-in-the-game injuries to regular players, the senior team will need experienced guys who can step in.
The answer is no. Even if the U.S. had lost to Honduras, firing the head coach wasn't an option. Through all the ups and downs, one thing the U.S. does not do is replace a coach in the middle of a World Cup cycle. Bradley is hugely respected within the federation and has a clear idea in mind of how he wants this team to look, and perhaps more importantly, what its character should be.
Barring epic disaster, firing a head coach mid-cycle is the wrong call. Just ask Mexico: El Tri is on its fourth head coach since the '06 World Cup, and