Bob Bradley's ability to squeeze a second-round appearance from a roster only marginally talented by World Cup standards has renewed an old debate, one that occasionally goes around the proverbial U.S. soccer supporters' table.
Can an American coach move up in class and successfully manage in one of the world's prestigious leagues?
We may soon know the answer, as Fulham FC in England is reportedly considering Bradley to replace Roy Hodgson as coach at Craven Cottage. That would make for a whirlwind year for the U.S. national team boss, whose contract with U.S. Soccer is due for renewal in December.
The latest reports, from Tuesday's Daily Mail, say Bradley, Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld and former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson are on Fulham's short list of finalists. The Mail's report suggests that Eriksson is the top choice but that his salary demands have become problematic.
Can Bradley make it there? Probably. But it won't be easy -- and all the extra hurdles an American boss would face overseas will be illuminated if Bradley takes his coaching whistle to the West London club.
Bruce Arena was the last U.S. coach to flirt with the notion of coaching overseas, although outside of a rumored job offer from Scandinavia nothing ever really materialized.
Even if it's not Bradley, it seems inevitable that a U.S. coach will someday make the jump. The United States is hardly some backwater of global soccer anymore. The national team has established itself as a solid, second-tier side in the world order. Given the population base and the resources, there's no reason to believe the United States won't keep ascending, buoyed by an expanding talent pool and (if things go as planned) an increasingly sophisticated developmental plan.
With better players, the coaches cultivated here will continue to look more attractive. So it may be Bradley or it may be someone else, but it will happen sooner or later.
After all, one official recently moved from Major League Soccer's front office to the highest chair at one England's storied clubs. Ivan Gazidis, formerly deputy commissioner of MLS, is now chief executive of EPL heavyweight Arsenal. So if a ranking executive can make the move ...
Bradley's case is interesting because it demonstrates a phenomenon that has generally perplexed U.S. Soccer insiders -- that Bradley seems habitually more respected beyond U.S. borders than within them. Indeed, if anyone in America seems surprised that Bradley could land on an EPL short list, they might consider that the news is surely less of a curiosity outside the country.
The U.S. fans' wildly disparate attitudes about Bradley could be backwash from the sting of not getting the sexier choice four years ago, when the United States aggressively but unsuccessfully courted Germany's Jürgen Klinsmann.
But officials at Fulham (or anywhere else that might be looking to add coaching talent) certainly don't care about Klinsmann or the politics of how Bradley landed the U.S. job. They care only that a U.S. side with a good goalkeeper and a hardy midfield but oh-so-precious little talent at forward and middling choices in defense managed to top its first-round group.
And they are surely interested in Bradley's ability to implement structure and nurture a helpful team chemistry. That's going to be important at a place like Fulham, where the player budget is dwarfed by its rivals. In West London, bare bones Craven Cottage sits about a mile from regal Stamford Bridge, home to well-heeled Chelsea.
Bradley put his organizational skills to work in 1998, graduating from Bruce Arena assistant at D.C. United to the top spot at Major League's Soccer's expansion side in Chicago. Bradley launched a successful four-year run by winning an MLS Cup that year. He then left for his home state, inheriting the New York MetroStars' mess in 2003. Bradley's record in three years in charge of Major League Soccer's most under-performing outfit wasn't overwhelming (32-31-26). But it was as good as anyone else's and far better than more heralded names before him. He then turned fortunes in his one season in charge at Chivas USA. A squad that had been a pitiful 4-22-6 a season earlier went 10-9-13 under Bradley.
Of course, that was MLS. Clearly, the English Premier League is another universe.
But expectations would be as modest as the budget at Fulham, a club with a strong American connection. Brian McBride, Carlos Bocanegra and Kasey Keller have worn the Fulham kit recently. And Clint Dempsey remains a valued member.
The club has only recently seen a transformation from perennial relegation candidates (or far worse going further back) to a respectable mid-table EPL side that proudly made the 2010 Europa League final. Much of the credit goes to Hodgson, who took over in 2007.
So while it may be tough to follow such a well-respected personality, no one would expect Bradley to take the Premiership by storm. If he could establish a safety-first system (a la the U.S. in South Africa) and keep Fulham swimming in Premiership waters, he would be hailed as an unquestioned success. On the other hand, like plenty of American players in the high-minded world of the English game, Bradley won't receive much benefit of the doubt. Managers make mistakes all the time, of course. But any mistake made by an American manager would be seized upon by the merciless British press, offhandedly blamed on his perceived shallow depth of knowledge or paltry background at the highest level. So the manager's seat, always hot as it is, would be extra spicy with Bradley sitting there.
At least one respected figure in England wouldn't mind seeing Bradley at Craven Cottage. Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp, in a column written for The Sun over the weekend, called the U.S. boss the best manager of the World Cup.
If a few other people are thinking along the same lines, Redknapp could soon be coaching against Bradley.