Topping the post with some breaking Union news: The club announced today that it has signed 20-year-old American defender/midfielder Sheanon Williams. The Boston native had been playing with the Union's USL-2 affiliate, the Harrisburg City Islanders.
Williams is a product of the U.S. Under-17 national team residency program, and has played for the United States at two Youth World Cups: the 2007 Under-17 tournament and the 2009 Under-20 tournament. That 2007 squad was coached by current Union assistant coach John Hackworth.
Now to the main news of the day.
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and men’s national team head coach Bob Bradley spent the better part of an hour today on a conference call with reporters, discussing Bradley’s re-appointment as national team coach for the next four years.
I’ve put together a partial transcript of the conversation below. The impression I get is that the decision is not one that was made especially easily. Both sides looked at other opportunities that did not come to fruition, so decided that it would work well to keep things going as they have been.
Does that mean Bradley is not the right guy for the job? Not at all. There is every reason to believe and expect that Bradley will do just as well over the next four years as he did over the last four, at least until we know which teams the U.S. will play at the 2014 World Cup.
If anything, as I mentioned yesterday, it speaks to lack of viable alternatives - especially people who know the American soccer system. It is more complex than the systems in other countries, and in many ways it is not centered on developing young players for the national team. It is just as focused, if not more so, on developing young players for the purpose of gaining college scholarships.
A foreign coach might not have the ability to change that, or the interest in doing so. But having someone who understands the system at least increases the odds of re-orienting things in a better direction.
We can have that discussion another day, though. For now, here’s what Gulati and Bradley had to say this afternoon.
Usually, the periods after World Cups are a little bit of down time for us. That hasn't been the case in this World Cup, with a lot of thing going on related to the national team coach, the World Cup bid, and so on.
So it’s with great pleasure today that we can talk about Bob’s re-appointment as the national team coach. We get a chance to build on everything that's happened over the four years, and build on, frankly, our experience and performance at the World Cup. I think Bob's done a great job on putting a group of players together, and not just at the World Cup but in developing that group over three and a half to four years. And we’re looking forward to building on that.
His record speaks for itself. With the level of competition we've had over the last four years, and I haven’t gone through the specific FIFA rankings, I think it's probably tougher than we've ever had anywhere in our history. That’s because of playing in Copa America, playing in the Confederations Cup, but also because of a lot of exhibition and friendly games that we played in Europe. We thought that was a deficiency early on, and we decided to go out and do that.
Obviously, your record is different when you’re playing at home or playing abroad against those top teams - we’ve played Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Holland, and the list goes on. We’re very pleased, I’m very pleased that Bob and I have been able to work out an extension, and we look forward to not only the next four years but these upcoming games in October and everything else that’s going on in American soccer these days.
First, for me, I'm very, very excited to continue in the role as head coach of the United States men’s national team. I certainly believe that the work that went into the last four years, the experiences that we've had, will really work for us as we put one cycle behind us and begin the cycle of the next four years.
It's always a good thing to look hard at what's taken place, really do inventory, the things that we think along the way that were done well, the things we can continue to improve upon. And now, put all of those things into a good plan and a vision that will, I believe, take us further in the next four years.
On the process of bringing Bob Bradley back:
Bob and I met the day the team was leaving South Africa. We talked about a little bit of a timetable. He, at that time, said, okay, if we don’t have a decision right away, then he’d like the ability to explore alternatives. And he stated clearly that coaching in Europe would be a challenge that he'd like. We had no problem with that.
What was the most decisive factor was experience. The record over the last four years in games that mattered, especially. And frankly we had to weigh that something that Bob and I spent a lot of time talking about, which is this issue of eight years, and whether things might get stale.
We're familiar with the statistics about first and second cycles for coaches. In the end, I came to the conclusion that the experience and the record, the work over the last four years, overcame any issues about staleness, that we could overcome that. Bob and I talked about that a lot and we're in agreement on that.
Following up to Gulati’s remarks above:
From my standpoint, I’ve said many times that in the period following the World Cup, it was necessary for both sides to have time to assess things, to assess opportunities. For sure, the opportunity to coach in Europe is something that I would really enjoy, but at the same time, the honor of coaching our national team and continuing the work of our last four years was, and will always be the most important work.
And in that regard, I think it took time on both sides. The timing of things, each side has sort of gone a separate path, where we’re looking into different things, having some discussions, and then eventually getting to the point of a decision. And I'm very excited that it's worked out the way it has.
On whether he talked to Juergen Klinsmann about the job:
We’re here to talk about Bob’s appointment as national team coach. I'm not going to talk about any conversations that we may or may not have had with any other candidate. I’m going to focus strictly on our national team coach and the reasons why we re-appointed Bob. So that’s what we’re going to be talking about today.
More on the question of things growing stale with an eight-year cycle:
That’s been a central issue, and we’ve discussed that a lot. I stated at the end of the World Cup that we wanted to have some time to reflect, to talk to people. That includes talking to players, talking to staff. That’s part of a debrief whether we announce the day before the World Cup that our coach is continuing. You’re not just talking about the coach, but all those other things.
Unlike most of the countries around the world that have coaches that get extended, we expect our coaches to finish cycles. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a coach that hasn’t completed a World Cup cycle. So it’s not a question of four or five or six years, it’s a question of eight years.
So that was an issue. We talked about it, we think we’ve addressed it. As I said, I’m familiar with the statistics about the performance of coaches in the second World Cup they’re in, even though very rarely is it eight years - in Europe, it’s generally six if they’re in two World Cup cycles. The obvious statistical bias is that if you're extended you've obviously done well at the first World Cup, and there’s not as much room to build from there.
We’ve talked about that, and I think Bob’s aware of that concern. We think we can manage that. We’re not going to look at simply the last cycle of the U.S. Teams do well and teams go down - it’s not just down to the coach. Italy and France would attest to that, after having been in the Final.
The progress that we’re going to have is not at every World Cup, and we recognize that. We’ve put yourself in the best possible position to continue the growth that we’ve had, in re-appointing Bob.
On what specific things he’ll do, including possible staff changes, to keep things from going stale:
I think that around the coaching world, not only in soccer, the ability as a coach to continue every day, every year, to challenge your players the right way, to know how, in some moments, to re-energize yourselves, re-focus yourself, in some ways re-invent yourself...
It's been noted at times where I've said how lucky I've been to spend some time at Manchester United. And when I see someone like Sir Alex Ferguson, how he continues to know how to keep his environment fresh and sharp, I think that is what coaching is about.
And quite frankly, you can be on the job for a short time, and if you lose your concentration, or you get caught up with other things - your credibility is put to the test every day as coach, regardless of whether you're on the job for four years or four days. I understand that, that’s part of the profession.
When you talk about specific things, we continue to assess where we are with the work we’ve done, with our staff, with the environment that we’ve created. We rely a great deal on getting a sense from players of where they are with things. So we’ll continue in that regard, because that’s the work necessary to continue to be successful.
We continue to assess where we are with the work we've done with our staff, with the environmetn we created, we rely a great deal on gettin ga sense from players of where they are on things.
On whether he still believes the U.S. met expectations at the World Cup, and whether that influenced the decision to re-appoint Bradley:
I think there were three sets of comments, all of which were related. One was about mixed result, two was about disappointment at the final result, the Ghana game, and then expectations. The expectations change as you go through a tournament, even. So we’re talking about looking out from where the tournament started, that changes when we win the game against Algeria and have the country paying attention.
The disappointment part, as I stated then, was not in the team, or Bob’s efforts, or winning the group, obviously. The disappointment was that we all - and that’s not just me, that includes everyone with the team, Bob included - is that you always want one more game. At that level, 31 teams would have liked to do more at the World Cup.
So with a little time to reflect, more than a day or two, you look back and it was a good World Cup experience. It hasn’t changed my view that we all would have wanted another game or two, and Bob agrees with that. We’ve talked about it. The disappointment comes because we were in a situation where we had a chance to advance.
It’s a little bit strange. If we had finished second in the group, and played Germany, and lost in overtime, 2-1, my guess is we would have all felt differently. Even though the final outcome would have been the same, except we wouldn’t have won the group.
More on the re-hiring process:
We're never in the same situation as many federations around the world. Our contracts have traditionally run through the end of the year. As is the case with Bob’s.
There’s a couple reasons for that. We don't want our coaches to be the next day in a situation where they’ve got to find a job or are looking for employment. Second, we’ve got a league where some of their opportunities clearly would be on a different season [from Europe, because MLS is a summer league instead of a winter league].
From our perspective it gives the federation some time to reflect and not be in a big rush. From the coach's perspective, it puts them not under the same pressure employment-wise. So we’ve got a little bit of time, we didn’t want to take the time it took four years ago. Bob's the best choice for us going forward. We're not under the same pressure as others, and frankly, we don't make decisions based on a single game.
I guess I could have gone down on the field after the Algeria game and said, “Let’s move forward.” Or, after the Ghana game, said something less positive. But that’s not how we work.
On whether his first choice was to coach in Europe:
The respect that we’ve gained this World Cup and in the last two summers for our team and our players has been significant. And that’s been something that also means that there’s been a great respect internationally for the job that was done on the coaching side.
Following the World Cup, it was nice to have the opportunity to talk to people in different situations, get a sense as to what type sof opportunities might exist now or going forward. At times my name would pop up in certain places.
I was always quite clear, for example, with both the Fulham and Aston Villa situations, where people would ask me whether there was interest, and I would say, “Yes there is.” But at the same time, I would say very, very definitively, I did not have discussions with either club.
On whether there is something intrinsic about having an American coach, and whether there’s something to be wary of in hiring a foreign coach:
Did we go into any of these situations saying, “We’re going to appoint an American coach?” The answer is no. Do I think there are some natural advantages to having a coach who understands the American system? The answer is yes. That doesn't mean there also aren't advantages to having coached in the Premier League or Serie A, or having been in two World Cups, or whatever else it might be. Different candidates might bring different attributes.
So I don’t think there’s any doubt that having some knowledge or understanding of the American setup - that’s our league, that’s our player development system, all of those things that make young American men tick - I think that’s a plus. I said that four years ago, and I think that’s the case now. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t consider an international coach, it just means they would bring a different set of strengths. And in this particular area, likely a weakness, because they wouldn’t have that same experience here.
On when he’ll bring new and younger players into the national team
I really believe strongly that our staff did an excellent job of that in the last cycle. We will try to do a better job of that in this cycle. Every fixture date gets assessed in terms of whether there’ days of training leading into the game, who the opponent is, it takes into account the schedules of games for players, whether it’s in MLS or abroad.
We put all those things together and we try to find the right time, the right place to introduce players into the national team. Certainly, the next fixture dates in October give opportunities. It will, of course, come at a time in the MLS season when very important games are being played. So this will require an overall assessment of schedules, talking to MLS coaches. But nonetheless, there are players out there who we have watched. We really do a thorough job of keeping track of players around the world, but especially here at home.
On his relationship with U.S. Soccer youth technical director Claudio Reyna:
Claudio’s appointment, I believe, is a great one. I've had a couple of opportunities to talk to him. Certainly throughout the last four years, the types of discussions that take place with people at different levels, whether that’s Thomas [Rongen] and his staff with the under-20s, whether it’s with Wilmer [Cabrera] and his group [with the under-17s] - we will continue to work very hard to make sure that we’re sharing information and connecting dots so that the work that is going on around the country can get even better.
On how hard it is for American coaches to get international recognition
Without a doubt, in the last couple of years, I have been fortunate in different situations when I come across soccer people around the world - players, coaches - people have taken notice of our team. I think we all are proud of that. The timing after a World Cup of opportunities is interesting, because most club teams are set, and now you have to assess the possibilities going forward.
As much as it’s a nice thing if, to some degree, clubs like Aston Villa or Fulham, or anybody in a top league, thinks about you at some point - the types of discussions I had also included clubs from around the world in other leagues, and [some] national teams. Without a doubt, I am a product of coaching in the United States and in MLS. We know that it’s not a period of time when, typically, MLS teams are looking for coaches.
You try to see, going forward, what those possibilities might be. I think, whether it’s American players or American coaches, we do understand that as much as we continue to grow, as much as people can see the work, or the kinds of players we have, it’s still a challenge for all of us. And that’s just the way it is.
More on the decision of going for eight years with Bob Bradley:
In a number of other places, there are intermediate competitions that are linked to contracts. So in the case of Europe, obviously, the European Championships, and in the case of South America, the Copa America. That’s one part of it.
Two is that we’ve been fortunate in our history - in the last 20 years, in any case - where we’ve had coaches who have been able to complete cycles. Obviously, if you can’t complete one cycle, you aren’t going to go eight years. We’ve had more stability, and I think that’s a positive. We’ve had a lot of discussions on the positive and some of the potential freshness issues. I think all the positives greatly outweigh any of our other concerns.
Including, quite frankly, the positive that we now have a coach who’s coached 70 or 80-some-odd games internationally. That’s experience that Bob didn’t have four years ago. That’s clearly a plus for us. So we think, on balance, we’ve made the best possible decision.
On how different the team will look in 2014, and whether the American soccer system is capable of producing not just new players but better players:
I think it’s hard to give you a very specific answer on how different the team will look. When I look back at what’s taken place over the last four years, I think we do believe that we brought some good players into the mix, we got them experience. The balance we had with players that had been there before and younger players, I think was a good one. We’ll need to work in all those ways again. I think it’s important to always make sure that players in the national team program recognize the competitive part of it.
Quite honestly, that is a little bit of what we talked about with our team following the most recent friendly with Brazil. That the work that went into playing at a high level in both the Confederations Cup and the World Cup, as we begin a new cycle, that begins all over again. And that game served as a good reminder to all of us that to get to that level and above, it takes improvements in all areas.
Of course, to have a chance to go further in tournaments, to try to be a top team in the world, you of course take the group you have, you make sure there’s competition, you play good teams. You do all those things, but at the same time, we must work with MLS, we must work with our under-20s, our under-18s, our under-17s.
So that the sense of what we need to continue to do to raise the bar for our players, that is an incredibly important part going forward. It is imperative that U.S. Soccer - we’ve started a lot of good things, but to continue to make sure that our efforts are united and that we are aware of how to do things better so that we give ourselves that chance going forward. Those are the kinds of efforts and discussions that are ongoing, and will be very important for the future of our national team.
On specific things he aims to improve on
We had stretches over the last four years when our defending wasn’t very good. We worked very hard to make sure there’s a good understanding on the field in terms of of where we move, and where we pressure, and how we cover each other. And yet, when you get to the most difficult games, that doesn’t always mean that you do it as well in those games as you need to in order to win...
The best teams in the world, they do the most things the best. You look at a team like Brazil: as good as they are with the ball, still the commitment they have as a team; the understanding that they have; the ability to create chances; when they lose the ball, the ability to recover it quickly. So we have really tried to make sure that our players, throughout this entire cycle, understand what the levels are, and understand what the best teams do well.
We’ve played in games that have tested us to perform at that level, and to give players a real first-hand experience of how we need to continue to improve. And when I talk about the work continuing, it’s with all that in mind.
On his vision going forward, and what we might expect that will be new and/or different for the national team over the next four years:
I think that when you watched our team in the last four years, a vision means that as a team we take the qualities that we have: our mobility, our athleticism, we combine them with continued attempts to improve in terms of our understanding, the way create chances, the way we pass, the way we move.
The idea [is] that we are a team that's mobile, athletic, [and] technically while not yet at the level of the top teams, that we continue to be a team that is improving technically. And that shows in our ability to pass the ball well, to create chances, and to combine those things with an overall team concept.
If we're not yet at the point where our talent level is with the best teams in the world, then in order to have a chance, as we've shown, to compete with them and beat those teams, we still need collectively strong team efforts, and a team mentality.
On whether he’ll be satisfied if the U.S. has the same level of success over the next four years as the previous four years:
I'm not easily satisfied. there's always two sides to this: there’s the side in terms of what the team is all about, how it competes, what are the performances like. I think, again, even when we look back at this last World Cup, in those ways, we felt good about things. In those ways, the response around the world, the response from fans at home, was positive.
But at the same time, we also recognize that in every tournament, you want to go as far as you can. You want to win. You want to make the Final. And so we feel good about what we have accomplished in the last four years, but that doesn’t mean we think it’s all perfect. That’s what motivates us and our players. So we’ll continue to work at it.