It's very rare for U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati to transcend the norm.
So, the bomb he dropped late yesterday with the announcement that U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley was sacked after a 5-year stint as head coach was shocking.
Now, make no mistake; this is a good thing, especially if all the talk about the U.S. asserting itself as a world soccer power truly is the case.
As solid as his soccer IQ is, Bradley was never able to get the national team over the hump; never good at scouring the talent pool to bring in players who could help and never really seemed as if he effectively knew what to do with the players he had. During his tenure, the U.S. was 43-25-12, but today isn't even among the top 20 best teams in the world, according to the latest FIFA world rankings. The U.S. ranks 30th, nestled between Switzerland (29th) and Israel (31st), dropping six spots since the aftermath of the Gold Cup.
Hard to believe that post-World Cup 2006, the U.S. ranked sixth in those rankings.
Know I'm not out to make this Bob Bradley bashing time, as few were happier than me to view the 53-year-old, two-time MLS coach of the year as an welcomed upgrade from the frustrating tenures of Bora Multinovic (1991-95) and Steve Sampson (1995-98), the ho-hum years of Bob Gansler (1989-91) and the build-up, break-down stint that was Bruce Arena's (1998-2006). Remember on the club level, we are talking the same Bradley who led Chicago to an MLS Cup title in its inaugural season. How much of that was really Bradley's intuition and less the prowess of a group spearheaded by current Union boss Peter Nowak remains to be debated, I'm sure.
There are highlights to Bradley's international coaching career as well. The first U.S. men's coach to lead the national team to the finals of a FIFA event (Confederations Cup, 2009), a 12-5-1 record in his first year in addition to winning the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2007, the heroics that captured a nation when the U.S. won its group for the first time in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, fueled by heart-stopping moments against England, Slovenia and Algeria.
I could go on and on, but in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world we bide time in, the bigger issue is where has that gotten the national program besides a few more seconds of airtime on SportsCenter? How can a program that has all the opportunities and resources to improve and become dominant still be viewed as lackluster?
CASUALTY OF WAR
In terms of a dream start, it was hard to ask for better.
The U.S. scratched and clawed its way into June's Gold Cup final, to set the stage for a rematch of epic proportions against CONCACAF rival Mexico. In 2009, the Mexicans embarrassed the Americans, 5-0. This time, in front of 93,000-plus at the Rose Bowl, it was supposed to be different.
So, the blame game started almost immediately after a 5-2 defeat in which, despite going up 2-0 in the first 25 minutes, the U.S. was eventually dominated. Media hounds and talking heads immediately called for Gulati's resignation, the same pundits who claimed the Americans' run in the Gold Cup would ultimately dictate Bradley's future. Getting there wasn't good enough; he had to win it. Yesterday, Gulati released a statement that read: "We want to thank Bob Bradley for his service and dedication to U.S. Soccer during the past 5 years. During his time as the head coach ... he led the team to a number of accomplishments, but we felt now was the right time for us to make a change. It is always hard to make these decisions, especially when it involves someone we respect as much as Bob. We wish him the best in his future endeavors."
It's not hard to read between the lines. That tournament is one the U.S. Soccer Federation holds in high regard - in part because it now coincides with a Confederations Cup berth. There is no doubt that Bradley's firing was predicated on his success and failures over those 3 weeks.
By the time you read this, the media and blogosphere will have already saturated the market with names, wish lists and rumors. It's just what happens when a change of this magnitude occurs. The front-runner assuredly will be former German great Juergen Klinsmann, who has been in talks with Gulati and the Federation before about the position, but it's been reported that his demands of total control were just too much for the suits to handle. Klinsmann has his hands in the North American game as consultant for Toronto FC, part of a front office looking to revive the hopes of a fervent and faithful supporters group. It's my feeling that U.S. Soccer will act quickly in hiring Bradley's successor, already stating its intent to "make an announcement" later today in advance of its international match date in Philadelphia against (ahem) Mexico on Aug. 10 (8:30 p.m., ESPN2, Univision).
Who will become the next boss of the U.S. national program? MLS names like Seattle's Sigi Schmid, Real Salt Lake's Jason Kreis and even Union manager Peter Nowak are being tossed around. But when asked his interest in the vacant position, Nowak told Union Meeting: "Sorry, I got better things to do."
For now, Bradley's former assistant and now interim head Mike Sorber is boss. And while speculation still abounds over who will be the new and improved model, one thing is certain: Improvement was never going to come without a change to the status quo.
SHOTS ON GOAL
Who: Colorado (7-6-10, 31 points) at Union (8-4-7, 31 points)
When: Tonight, 7:30
Where: PPL Park, Chester
TV: Fox Soccer Channel
On the web: Streaming online at MLSSoccer.com
For kicks: Although still nursing a sprained right ankle, expect to see Rapids forward Omar Cummings and his speed on the pitch tonight. Cummings, who played the first half in MLS' All-Star Game Wednesday night in Harrison, N.J., jumped on an Amtrak straight from the game to link up with his Colorado teammates early yesterday morning. Cummings (two goals, five assists) told reporters he "felt good" and that his ankle "wasn't an issue" ... The Rapids aren't exactly road warriors. The club is 3-4-4 away from Dick Sporting Goods Park, and hasn't won a road match since a 1-0 result over Portland on June 11 ... Colorado is definitely feeling the loss of injured forward Conor Casey. He is the club's leading goalscorer with six goals ... This game will be a part of Fox Soccer Channel's Soccer Night in America, making this the third time the Union has been featured on the telecast. Games against Portland (May 6) and D.C. United (July 2) were the others.
INJURY REPORT (as of Tuesday)
Questionable for the Union: Levi Houapeu, FW (left ankle strain)
Probable: Veljko Paunovic, FW (left hip strain)
Out for the Rapids: Conor Casey, FW (left Achilles' tear)
Probable: Matt Pickens, GK (right groin strain); Brian Mullan, MF (lower- back spasms); Anthony Wallace, MF (right quad strain); Omar Cummings, FW (right ankle sprain); Jamie Smith, MF (right hamstring strain); Macoumba Kandji, FW (left knee ACL tear)
"Me? Sorry, I got better things to do."