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Wednesday, December 28, 2011
No. 5: Former U.S. coach Bob Bradley

By Scott French

Bob Bradley
Former U.S. coach Bob Bradley will likely be known as much for his failings as his successess.
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Bob Bradley's tenure as U.S. national team coach was too often unfairly maligned by critics who wanted unachieveable success now or a team that played more exciting, more expressive soccer -- something largely beyond its capabilities -- or more and better talent, as if the national team coach has anything to do with producing talent.

It was over July 28, when U.S. Soccer dismissed the Manhattan Beach-based coach a year into his second four-year contract and barely more than a month after a one-sided loss to Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final. He departed with a fine record -- 43-25-12 -- and three legitimate triumphs: the 2007 Gold Cup title, a berth in the final (via victory of Spain) at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup and a top-spot finish in the first-stage group at last year's World Cup in South Africa.

What he'll be remembered for, at least by detractors, is the failures: conceding a two-goal lead to Brazil in that Confederations title game, falling to Ghana in overtime in the World Cup's round of 16 and that last loss to Mexico, when the Yanks again let a two-goal advantage slip away.

But he brought greater professionalism to the national team program, aligned the youth teams more completely with the first team, and made a team with questionable talent -- aside from Tim Howard, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey -- competitive, at the least, with anyone on the planet. He installed a culture that prized (and prided itself on) hard work and accountability, redefined what it means to be a national-teamer and demanded appropriate effort from his charges. Respect for the team and for Bradley was immense overseas, far more so than at home.

Some critics will not be satisfied until the U.S. is winning World Cups -- and that could be a long time off.

Bradley's dismissal was mostly about the ability to hire the Orange County-based Jurgen Klinsmann, whom U.S. Soccer had twice pursued unsuccessfully: Bradley was first hired (after rebuilding Chivas USA over the 2006 Major League Soccer season) when an agreement couldn't be reached with the German legend, and his second contract was awarded after Klinsmann turned down another offer.

Klinsmann's skill set and approach are certainly different than Bradley's, and he might be the right man for the next step in U.S. Soccer's evolution. Bradley was the right man for his time, and now he's doing similar work with Egypt's national team, a would-be giant looking to bounce back after (again) missing the World Cup and failing to qualify for Africa's nations championship after winning three straight continental titles.