Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Los Angeles Soccer [Print without images]

Thursday, December 30, 2010
2010: The big party ... and the man in charge

By Scott French

Our countdown of 2010's top 10 soccer stories and newsmakers -- from a Southern California slant -- continues.
It has been said that the difference between the U.S. and the rest of the world is that the rest of the world stops in its tracks every four years -- such is the impact of the World Cup nearly everywhere else.

This year Southern California joined the party.

Korea Fan
A Korea fan shows off his enthusiasm during a televised showing of a World Cup match at Staples Center.
From the Germans at Alpine Village in Torrance to the Africans gathered at the Springbok in Lake Balboa to the Dutch in Orange County and in West L.A. to American fans everywhere, the 2010 tournament in South Africa captured the Southland's attention like never before.

Of course, Mexico was a favored team: Big gatherings at Lynwood's Plaza Mexico cheered on El Tri, and every television along Broadway downtown, it seemed, was tuned into the Mexicans' matches, with celebrations along Pacific Boulevard in Huntington Park.

The best celebrations occurred in Koreatown, where thousands gathered for every South Korea game -- even the 4:30 a.m. start -- at a little plaza on Wilshire Boulevard. More packed Staples Center for broadcasts of the Koreans' matches.

Fans of every team in the tournament, from Algeria to Uruguay, could be found in L.A. -- North Korea, too … seriously -- no surprise given the size and diversity of the region, but the best-supported team in these parts might have been the U.S.

Bars, pubs, restaurants and workplaces everywhere were tuned in for the Americans' stirring victory over Algeria. Supporters club American Outlaws' L.A. chapter celebrated Landon Donovan's stoppage-time winner with an impromptu march down Hollywood Boulevard, which drew honks from passing cars and even a police escort.

Americans have been following the World Cup all along, since the U.S. reached the semifinals in the inaugural event 80 years ago, but the 1994 World Cup, held in the U.S., was the real introduction to those not among soccer cognoscenti. The numbers paying attention have risen with each tournament since, and we can only guess how big a deal the 2014 tournament, from Brazil, will be.
Bob Bradley wasn't U.S. Soccer's first choice to guide its national team -- nor does it appear he was the top choice to lead the Nats toward the next World Cup -- but his estimation was far higher than among the Americans' hardcore supporters, or at least the most vocal of that group.

Bob Bradley
Bob Bradley hasn't always been the first choice to lead the U.S. national team.
Bradley, 52, has long taken a beating from U.S. fans who would rather see a more dynamic U.S. team, a more demonstrative coach, different players and better results. Fans who, largely, won't be pleased until the World Cup trophy is paraded by Americans.

But the Princeton-educated coach, who lives in Manhattan Beach, deserves far more credit than he's received for what the U.S. national team has achieved since he took charge following the first-round exit at the 2006 World Cup -- both on the field and in the game inside the game.

Had things proceeded differently, he might still be in charge at Chivas USA.

Bradley first took the job on an interim basis after Huntington Beach's Juergen Klinsmann broke off talks with U.S. Soccer following the 2006 tournament. In the four years that followed, he redefined for American players what it means to represent the country on the soccer field, set expectations and responsibilities for his players while creating a new culture within the squad, and restored respect for the U.S. program around the globe with impressive triumphs (over Mexico in the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup and especially over Spain at the 2009 Confederations Cup) and an unexpectedly high standard of play.

That that style played to the Americans' strengths -- strength, athleticism, mentality -- rather than mirrored, say, Brazil's or Holland's proved off-putting to critics who demand that the U.S. contend, always, with the giants of the game.

The U.S. accomplishments in South Africa -- winning Group C, ahead of England, and reaching the knockout stage -- weren't good enough. No matter that the U.S. has only gone further twice: in 1930, when it reached the semifinals, and in the quarterfinal run in 2002.

There were valid criticisms, of roster choices (No Brian Ching?), lineups (Where's Edson Buddle? Why Ricardo Clark? Why Robbie Findley?), and of the Americans' difficult starts in all four games. But Bradley and his staff achieved more than ought to have been possible given the dearth of depth, talent and health along the backline and the hole up front with Charlie Davies' absence following a deadly car accident in fall 2009.

The U.S. would not have emerged from group play if not for Landon Donovan's stoppage-time goal to beat Algeria, and Bradley probably would have been dismissed had that happened. As it was, U.S. Soccer again held discussions with Klinsmann -- the German legend turned down the federation again -- before offering the coach another four-year contract.

Bradley deserves more respect than he receives, but his legacy won't be certain until 2014 arrives.

No. 3: A wonderful campaign … and the big man up top
No. 4: End of a dream … and the Boss' finest hour
No. 5: Would-be hero … and Chivas USA's disaster
No. 6: Big breakthroughs … and So Cal in South Africa
No. 7: Sol sets … and Chivas USA's boss
No. 8: Fantastic frosh … and the coach's son
No. 9: A royal visit … and Charlie Naimo's rough year
No. 10: College soccer's big stars … and expansion