Open wide for some soccer

Recently, the US National team hired a new head coach, Bob Bradley. We asked Mitch Krpata, who still has nightmares about Landon Donovan passing up an open shot in the Ghana game, to give his thoughts:

Bob Bradley is a temp no more. After serving as the interim coach of the US Men's National Team for just over five months, Bradley was introduced yesterday as the team's full-time coach -- which means he should be at the helm through the 2010 World Cup.

It's good news for Bradley, who's popular with the players and has had considerable success at the pro level. In 1998, Bradley steered the expansion Chicago Fire past a Los Angeles juggernaut to win the MLS Cup, and last year engineered a remarkable turnaround for Chivas USA, taking them from last place to a playoff berth in just one season.

It's not such good news for US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati, who made no secret about his intentions for the position since the departure of Coach Bruce Arena following last summer's disastrous World Cup. Gulati's pursuit of former Germany head coach Juergen Klinsmann bordered on embarrassing -- it was like watching a lovestruck schoolboy asking the same girl to the prom for the third time. Even after Bradley had coached the US team to decisive wins over Denmark, Ecuador, and Mexico, Gulati insisted that his real prince was still waiting just over the horizon. Only now that preparations need to begin for this summer's Gold Cup and Copa America tournaments has Gulati been forced to take what he can get.

That's not to knock Bradley, who's earned a reputation as a master motivator as well as a solid tactician. But if winning games on home soil against regional opponents were the mark of a successful coach, then Bruce Arena would have had the job for the rest of his life. The standard is higher now. It's fair to wonder just how different Bradley's approach will be from Arena's, especially given the time Bradley spent assisting Arena. One quality he has shown so far is an openness to new players: whereas Arena tended to stick with his favorite players no matter the circumstances (such as bringing a dinged-up and ineffective John O'Brien to Germany last year), Bradley has already given a look at up-and-coming players like Benny Feilhaber and his own son Michael.

Of course, the talent pool remains shallow. There simply is no system in place in this country to identify and cultivate young soccer talent, particularly among poor and minority communities. Nor is there any real incentive for young athletes to pursue soccer when basketball, baseball, and football offer vastly more fame and fortune. Building a dominant national soccer team still requires a major cultural shift in this country. That's a problem no coach will be able to solve.

-- Mitch Krpata

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