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BRENT LATHAM - Friday, July 3, 2009
With a few days to put South Africa in the rear view and ruminate on the takeaways from the Confederations Cup, I find that it's not the disappointing loss in the final that most sticks in my mind.

Over the long run, it will be the level of success that the Americans achieved in Africa that may push the program over that stubborn hill to the next level of international soccer.

Perhaps the most amazing part of the whole run is that it was all so close to never happening.

The US flirted with disaster in South Africa, and came out smelling like a rose. A final win and a Confederations Cup crown would have been even better, but the US gained much more from its exciting attacking play in the final three games than it ever would have from simply lifting the Confederations Cup trophy, as bitter a loss as the 3-2 reverse to Brazil might have seemed last Monday morning.

After all, Mexico has won this thing before, and it didn't get them very far.

The three game streak of good play, including the final, may well have finally and permanently lifted the US into the next echelon of soccer, just short of the world's best teams. But this renaissance of American soccer happened only because of a series of peculiar circumstances that left the Americans with a small but still viable chance to advance going into the last match of the group stage.

That remote possibility of advancement going into the Egypt matched forced Coach Bob Bradley's hand. If the US had somehow managed a point against Italy or Brazil, and come into the final match needing, basically, just a victory to go through, does anyone think the coach would have risked sticking Charlie Davies up top alongside Jozy Altidore, especially given Conor Casey's decent ten minute performance in the first match against Brazil?

If the US had been eliminated by the third game does anyone believe that tired starters like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley would have still been on the field in the second half to score the second and third American goals?

So much of this outcome can be attribute to good fortune.

Luck, though, is a huge part of soccer, and Bradley deserves credit for then taking advantage of the fortuitous shift in circumstances. Against Spain, when it would have been easy and even excusable to bunker down, there was little hesitation to field the same relatively aggressive lineup, with a nicely balanced approach between defense and offense.

The new found American penchant for timely attacks and well rounded play was on exhibit for a half against Brazil as well, but then disappeared suddenly, among a rush of other factors, in the second half. It was then that Coach Bradley reverted to form, and at the same time made his largest error in judgment of the tournament - sending DaMarcus Beasley out against Brazil notwithstanding - when he hesitated to pull the trigger on two subs after Brazil brought on Dani Alves and Elano in the 66th minute.

The rest is history. In the end though, it seems a bit petty to nitpick after a week that changed the panorama of US soccer - hopefully for good.

Perhaps the most telling indicator of that change is the newfound demand for US players abroad. Americans have always been undervalued on the transfer market relative to just about every nationality, but there are signs that the Confederations Cup performance has changed that. We'll have to wait to see how the rumors pan out, but it appears at least half a dozen Yanks, with Clint Dempsey leading the way, could be in line for big money moves this summer, in a realm seldom thrown about for American players in the past.

Those finances reflect positively on both the present and the future of the American game. It has always been clear that the US needs a large enough player pool at the top levels of international soccer to be able to choose in form players, and banish the compromise of settling for the likes of DaMarcus Beasley and Heath Pearce when those players are woefully out of form.

Another fact - which I have pointed out to little avail in the past - that has suddenly become clear to all is that the American talent pool is already deeper and more quality than ever before. In reality, only after nearly two years of tinkering has Coach Bradley begun to extract the results merited by the quality of his players. If Bradley improves as much over the next year as he has over the last one, things could come out even better the next time around in South Africa.

How much better?

Think about this for a moment: the growth and improvement of US soccer has been so derided of late that the now infamous project 2010, specifically the goal of producing a US team that could compete to win the World Cup by 2010, has been considered by many a bad joke.

Of course it depends on your perspective, but after resounding, consecutive wins over the African and European champions, followed by a near miss against Brazil, all within the space of a week, for the first time ever a valid argument could be made that the US is at the point where, if everything fell their way, they would indeed have a shot.

One or two pivotal subs - perhaps a more mature Francisco Torres to hold and distribute the ball late, and a year-older Freddy Adu to add some pep to the late counterattack - and the US could add a win to that impressive two game streak against Egypt and Spain.

The odds are still long, but with a couple more key players, and a hand full of more timely coaching decisions, as soon as next year something extraordinary could happen for US soccer. Of course Coach Bradley and the Americans would need a little more good fortune - but they have had plenty of that of late.
dikranovich
Saturday July 11, 2009 2:49 pm
well, now that a couple of games in gold cup have been played, it is obvious to see that coach bradley has been right all along. jr. bradley is a workhorse and torres cant hold a candle to him. adu in place of michael bradley, come on? so we now know that the coach is testing his players because he has read the great coaching book by roman lippi. what better game to test the endurance of your team than against brasil in the finals of a virtually meaningless tournament.

and of course on top of that eddie johnson is scoring game winning goals during fulhams preseason run down unda. dmb will sign with schalke and what better team to be on, except maybe monchengladbach. dmb will be fighting for one of those 23 spots, but you really have to wonder if adu will do the same. does anyone really think torres, who plays for the great pachuga should be out there before benny feilhaber who just plays in denmark?
Mark O.
Tuesday July 7, 2009 1:52 pm
@ Robert Kiernan - We largely agree. The next step in our progression is to get our young players, particularly those with superior possession skills, more game time in games that count. Forgetting about the blown substitutions against Brazil, had we had better possession against Spain and the prior games, it would have eased the situation in the second half against Brazil. I'm not sure Bob Bradley agrees, and I certainly question both Beasley and Kljestan on the Confed. Cup roster. I'm certainly concerned about some of his recent decisions, both roster and playing time.

@ Adam M. - The point I am trying to make as forcefully as possible is that Michael Bradley deserves his playing time with the national team. These cries of nepotism or "Daddy's Boy" are totally unjustified, and come from folks who are totally ignorant about quality midfield play. On your question about 'Gladbach versus Pachuca, I'm not sure who would win, but I would be certain that Michael Bradley would be the best midfielder, if not player, in the game.

For the time being, yes, Carlos Bocanegra is the team captain under this coach. However, IF the situation gets serious that Michael is not earning his time, then the person who needs to speak up is Landon Donovan. For historical reference, what happened during the collective bargaining agreement? Sunil Gulati went and sat down with Landon Donovan, and the agreement happened almost immediately after that. Carlos also played for Bob at Chicago, and I just don't think he would ever tell Bob what needed to be said, but Landon would.
ICEMANofALFRED
Saturday July 4, 2009 8:19 pm
That Bradley was carrying DaMarcus Beasley on his Roster and not, say Stuart Holden, was a coaching decision... that faced with needing to answer Dunga's twin substitutions, Bradley procrastinated and finally went for a tie and put in a LB and a DMF, this was also a coaching decision. I truly believe Bob must get much credit for the way we played against Spain, but also much of the blame for bringing along, let alone starting Beasley against Brazil.
Not playing Torres as one of his subs in the final, tells me he had lost his nerve for attacking Brazil and was punished accordingly.
Now when we have a tournament that would allow for some of our other players to impress and possibly push some of the dead wood aside, we see him bring back Bornstein, Kljestan, Casey etc. ... how is this going to help Holden, Rogers or Cooper!??? Bradley is our coach and likely will continue to be our coach... but yes I do question his judgment.
Scott S.
Saturday July 4, 2009 5:56 pm
Like Brent said, more guys in top flight leagues will strengthen the team. Donovan not playing in europe does not help him. If he could land with a mid- lower tier English team, upper tier Dutch, mid level German, mid-lower Spanish the team would be a lot better off. Move that thinking down to all US players you would have a much stronger Nat. Team. After 4 years in MLS they should be set free. MLS would get stronger as guys would leave and then return later to finish their careers ala Renya and McBride.
Adam M.
Saturday July 4, 2009 12:03 am
Mark- im not arguing with you about the mexican league and german league BUT, pachuca is one of the top teams and borussia monchengladbach is one of the bottom teams....i think a gladbach vs. pachuca would be a fun game to watch. dont you? :) who do you think would win?
Devil###s advocate
Friday July 3, 2009 3:25 pm
Last time I checked, Carlos Bocanegra was captain, not Cakes.
Mark
Friday July 3, 2009 3:08 pm
Like the others who have made comments here, I have my concerns about Bob Bradley and some of his managment decisions. But I want to squarely defend Michael Bradley. Pat M. is dead wrong, and his comments on "Daddy's Boy" are an embarrasment. Torres was benched at halftime of the Costa Rica game for two bad plays that led to two Costa Rica goals. I like Torres, and he is an excellent possession player for the future. I want to see more of him, but he made mistakes that day. Michael Bradley is more polished in the middle, and is the starting central midfielder for Borussia Moechengladbach. Last time I check, the Foals were a better team in a tougher league than Pachuca. When Jermain Jones is added, the competition will get even tougher, but Michael Bradley is quality. And if he doesn't earn it (I am sure he will), then it is Landon Donovan's responsiblity to speak up, NOT Pat M.'s.
David R.
Friday July 3, 2009 2:59 pm
I am a very objective observer of the USMNT and I do question Michael Bradley playing every minute of every game. If he is a solid .275 hitter, to use baseball terminology, why have .350 hitters like Adu and Torres on the bench. Neither player has embarrased themselves on the field. To say Torres is immature is a joke - I guess Bradley's red card was a sign of a good professional foul. Freddy has been saddled with that label since he was 14. Now that Freddy is 20 the label is a creative "not fit because he doesn't play with his club and doesn't play defense". As long as Bob Bradley indulges in nepotism, there will always be a reason for Adu and/or Torres not to play. Too bad Bradley won't be fired until the USMNT is 3 and done at the World Cup.
Mark
Friday July 3, 2009 1:48 pm
I think we had a bit of luck in South Africa. We have some excellent players, but I'm still not comfortable with the management. I don't think Bradley has what it takes to win at the international level. Our lads clearly stopped believing in the second half against Brazil. I believe this is a management problem.
Pat M
Friday July 3, 2009 1:39 pm
Things I have pondered:

People were constantly critical of the US' goals not coming from open play. I am curious if there is a correlation between this occurance and (Bradley Favorite) Brian Ching being in the lineup. As you referenced above on another subject, was Bradley's hand on lineup selection forced by factors out of his control?

While objective observers can't question Michael Bradley's spot on the squad, could Torres' lack of time be a result of the fact that he plays the same position as daddy's boy?

I am reasonably optimistic for 2010 but has anyone done the math for the people who now think that we are a top 5 nation...We just went to a tournament, ok we were in the Group of Death but we went 2-3 and are hailing our team as the victors! We came back with a losing record!(take a look at the world rankings, an out-of-form Egypt is around #40 and they played us WITHOUT Zaki ,Mido and Zidan for our game)

Why can't Bradley see what just about every US supporter can, the Sasha Kljestian experiment is over! it didn't work. He cannot play at top flight international level. So what was one of his first acts after getting the preliminary green light to add to the Gold Cup roster? put Sasha Kljestians name in the pool. What am I missing?
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