EDGAR ZUNIGA - Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Well, you've got to hand it to Bob Bradley.

Despite growing criticism of his call-ups, lineups, tactical decisions and second-half meltdowns of his teams, he has, nonetheless, brought the US National Team to the brink of qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

I know I've been rough on Bob repeatedly, but God knows I probably wouldn't cut it as a head coach or tactical director for a national team representing a nation as large as the United States, with the resources available to someone in that position.

Although the US has to officially qualify for the World Cup, it is practically a given (unless Team USA suddenly turns into this year's Detroit Tigers and falls apart at the end). This is a considerable accomplishment for Bob because the US is now expected to qualify every time, despite having to deal with some of the most threatening and intimidating away venues of all FIFA regions.

Yeah, the crowds in most CONCACAF nations support their national teams with ferocious zeal, but, at least, the US does not have to deal with playing in politically hostile areas like Palestine, Iraq or North Korea.

Wait...wait...Things in Honduras aren't exactly peachy keen right now, are they? Just in case you're stuck in the bubble of MTV News, Honduras has been undergoing a lot of political strife, centered on the arrest and coup of leftist President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted and dispatched to Costa Rica.

There were riots, mass protests from both sides and, when things seemed to be hot already, Zelaya snuck back into Honduras, taunting interim President Roberto Micheletti and presenting himself as a martyr.

Initially, there was talk of moving the game to a neutral venue to avoid any potential hazards or disturbances. However, the Honduras Soccer Federation was not about to yield their valuable home-field advantage, arguing they would make sure the game would go on and would take preventative measures to ensure the safety of both teams and fans.

As if going to Honduras and getting a positive result wasn't difficult enough, now Team USA (an occasional anti-American political lightning rod when playing on the road) has to, at the very least, be aware that they are about to enter a potential war zone.

Add to this boiling pot a strong Honduran team that had to swallow a very tough loss against Mexico in Aztec Stadium and wants nothing more than to rebound at home against a high-caliber opponent like the US.

As if that wasn't enough to make Bob furrow his brow, he has to deal with an injury to Clint Dempsey, who suffered a sprained shoulder in Fulham's match against West Ham.

Without a doubt, Deuce, who has scored five goals during the World Cup qualifiers and is one of the cornerstones of the national team, will be missed. This means more pressure on Landon Donovan and Jozy Altidore, which means the US may just hang back and try to counter (nothing new here).

So, as you can see, Bob has a lot on his mind right now.

Under normal circumstances, expecting the US to win in Honduras would be too much to ask. Taking into consideration all the political turmoil and distractions that come with that, it would seem that things could not get more complicated for Bob and our boys.

Nevertheless, this situation can be viewed as a double-edged sword.

Emotions are running high in Honduras and the political morass might actually unsettle the Honduran players - even those who live and play overseas. Coming home to see your beloved country in such a mess can be demoralizing. While they were already expected to beat the US, they might feel added pressure get that win and bring some joy to their beleaguered countrymen. That pressure might get to them.

While it would be nice to draw or win in Honduras, the main objective is to finish atop the CONCACAF hexagonal; losing to Honduras would not be disastrous. However, it would set up a very tense rematch with Costa Rica at RFK Stadium, on Wednesday.

No one wants to finish in fourth and have to deal with a potential home-and-away series with Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay or even Venezuela. Yeah, Venezuela isn't a South American powerhouse, but socialist loudmouth Hugo Chavez is turning Venezuela into the next Cuba.

If the US turns in another of their recent ho-hum performances, where they do just enough to scratch out a win, they will find themselves having to deal with a Costa Rican team desperate to avoid the fourth and final spot and who might potentially recapture the play that had them flying high midway through the hexagonal.

Yeah, all signs point to a US victory and a huge collective sigh of relief from the team and a nation of followers, but, damn, did it have to come to this point?

Well, Bob will be the first to tell you that qualifying to the World Cup is not easy. And, this is why we owe Bob a lukewarm applause (for now), and hopefully a standing-O after a win over Costa Rica.

Although he will accomplish one of the goals of the US Soccer Federation, things have not come easy to Bob, and it is easy to point fingers at him from the security of our computers, living rooms, sports bars and stadium seats. After all, we are not privy to what happens on the practice fields, and the drama that his players might bring to the team.

Who knows why he is reluctant to call up Marvell Wynne, start Jose Francisco Torres or how long he will continue to use Michael Bradley, despite diminishing returns?

Recently, a good friend, with a good soccer mind, pointed out that the US is actually going through a rebuilding phase and expecting our current crop of players to go out and crush CONCACAF is asking too much. It is a valid argument, which means that if Bob can get us to the World Cup with these guys, they are going to be much better in the near future.

So, give Bob a hand.

I applaud him for all the great accomplishments of this year...

Defending the Gold Cup! No, wait...

Winning the Confederations Cup against all odds! Uh, no, hold on...

Getting us to the World Cup..?

Yay, Bob!
Wednesday October 7, 2009 3:14 pm
Are you freaking kidding with this blather? Bob Bradley IS part of the problem. Who cares if we make the world cup if we go three and out, or have us advance by playing run-and-gun and get lucky. Personally I'd rather NOT make the world cup, and have an overhaul of US Soccer as a result. I see this as a far more productive outcome. And right now, chances are still good we don't make it. If we finish 4th, we are as good as out.
Wednesday October 7, 2009 2:36 pm
God forbid and we don't qualify. Then who should be blamed? Bradley and the Clown (no insult to real hard-working clowns) running the USSF?

There is no question that we need and have to support our guys. I will be happy if and when we clinch that spot to South Africa. But I do and will always question Bob Bradley's tactical acumen or lack of. Let us face it guys. Bob does not have the coaching skills to lead this team.

How can you go from beating the number one team to keeping Brazil on its heels to barely beating Trinidad and Tobago?

What is Bob's response to any situation, whether the team winning or losing? Bunker down and park an eighteen-wheeler in front of goal (don't forget to take the keys with you). If Bob's acumen comes down to this all the time, as we have seen, then we are in trouble.
Wednesday October 7, 2009 2:00 pm
The comment about missing "Deuce" is valid. I actually felt relieved when Da Rapper was out for the match. It will finally allow Bradley to break his addiction on this player who only brings it for about 3 minutes a match. Let's get Stu Holden in the lineup and perhaps Dempsey will go the way of DeMarcus....

Unfortunately, we are going to lose to Honduras. Then the pucker factor will be in full force for a must result against Costa Rica a few days later. Let's hope some influential midfielder doesn't take a stupid red card in Honduras or we'll be playing Argentina in Buenos Aires for a spot in the World Cup (it'll make the Honduras match look a heck of a lot more atractive in retrospect)....
Wednesday October 7, 2009 1:10 pm
I was struck by your rebuilding comment too. So I went back and looked at the line up vs. the Czech's in 06:

USA: 18-Kasey Keller; 6-Steve Cherundolo (9-Eddie Johnson, 46), 23-Eddie Pope, 22-Oguchi Onyewu, 7-Eddie Lewis; 17-DaMarcus Beasley, 10-Claudio Reyna, 4-Pablo Mastroeni (5-John O’Brien, 46), 15-Bobby Convey; 21-Landon Donovan, 20-Brian McBride (16-Josh Wolff, 77)

Subs not used: 1-Tim Howard, 19-Marcus Hahnemann, 2-Chris Albright, 3-Carlos Bocanegra, 8-Clint Dempsey, 11-Brian Ching, 12-Gregg Berhalter, 13-Jimmy Conrad, 14-Ben Olsen

There has been a tremendous turnover from just three years ago, and the team seems younger and deeper now.
Wednesday October 7, 2009 12:34 pm

When someone with a good soccer mind gives you a potential gem--Write about it! The most interesting aspect of this article was the bit about the USMNT being in a rebuilding phase.

Many of the football sites we all view cover variations of the same topics: fire Bob Bradley; will our left back slot ever be solidified; will Clint Dempsey always be more present for club than country.

Nobody is writing anything regarding a rebuilding phase of the USMNT. If there is a content limit for articles that is understandable. Otherwise, that sort of detail can not be glossed over.

Especially odd is that the comment is made, with no explanation, and then the reader is asked to simply jump on the bandwagon and ride along. That is information that needs to be exploited.

The idea that the team is rebuilding potentially brings a whole new set of questions to the table. For the federation, for example, how does a team in transition meld with US Soccer's goals as a whole? For the coach, what steps need to be taken to properly restructure the team while at the same time working towards qualification? For players, who is in transition, what are their roles, who leads and when are reigns handled over?

I know this could even be an article onto itself, but it needs to be addressed in your article as well.
Wednesday October 7, 2009 12:20 pm
Bob Bradley has done the best that he could have, I suppose. He's limited. We really took a large step backwards by appointing him, when we should have really shaken things up and hired a manager with a world class CV, and exciting ambition and ideas. The USA will qualify for the World Cup, sure and, perhaps they will do well (by chance), but his time as manager has not been anything to build on for the future.. It's easy to beat up on CONCACAF.
Charlie G.
Wednesday October 7, 2009 12:02 pm
For the sake of the Team, let's hope that BB has some new insights on this trip. While things will be a bit different without Dempsey, perhaps this will provide a good opening to start Holden. Don't like to see injuries to players, or card accumulations, but sometimes it seems to help force the hand for trying something new. For my money, Holden needs to be on the field as much as possible until he fails to perform - there is too much field vision, presence, and great crosses to just be a "super sub".

Not having a truly deep pool of quality players really exposes coaching quality. I can appreciate BB's efforts, and understand that he is giving his all to the team...let's all hope that he continues to grow in his coaching skills as much as possible.
Wednesday October 7, 2009 11:43 am
"Under normal circumstances, expecting the US to win in Honduras would be too much to ask."

Sounds like our national team is getting worse if these are the expectations. We're talking about Honduras !!!
Team USA will never challenge for the world cup if we are all giddy over world cup qualifying and being happy to just tie Honduras.
This is pathetic.
We need ambition. We need to win and win big. Always.
Wednesday October 7, 2009 11:41 am
You say that the US might be in a rebuilding era....if so, I am really worried...that U-20 squad can't hold the ball any better then our current group. There are no creative or "take them on" players that I can see coming up. I just don't see the desire and effort at times or maybe just by being on the team is what their goal really is. Whatever it is, we could be rebuilding for many, many years to come.. I think Klinsmann saw the problem and if given a chance, maybe he could make a difference.
Wednesday October 7, 2009 10:26 am
It is our job as fans to both support the team unconditionally and question everything the coach and federation does. It is Bob's job to get us to the WC, get results in the WC, and ignore our criticisms along the way.

I question a lot of the calls he's made, but he's accomplished the big goals (finals of Confed and close to WC qualification) even if some of the games were painfully bad.

I think he's wasted too much PT on his Chivas boys with the exception of Guzan. I don't see why Torres hasn't gotten more looks. I think Dempsey needs a fire lit under him and giving him an automatic start every game isn't doing it. I'd like to see more younger, talented, undeveloped players in camp rather than fringe MLS players. Connor Casey may be a better player right now than the kids on the U20 team, but give them a taste of what the senior team is like and give them incentive to stick it out in Europe through all the homesickness.

In Bob's defense, while the talent pool is deepening, it's still pretty thin after the top few guys. How many yanks are automatic starters for good club teams? Certainly more than in the past, but still not a full squad. Maybe there is a bias against American players, but lots of theses guys are on teams, they just can't get off the bench.

In the USSFs defense. Maybe they could have gone out and drop a load of cash on Klinsmann's porch, but with so much work to be done developing players, I don't see that as the best use of their money.
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