Bob Bradley re-signs (rather than resigns) with the USA Men’s National Team for another World Cup Cycle. I think this is a better move than getting Jurgen Klinnsman, who I think would have proven little more than a high-priced disappointment, but I’m not entirely convinced it’s the right move for either party. Don’t get me wrong – Bradley’s tenure as coach of the USMNT has been stellar, and I’m happy to say I was a quick and permanent convert to the pro-Bradley contingent. My issue is simply that the track record of coaches returning for a second World Cup cycle with the same team is decidedly mixed at best, and it’s clear that Bradley is the first American coach with a real chance at managing in a top-level European league. An American coach at that level would do quite a bit of good for the development of the game in the US and the development of respect for the American game abroad. Of course, only Bradley knows how realistic those opportunities are or were, so it’s unwise to assume that Bradley is choosing a return to the MNT over a chance to be a trailblazer. Nonetheless, I think I would have preferred to see Bradley in Europe over him returning to the MNT.
Meanwhile, Bradley will have a particularly difficult balancing act over the next few years between his loyalty to the players from whom he has gotten so much effort these last several years and his need to work new talent into the rotation. While this is something any coach returning for a second World Cup cycle needs to deal with, I suspect it’s a big reason why the track record for such coaches is so poor. But moreover, as the caliber of players the US has produced has changed, and will continue to change, the style that best suits the US will continue to change. This makes it almost uniquely important that whoever manages the US in any given cycle be amenable to learning new tricks and adapting the team’s style to its talent rather than the other way around. Bradley is almost certainly the most competent coach the US has ever had – but we don’t know yet whether he is capable of the kind of flexibility that a second cycle demands. Bruce Arena apparently wasn’t, and his second cycle effectively destroyed the goodwill and excitement generated by his first.
So here’s hoping that Bradley doesn’t fall into that trap, and it cannot escape notice that Bradley’s ability to adjust – at least within and between games – has been perhaps his strongest suit. But inter-cycle adjustment may be a different ball game entirely. One thing that should be for certain, though: after being the first modern American team to win its World Cup group, after reaching the Confederations Cup final (and losing a heartbreaker to the boys from Brazil), after winning CONCACAF, and after finally getting Landon Donovan to reach his full potential, one thing should be clear: Bradley absolutely earned the right to return for four more years.