Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Six Reasons Bob Bradley is the Right Man for the Job

Bob Bradley is the right man to lead our US National team into this next World Cup cycle, and has earned the opportunity to do so.

Leander Schaerlaeckens of ESPN.com writes about the six key reasons why Bradley is the ideal choice to lead the US National team.

1. Bradley was the best man for the job

Consider first and foremost that there really were only two candidates for this job. One, of course, being the 52-year-old incumbent, who fell into the job after being an interim-caretaker four years ago; the other being Klinsmann, the charismatic former Germany striker and manager, who turned the job down in 2006.

American fans (and indeed U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati) have long been infatuated by the idea of Klinsmann taking the reins of the team. Yet overlooked is the distinct possibility that Klinsmann is wrong for the job. Klinsmann may even sense this, thus explaining his refusal to assume the position on any terms other than gaining absolute control over U.S. soccer.

Klinsmann is all about molding a soccer culture into his liking. As Germany's national coach, he turned Der Mannschaft from a hard-nosed bunch of scrappers to the flamboyant fancy-pants team we see today. He also tried to do the same thing with Bayern Munich, where he took it a step further and imposed yoga on his players and tried to chi and zen out the club’s facilities. Can you see Michael Bradley or Jay DeMerit do a downward-facing dog to get himself pumped before a big game?

New adidas deal will revive reserve league

For months, MLS coaches and general managers have spoken hopefully of a reserve-league revival, and an announcement Monday that the league and adidas have signed a new partnership deal to replace their current arrangement contained a direct reference to player development.

Ridge Mahoney of Soccer America writes of why things will be different this time around for the reserve league.

“The goal will be to make a very direct link between our academies, our reserve league, our youth programs with a lot of the other youth programs going on in this country,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. “Adidas can play a very important role in creating that bridge and solidifying all those ties.”

The new eight-year deal runs through 2018. The previous 10-year partnership, launched in 2005, provided adidas exclusive rights as the league uniform supplier and other marketing rights at a cost of between $150 million and $160 million. Terms of the new deal were not disclosed. It takes effect next year.

Costs and organizational and logistical obstacles prompted MLS to shut down its reserve league in 2008 after four years of operation marred by haphazard implementation and questionable effectiveness. Though players such as RSL defender Nat Borchers and U.S. national team forward Herculez Gomez came through the reserve system, the previous incarnation of backup players coached by the first-team staff didn’t take hold.

“While you could argue that having a reserve league is better than nothing, the way it was set up really limited what you could do,” says Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid, who was in charge of Columbus in the last three years of reserve-league play. “There wasn’t enough time to work with those players and not enough games.

“You need 16 or 18 players, and a coaching staff primarily for that team, and a support staff. We didn’t have that. Then you had to keep track of a guy’s minutes so you didn’t go over the limit.”

The coach isn't the problem

The news of Bob Bradley returning to the US National team post for this new World Cup cycle is encouraging news for US Soccer. Paul Kennedy of Soccer America writes why retaining him for four more years became the only realistic option for U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati.

Spain victory trumps Ghana loss. For as strong as Gulati's post-game comments after the Ghana match were ("I think the team's capable of more. I think the players know it. I think Bob knows it."), he had spent a year trumpeting the U.S. success at the 2009 Confederations Cup. Nothing had awoken the international soccer community to the potential of American soccer quite like its 2-0 victory over Spain in the Confederations Cup semifinals and the second-place finish. And a year later, after Spain won the World Cup, that U.S. victory looks that much bigger. If Bradley was going to take the hit for the loss to Ghana -- the U.S. players were distracted by the hype of the late win over Algeria and the buzz back home and came out flat against Ghana -- he should get the credit for the Spain win.

There are bigger fish to fry. Any move to dump Bradley would have had to involve a radical change in approach, and Gulati simply won't have time to pull it off in the next few months. Big picture: landing the 2022 World Cup is a much bigger deal than who's in charge of the national team program over the short term, and it will require all Gulati's attention over the next couple of months. The timing of Monday's announcement was critical. With the FIFA inspection tour on the docket for next week, Gulati had to clear up the matter of whether Bradley would stay or go now. (The USA's 2022 bid is in good shape but there are no guarantees when you are dealing with a highly political body like FIFA.)

There's work to be done now. The 2009 Confederations Cup success was only possible because the USA won the 2007 Gold Cup. The 2011 Gold Cup, to again be played in the USA, is just around the corner with a ticket to the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil going to the winner. World Cup 2014 qualifying might start next year. FIFA has already announced it will move the 2014 qualifying draw up five months to July 2011, and Concacaf has proposed to play three stages of qualifying, plus a preliminary round. Bradley is around to get the train moving forward on both fronts.

The 2014 World Cup is a long way off. Just because Bradley has been awarded a new four-year deal, that doesn't mean he'll be around to coach the team in 2014. Even if there was no obvious alternative available now, there's nothing that says Gulati doesn't make a move later on, during qualifying or even after qualifying and before the finals in Brazil. Or he could bring in a World Cup specialist in the mold of Guus Hiddink to manage the team in the finals and get them to or past the quarterfinals. Buying out Bradley's contract if the national team begins to sag shouldn't be a problem. U.S. Soccer is loaded. It will be even more loaded if it bags the 2022 World Cup. The concern that the national team will stagnate under Bradley like it did under Bruce Arena in 2006 is legitimate. Bradley is more of an Xs-and-Os coach than Arena, but both are high-intensity coaches who've gotten more out of their teams than they might have otherwise accomplished thanks to their motivational methods. But there's the real fear these methods will get old under Bradley like they did under Arena.

The coach isn't the problem. Whether it's Bradley in charge, or Juergen Klinsmann or Marcelo Bielsa or Javier Aguirre or Vicente Del Bosque or anyone else, a coach won't win the World Cup. The USA will only win -- or challenge to win -- the World Cup when it has the players. And it doesn't have the players, nor are they on the horizon. Indeed, the the USA could soon be in for a few lean years with the generation after that of Landon Donovan and Co. The USA will only challenge for the World Cup when MLS starts producing young players en masse -- young players with citizenship papers who are eligible to represent the USA. MLS is only now ramping up its youth program. The 2022 World Cup -- hopefully in the USA -- would be a good time to be considered a legitimate contender.

Monday, August 30, 2010


United States national team coach Bob Bradley will continue to direct the US team through the 2014 World Cup in Brazil after agreeing to a four year extension with US Soccer.

The agreement was announced on Monday and ends over two months of rumors and speculation surrounding Bradley's future.

Bradley had been considered a contender for the Fulham job that was ultimately filled by Mark Hughes and was also linked to the currently-available Aston Villa head coaching position.

However that has all been put to rest as Bradley will stay on for another four years and look to build off of his current 38-21-8 record with the US.

Among the highlights from Bradley's first cycle was the US reaching the final of the 2009 Confederations Cup, winning the 2007 Gold Cup by defeating long-time rivals Mexico in the championship game and finishing undefeated and in first place in group play at this past summer's World Cup.

For the immediate future, the former Princeton coach will be tasked with assembling a squad that will compete at next summer's Gold Cup where a berth at the 2013 Confederations Cup will be at stake.

Qualifying for the 2014 World Cup will then commence for Bradley and company starting with the second round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in the summer of 2012.

The US team will return to action for the first time under Bradley's second term on October 9th when they face off against Poland in Chicago.

MLS reserve league en route for 2011

Rumors of the MLS bringing back their reserve league for 2011 appear to be true, and Steve Davis reports on the talks.

Significant momentum is rising to resurrect Major League Soccer’s reserve league in 2011. I really believe it will happen, and the league really will be better for it.

The form that league takes, however, is still anyone’s guess. It’s all being sorted out now by the league’s technical and competition committees. Major League Soccer’s board of directors will vote on proposals in November in Toronto, when they gather for MLS Cup.

Here’s what they are trying to reconcile, according to one MLS manager I spoke to earlier this week:

There’s a lot of talk over regionalizing the league, possibly into East, West and Central. There is some pleasant symmetry behind that concept: 18 teams divided into three regions creates a double-round robin schedule of 10 matches each.

But the relatively light volume of contests is the first point of debate; Some officials are pushing for more than 10 games. Of course, each reserve league match adds to the cost, mostly in travel. These aren’t necessarily hard times in MLS (despite the struggling economy) but teams aren’t flush with cash, either.

Playing more than 10 matches probably would require movement beyond the regional concept. After all, how many times would the Chicago Fire reserves want to face the Columbus Crew reserves?

All these looming decisions are also tied into roster sizes and player availability. No one wants to see a repeat of the reserve league follies past, as staff members, assistant coaches and local semi-pros were recruited just to fill out some matches. Much eye-rolling ensued. “This is our ‘reserve league’ ”?

So, all that needs to be hashed out.

Bob Bradley, Sunil Gulati talk

U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati and Bob Bradley met in Los Angeles on Thursday, but no decision was made regarding Bradley's future as head coach of the U.S. national team, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions.

The source also indicated that the meeting was never intended to produce a decision regarding Bradley's status, and instead was meant to be a debriefing of the U.S. team's performance at the World Cup, the second such meeting the two have had since the Americans were eliminated by Ghana in the second round.

No timetable has been set for when Bradley's situation will be resolved.

U.S. Soccer, Juergen Klinsmann talking

ESPN insiders reported that U.S. Soccer has met with former German team coach Juergen Klinsmann about the national team coaching job, currently held by Bob Bradley. That came according to a source with knowledge of the discussions.

The source indicated Klinsmann, who turned down the Yanks' job after the 2006 World Cup, met with U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and said Klinsmann is interested in the position, but gave no other details.

A U.S. Soccer spokesman declined to comment. Klinsmann did not immediately return an e-mail message.

No love lost between Mourinho and Benitez

The rivalry between Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez is well-documented. The duo have squared off in English Premier League match-ups when Mourinho was with Chelsea and Benitez was with Liverpool, and their battles in the UEFA Champions League have been epic.

With both managers moving on to greener pastures - Mourinho in Spain with Real Madrid, and Benitez actually taking over for Mourinho with Inter Milan in Italy - Grahame Jones of the LA Times writes about the new subplot in the soap opera-like rivalry between two of the game's top managers.

The one is Portuguese. The other is Spanish. The one is arrogant. The other is stubborn. The one is a hugely successful coach. So is the other.

But the crucial thing to remember about Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez is that they can't stand each other.

All of which gives the new European soccer season a delicious soap opera of a subplot. Already, the latest volleys have been fired in the continuing verbal warfare between the two, even though their respective Spanish and Italian seasons began only Saturday.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mourinho's substance versus Real's style

No one doubts Jose Mourinho's ability to win titles. He has done so at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan. But the new Real Madrid coach's detractors say he knows everything about winning but nothing about winning the right way: with flair, attacking enterprise and style. That is, the Real way.

In fact, Jorge Valdano, Real Madrid's director general, once compared watching Mourinho's Chelsea play Liverpool in a Champions League semifinal to gazing at "s*** on a stick." But Valdano now says, "every style is valid in the search for success there are a thousand different ways to play football and each may be perfect at different times."

Ian Chadband of the telegraph writes about Mourinho's influence on the new Real Madrid.

But even Madrid must now look on with a hint of trepidation to discover the consequences of giving away the keys of their kingdom to a man who, according to his detractors, knows everything about winning but nothing about winning the right way, the Real way; that is, with flair, attacking enterprise and style to match personal good grace.

"I will respect the cultural aspect at Madrid. I have an obsession to play attacking and attractive football at Madrid," Mourinho went out of his way to reassure everyone here this week. Then his side went out against Penarol and gave the same impression that Mourinho sides invariably do: that they're going to be tremendously organised, hellish difficult to beat but won't win any beauty contests.

What's new? The revolution is as ever based on graft, not glitz, and follows the usual conundrum: how can a man whose gigantic personal ego and showmanship dominates his club build collectivism and selflessness so skilfully? So far, the only surprise has been the extent to which Mourinho has eschewed any noisiness and bluster and plumped only for quiet business.

At Valdebebas, Real's vast 10-pitch training complex which is Mourinho's mission HQ, you hear the suggestion, told with just a hint of awe here, that no one has yet beaten him to be the first into work in the morning at 7am and that no one is left when he leaves 12 hours later.

He has attended religiously to every detail of team management and administration, even when on a brief family holiday in Kenya. Good grief, he even has to check that the water pressure sprinkler system is working to his exact specifications. Nothing is signed off without his say so; no coach has ever had greater control over transfer activity.

As for team training sessions, each one lasting exactly 90 minutes, they are described breathlessly by Cristiano Ronaldo here as "spectacular and incomparable".

According to Brazilian defender Marcelo "he's changed the spirit, every game is a war as we compete for a place." Ronaldo may be the galactico's galactico but he seems to have bought into the one-for-all mentality. "You can ask me to do anything," he claims to have told Mourinho. "I will obey your orders completely." Gulp.

Old treats have disappeared. The VIP area, where fans met players, is history. Players cannot nip home for lunch between training sessions; rest areas, complete with sofa beds, have been set up instead. Team bonding, from breakfast to home time, is everything. There are no princes any more – no Raul, no Guti – and just one king.

Yet King Jose does not get too high-handed unless he has to. If the making of Joe Cole and Mario Balotelli were pet projects at Chelsea and Inter, now he's working on Karim Benzema, scolding the underachieving young French superstar during one session: "If it was up to you, we'd all start working at noon! Wake up, it's 11am and you're asleep during training!"

McIntosh is heart of the Tulsa soccer program

Tulsa University coach Tom McIntosh has built his Golden Hurricane into a national power, and has been there through every step of the way - from a player, to an assistant coach to the head man.

Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World writes of how McIntosh developed his program into one of the nation's elite.

"It's kind of mind-boggling to think that I've been a part of just about everything this program has been through, good and bad," McIntosh said. "It's a huge part of me."

Former players all call McIntosh a "player's
coach." The most formal title they give him is "Coach Mac." Most times, they simply call him "Tom."

"You always feel so comfortable around him," said Ryan Pore (2002-04), the program's first two-time All-American. "He doesn't feel like a coach, but a friend or a father figure."

McIntosh was only 27 when he took over the program in 1995, and there was a "feeling-out" period, said Anthony Pampillonia.

"It was an interesting time because Tom was a young coach and there were a lot of veterans on that team that didn't necessarily like a young coach coming in and changing a lot of traditions," said Pampillonia, who played from 1995-98.

By McIntosh's third season, TU broke into the top 25. In 2001, McIntosh became the school's winningest coach. One year later, the Hurricane beat top-ranked Stanford, and in 2003, the program advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991.

McIntosh is very well-respected by his peers, and expect to see he and his Tulsa Golden Hurricane among the nation's elite again this season.

Bradley discusses coaching status with Gulati

Bob Bradley met with U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati on Thursday in the Los Angeles area to discuss his future as national team coach, but according to a source familiar with the talks, nothing was resolved.

Steven Goff of the Washington Post writes of Bradley's discussions with Gulati.

Although Bradley's contract doesn't expire until Dec. 31, both sides have suggested that a decision would come soon. It's unclear whether they plan to meet again or if the USSF will render a decision in the coming weeks.

While the USSF has been assessing the national team situation, Bradley has expressed interest in coaching positions overseas. Most recently, he was linked with English club Aston Villa. Bradley has said, however, that he would be honored to return to guide the U.S. team into the next World Cup cycle.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

FCD producing positive results under Hyndman

Schellas Hyndman accepted a new challenge when he had taken over the reigns for FC Dallas in 2008, and this season has met the expectations in Dallas while heightening the profile of the American college coach turn pro.

Pat Martin of the Miami Herald writes of how FC Dallas is producing positive results under Hyndman.

Suddenly FC Dallas is looking like a legitimate contender in Major League Soccer under head coach Schellas Hyndman.

That hasn't always been the case since the long-time Southern Methodist University coach took over for Steve Morrow in the middle of the 2008 season.

The 59-year-old Hyndman, who went 466-122-49 in his 26 years at SMU, got off to a rocky start in MLS, going 4-6-8 in '08 before going 11-13-6 in his first full season with Dallas in '09, missing the playoffs by a single point.

Then, the Hoops started the 2010 season without a win in their first five league fixtures.

For the first time in almost 30 years, Hyndman had to answer if he was the right man for the job.

"Going from an environment like SMU where you are very comfortable after 26 years and everybody loves you and expects a winner, and you've become a winner, to an environment where people are questioning your coaching abilities, your managing abilities, that was tough," Hyndman told The Sports Network. "It's a different level, there are different expectations. I'm hoping those were the worst of times."

If the recent run that the team is on is any indication, those were definitely the worst of times.

Dallas (9-2-9) is currently one of the hottest teams in MLS, going unbeaten in 11 league fixtures while also not losing in its last nine road matches. It sits in third in the ultra-competitive Western table, three points behind defending MLS Cup champs Real Salt Lake with a game in hand, and seems poised to make a serious run over the final 10 games of the regular season and into the playoffs.
"We finished our first 10 games with 12 points, which were a very difficult 12 points to get," Hyndman said. "In our second 10 games we really focused on trying to hit 20 points and we hit 24. Now we are focusing on that final 10 games and seeing if we can get ourselves into the playoffs.

Is Wenger off-base on EPL's homegrown policy?

The English Premier League has upset some of their members - specifically Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, with it's new policy to limit the size of its team rosters to 25 players, while at the same time enforcing a regulation that ensures at least eight players are “homegrown.”

Wenger debates the influx of foreign-based players in La Liga in Spain (Spain is the World Champions) and in the German Bundesliga (Germany were World Cup semifinalists) as examples to refute the need to limit foreigners. He also cites that it is the quality of coaches that will determine the level of success for English-born players.

Soccer America's Paul Gardner writes on the debate over the EPL's homegrown policy.

What sounds like a cri de coeur has recently been heard from Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger. You could also call it, less romantically, a rant, I suppose.

What is getting Wenger in a lather is the move by the EPL to limit the size of its team rosters to 25 players, while at the same time enforcing a regulation that ensures at least eight players are “homegrown.”

That last requirement, designed to promote the development of a strong England national team, is not quite as specific as it sounds, for the definition of “homegrown” includes players of any nationality -- provided they have spent the three years previous to their 21st birthday with an English or Welsh club.

Wenger says the move is both “a joke” and “a disaster.” A joke because, he says, it won’t work as far as strengthening England goes, and a disaster because it will work as far as depleting rosters goes -- and this will adversely affect the quality of play in the EPL.

Let’s face it, foreigners are always something of a problem, whichever activity you look at. And when things don’t go well, the foreigner can expect to take a share of the blame.

The question of foreign players in soccer is hardly a new one. It goes back to the very beginnings of the sport, to the 1880s, when soccer was beginning to become a professional activity, and clubs in the north of England began importing Scottish players -- who were considered foreigners and were viewed askance.

Italy is the country with the longest tradition of importing foreign talent, dating back to the 1930s. It’s difficult to make the case that the policy has crippled the Italian national team, though -- we’re talking about a country that has won four World Cups.

The Bundesliga now includes a high percentage of foreigners -- yet the Germans were semifinalists in South Africa this year, and widely acclaimed for the enterprising play of their young team.

Wenger knows all about these contradictions, and scathingly points out that England, after its World Cup win in 1966, won “absolutely nothing” for a period of 30 years ... when there were virtually no foreign players in England.

And look at Spain, says Wenger, another country with plenty of foreigners -- yet it’s now world champion. It’s the coaching in Spain that does the trick, says Wenger.

Maybe so. But one of the first rules of soccer -- well, soccer journalism, anyway -- is that coaches should not be taken at their word. Wenger has his own agenda here. He has been the coach at Arsenal for 14 years, and this assertion about coaching is a rather precarious one for Wenger to be making.

Because he promotes himself as an “educator” of young players -- “I’ve been educating young players for 25 years now” and 14 years is more than enough time for him to have turned Arsenal’s youth academy into a producer of future stars.

But that has not happened. Of the most recent Arsenal starting 11, nine players were foreigners who were bought from other clubs. The other two were the English youngsters Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere. Wilshere is the genuine article, having joined Arsenal at the age of 9. But Walcott cannot be considered an Arsenal product as he was already age 17 when he joined the club.

One player developed in 14 years is not a particularly spectacular record. But it is not as bad as it sounds, because I doubt whether any other English youth academy has done much better. In fact, few major academies anywhere in the world do much better. By major academies I mean those that are linked to top pro clubs - in other words, those that have plenty of money.

Clearly, money is not the answer to youth development. We should know that by now -- just as we should know that we can eliminate another factor -- that of “coaching.” By “coaching” I mean the amorphous, all-purpose definition that actually defines nothing. Because Wenger is right -- what matters is the coaching -- not in a general sense, but in its details.

The first question to be asked -- and it must always be asked -- when people start talking of “coaching,” is to get them to define what they mean. What sort of coaching? How much of it? Or perhaps, of equal or even greater importance, how little of it? And so on.

I feel the trouble with youth development in England is that the traditions and practices of the age-old English game -- outdated and damaging as they are -- are still being taught. Perhaps subconsciously, perhaps they don’t even need to be taught, perhaps they are a subliminal part of the soccer culture.

In his excellent book about the English academy system (“Every Boy’s Dream”), Chris Green lays bare a whole slew of political and organizational and social and educational problems that hinder youth development there. Yet there is hardly any discussion of what is actually taught in the academies. Even for Green, an acute observer, it seems that coaching is simply coaching.

But spending millions to set up an academy where intensive “coaching” will be performed cannot be the answer. If coaching is to be applied systematically -- and there seems to be no escape from that approach -- then the coaching had better be the right coaching, or it will do more damage than good. But defining the words “right coaching” is proving mighty difficult.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Olsen's baptism under fire

Ben Olsen has had some baptism into coaching - going from being a key player in DC United's team, to an apprentice as a young assistant coach, to the interm head coach after Curt Onalfo being dismissed.

It is not uncommon for a first-year player or rookie being thrown to the lions straight away to get their feet wet and learn their way as a player, but very rarely do you see that for a manager.

Mike Wise of the Washington Post writes about Olsen's baptism under fire as the head man at DC United.

While recently taking a bullet for his employer, Ben Olsen called his former coach and sought advice. Before hanging up with Tom Soehn, though, he also wanted to make amends.

"Yep, I called him after I got the job and I said, 'Yeah, I also wanted to apologize - for all the [crap] I put you through,' " Olsen told Soehn. "Because that's the other side you get on this. You'll see all the things you have to juggle and . . . "

Since most of you are culturally deprived because you continue to read nothing that's not about Strasworth or Haynesburg, we should explain:

Ben Olsen, one of the most popular soccer players here ever and way cooler than almost every sports person in town except maybe Chris Cooley, finished playing professional soccer for D.C. United, like, last week. (Okay, about nine months ago.)

His post-playing career was supposed to include a gradual transition to coaching, where he would unobtrusively serve as an apprentice to his former teammate, Curt Onalfo, who took over for Soehn as United's coach in November. It would also include sippy cups and cleaning up various sections of The Washington Post, which his almost-2-year-old daughter Ruby just tossed violently off the couch and onto the floor of his District rowhouse because her father has yet to order "Yo Gabba Gabba!" from On Demand and his wife, Megan, has yet to return from teaching dance at a middle school to give Daddy a break.

Which is fine and enjoyable and all - except Ben Olsen isn't an assistant coach anymore. He's . . . the guy.

Should Aston Villa Pick Bob Bradley As Coach?

That's the question that Andrea Canales and Shane Evans of goal.com debated the other day-

Question: Could Bob Bradley be the right fit as coach of Aston Villa?

Andrea Canales: Bob Bradley at Aston Villa - it's about time and overdue that people see that Americans can coach. Bradley isn't spectacular, but he's steady and he works very hard.
His record as USA national team is quite good, yet I've always thought he was better suited for a club team set up.
He'll bring in discipline and get good performances out of Villa players.