Sunday, June 19, 2011

Plenty at stake for US in CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals

Brian Straus of the Sporting News writes that there is potentially plenty at stake for the US National team and coach Bob Bradley in today's CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal match versus Jamaica.

Members of the U.S. national team may be on the defensive when they remind us that trophies aren’t awarded midway through a tournament or for playing pretty soccer, but they’re also 100 percent correct.

When the Americans (2-1-0) take the field for Sunday’s CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal against 3-0-0 Jamaica (3 p.m. ET Fox Soccer, Univision), only the ensuing 90 minutes will matter. The scoreboard at sold-out RFK Stadium won’t reflect the surprising adversity the U.S. faced during the continental championship tournament’s group stage.

But when the final whistle blows, if that scoreboard is tilting Jamaica’s way, the Americans’ entire body of work at this Gold Cup will be relevant. They’ll have suffered slow starts, lost a first-round game for the first time and defeated tiny Guadeloupe just 1-0 before being eliminated at the quarterfinal stage by a side ranked 55th in the world.

Despite avoiding regional powers Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica, the U.S. will finish an also-ran in a tournament it hosted and was a co-favorite to win. The momentum from last summer’s stirring World Cup performance will be extinguished.

So there’s far more at stake against Jamaica than just a spot in Wednesday’s semifinals. A loss will put U.S. coach Bob Bradley and the man who re-hired him, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, under unprecedented scrutiny. While it may be a stretch to argue that Bradley is coaching for his job on Sunday, it’s fair to say that defeat will eliminate the benefit of the doubt.

During Bradley’s Saturday press conference at RFK, Sporting News asked the coach (three times) if he thought the quarterfinal meant more than a trip to Houston and the semis -- if there was something greater at stake for himself and the program. He didn’t answer the question. Perhaps he feels so secure in his performance that addressing the subject would be a waste of his time. Maybe he does feel significant pressure and is uncomfortable discussing it, or maybe he simply doesn’t want his status to be a distraction. We can only guess.

For me, Bradley has done enough in the previous World Cup cycle to return for the full cycle heading into the 2014 FIFA World Cup - getting to the finals of the FIFA Confederations Cup; qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and then winning their group. I can only imagine the distractions facing Coach Bradley and his staff, and I look forward to seeing them rise to the challenges versus Jamaica this afternoon.

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