Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bradley blazes trails for American coaches

Jason Davis writes how Bob Bradley continues to blaze trails for the American soccer coach.

Don't cry for Bob Bradley. Despite losing his job as the head coach of the United States National Team rather unceremoniously just a week and a half ago, Bradley is already in the mix for another position. According to reports and confirmation from his agent, Bradley is the front runner to become the next head coach of Egypt. Whether he gets the job or not, Bradley's candidacy represents a step outside of the traditional bubble for American coaches. If he does take over in Egypt, Bradley will immediately become a trailblazer for coaches from the United States.

American coaches live in a fishbowl, swimming laps in a confined space. Whether they start in college or the pros, the men born in the US and raised on the game here are typically coaches of American soccer in some form for the entirety of their careers. As a matter of course or circumstance, Americans just aren’t plucked for jobs abroad. Rarely are the even mentioned as candidates. Upward mobility in the American coaching ranks means turning a college gig into a pro gig, and if fortune smiles, into a National Team run. Bradley, like his predecessor Bruce Arena, followed that path.

It might be fitting that just as US Soccer has changed course with the hiring of a non-American for the first time in twenty years, the American coach they dismissed is being considered for a landmark appointment.

There’s not much history of American coaches taking their talent to foreign shores. The list of head coaches at the international level begins and ends with Steve Sampson’s tenure with Costa Rica's National Team, a position he held from 2002-2004. Sampson had moderate success with the Ticos before being dismissed during a poor run in qualifying. He promptly returned to MLS to coach the Galaxy. Sampson’s sojourn turned out to be nothing more than a blip, and the status quo took hold again.

There is a smattering, or less, of American head coaches outside of the country in the club game. While their careers prove that it’s possible to be American and get a job somewhere other than in America’s unique patchwork of schools and clubs, none is guilty of having a profile of much note. That’s mostly a function of where they coach, off the radar in lesser soccer countries or in lower divisions that get little attention. It’s a task just to find references to them in the information-easy internet age.

Here's the thing, Bradley’s name popping up as a verified candidate for the Egypt job shouldn’t be all that surprising. His reputation has always been much stronger outside of the United States than within it, and he’s proven himself to be a capable international coach by taking the Americans to heights previously unseen.

It was interesting to watch the reaction from foreign journalists when Bradley’s dismissal hit the wires. Beyond the prevailing “two-cycle” wisdom, many were taken aback by the apparent ease with which Bradley and his record were dismissed. After renewing Bradley’s contract after the 2010 World Cup, the decision to make a change now was eyebrow-raising. That says something about the perception of American talent, but it’s also a commentary on how much respect Bradley has garnered from people with an outsider’s perspective on US Soccer.

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