If you are a Fire and USMNT fan, it has been quite the busy time. We had the Gold Cup in June for the USMNT, and the Fire have been busy themselves lately what with the Pardo and Grazzini signings, Ristic leaving, and a Gargan/Robinson swap, just to name a few. When everyone thought things couldn't get more interesting, the plot thickened as the U.S. Soccer President Sunli Gulati announced that today was the end of Bob Bradley's tenure as head coach of the USMNT. Bradley of course helped get the Fire off the ground when he coached them from 1998-2002. We saw U.S. Open Cup wins (x2) and an MLS cup win (x1) under Bob. Not too bad for a 5 year span. Instantly, after the news was announced, many fans began to draw parallels between the Fire and a return for Bob. Follow me after the break for a bit of analysis...
Overall, I would consider Bob's job with the USMNT in a good light. I think he helped advance soccer in the US, and while the US may not have won a World Cup, he definitely did his share to help bring the sport along. While he will always have his detractors, the fact is that it could have been much worse. We did have some great achievements with Bradley at the helm. The US won the 2007 Gold Cup and finished 2nd in a memorable Confederations Cup. We also won our World Cup qualifying group, and famously won our 2010 World Cup group. Although we fell short against Ghana, the US side showed fight and heart that every nation can envy. So it wasn't all roses under Bradley, but it wasn't all remorse either, at least not for sensible fans.
The rumors are now swirling on many fronts. Where does Bradley go? Back to MLS? Although that seems logical, rumors of him wanting to ply his trade in England have been circulating for awhile now. MLS would work, but if there is a better time to try England than now, someone is going to have to tell me what it is. The question is whether he has a shot. American managers aren't looked upon favorably in England, especially ones with no English experience. It would be a great challenge for him.
I think it's safe to say that a return to the Fire is also something that makes sense. There is no better time than now. We have an interim coach so the position is open, and many Fire fans are clamoring for a resolute leader that can put the club back on the right track after a disappointing last year and a half. Wouldn't it be great to see Bob coaching again on the very sidelines where his name is hanging above him in the Ring of Fire? Time will tell of course. I think if Bob would be interested, the Fire definitely would be as well. With all these new signings/trades and a possible Bradley return (even if it is a pipe dream), Fire fans will have no shortage of subjects to discuss in coming days and weeks.
The other question is who will replace Bradley as USMNT coach. Rumors I have heard are Guus Hiddink, current manager of the Turkey National Team, and of course one Jurgen Klinsmann, who has been connected with the job for the past couple of years. His name was bandied about after Bradley's first 4 year reign, and again just before Bradley re-signed a contract last year to stay with the team for 4 more years. The rumor last year was that Klinsmann was in serious talks with the US about the job, but wanted too much control over players, youth development, etc. I think that's good because that is one of the major problems with soccer in the US. Alas, the USSF (read Gulati) was not willing to give that up and Bradley was re-signed. I would have to say Klinsmann is the favorite. While it's nice to have a homegrown and US born coach, US soccer is at the point that I can think it could greatly benefit from a foreign coach's approach. Then again, it could backfire a la Carlos de los Cobos. Considering we play Mexico on August 10th in a friendly/rematch of the Gold Cup, the rumor is that the US already has a coach lined up. US Soccer has the announcement set for tomorrow so this is an exciting 24 hours for USMNT fans.
The final question is why and why now? I didn't think Gulati had it in him to do this. Plus, Bradley is in year 1 of his 4 year extension, so the canning comes at an odd time. Rumors swirled that a World Cup or Gold Cup under achievement could bring the axe, but there Bradley stood through all of it. I have heard whisperings on Twitter and online that Bradley was rumored to have lost the locker room. If true, it would have to have been bad enough to force a reluctant Gulati's hand. Another possibility is that Klinsmann or whoever the replacement will be, brought an opportunity the USSF didn't think they could pass up. Whatever the reason, it was certainly shocking news.
I will welcome the new coach with open arms, but I would like to thank Bob Bradley for his years of hard work with the USMNT. Although he was not liked by everyone, I think he did a great job considering the pressure and responsibilities that come with the position. He was not just representing one professional team, he was representing a country and a continent. That's a lot of weight on your shoulders when you wake up every morning. Thanks for all you did Bob, and best of luck in the future. Hopefully that future includes walking up and down the touch line at Toyota Park and soon.