After Team USA loss to Ghana, Bob Bradley's future as coach is in question

(Kevork Djansezian/getty Images)
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 28, 2010

IRENE, SOUTH AFRICA -- If the United States had failed to advance to the second stage of the World Cup, U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati's decision about Coach Bob Bradley would have been simple and swift: He's gone.

The verdict would have been just as sure and easy had the Americans reached the quarterfinals: He stays.

But the campaign ended in the round of 16, a 2-1 overtime loss to Ghana on Saturday. And while many factors, including player development, style of play and tactics, will factor in Gulati's verdict, the performance of the national team in the sport's ultimate competition will undoubtedly weigh heavily.

Will he conclude that Bradley's accomplishments over the past 3 1/2 years, culminating with a first-place finish in Group C at the World Cup, and vision for the next four years warrant a contract renewal? Or will Gulati deduce that Bradley took the program as far as he could and that the risk of letting it grow stale is too great?

Bradley's contract, which guaranteed him $600,000 this year plus bonuses, expires Dec. 31. His New York-based agent, Ron Waxman, said he did not want to comment.

At his final World Cup briefing with reporters Sunday, Bradley said: "At this moment, there have been no conversations [with the USSF]. It's too soon after the final whistle. I'm sure in the future there will be more discussions."

Gulati was attending a global forum in Cape Town and won't comment until Monday. Nonetheless, a decision about Bradley is not expected right away and he seems likely to oversee the U.S. team for its Aug. 10 friendly against Brazil at New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey.

While it remains unclear whether the USSF wants Bradley back, there are also questions about whether he wants to come back. Successes aside, World Cup coaches often step down after a four-year cycle to pursue other opportunities.

Bradley could decide to look in Europe, where head coaching positions turn over continually. Though no prominent Americans have landed jobs overseas, the level of respect for U.S. coaches is rising. Bradley's portfolio includes an upset of Spain and a near-upset of Brazil in the Confederations Cup last year, a first-place finish in World Cup region qualifying and a 1-0-2 record in group play in South Africa.

Asked if he would be interested in a European job, Bradley said: "I have always enjoyed new challenges. I believe that is what life is all about. So as I move forward, there will always be an open mind in that regard."

Captain Carlos Bocanegra spoke highly of Bradley after the Ghana match.

"He did great with this team, getting the most out of each player, and had us organized," Bocanegra said. "Whether he stays here or wants to take a job and try his luck in Europe, I don't know what he is going to do. But he did very well to push this national team in the right direction."

Gulati oversaw a coaching change in 2006, dropping Bruce Arena, the program's most successful boss, after the U.S. team's winless performance in Germany. Negotiations commenced with Juergen Klinsmann, Germany's World Cup coach that year, but when talks unexpectedly broke down, Gulati turned to Bradley, a longtime MLS guide, on an interim basis before hiring him in early 2007.

Klinsmann, a former German star who lives in Southern California and is working for ESPN during this World Cup, might reemerge as a candidate should Bradley depart.

As for the team, the roster will gradually change before the 2014 tournament in Brazil. Starting defenders Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit and Steve Cherundolo, all age 31, will be past their prime, while others in their late 20s might be hard-pressed to maintain their status.

Forward Jozy Altidore, midfielders Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Stuart Holden and José Torres, and defender Jonathan Spector form the roster's younger generation. The USSF, though, will have to develop more international-caliber players in order to take the next step on the world scene.

"You try to help connect the dots early with the [junior] programs below, so that we are all working together to try to move this along," Bradley said. "Those things are happening. Part of the responsibility in a World Cup is that, if we do take this thing further, then maybe that shows people the progress. And when you don't, you have to keep going. We're somewhere in there."

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