By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 29, 2010; D06
JOHANNESBURG -- The U.S. national soccer team finished ahead of England in the group stage of the World Cup, played several compelling matches and attracted record TV audiences back home.
But after a loss to Ghana in the round of 16, there was palpable disappointment in the U.S. delegation, and according to U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati, "it was an opportunity missed -- a game we could have won and probably feel we should have won. It was all in front of us. We started dreaming after the first round."
Making his first comments since the Americans' elimination Saturday in Rustenburg, Gulati said: "The team is capable of more. I think the players know it. I think [Coach] Bob [Bradley] knows it. At that level, we are disappointed we didn't get to play another 90 minutes, at least."
With the team having fallen short of his expectations, Gulati will now have to decide whether to offer Bradley a new four-year contract for the next World Cup cycle. His current deal expires Dec. 31.
Gulati said he hoped to speak briefly with Bradley on Monday and expects to meet with Bradley for substantive talks shortly after the World Cup, which concludes July 11.
"I want to hear his views, express some of mine and see what makes sense," Gulati said. "I think he has done a very good job -- that is very clear."
Under Bradley's guidance, the Americans were runners-up at the Confederations Cup last year, upsetting Spain in the semifinals and nearly beating Brazil in the final. They won the Gold Cup in 2007 and were second with an undermanned roster last year.
In qualifying for the World Cup, they finished first ahead of archrival Mexico. And here in South Africa, they came from behind to draw with England, rallied from a two-goal deficit in the second half to tie Slovenia and then beat Algeria on Landon Donovan's late goal.
Team chemistry, from all indications, has been strong throughout Bradley's tenure, and several players have praised his leadership and communication skills. He also introduced several new players to the program.
Bradley's detractors questioned his tactics over the years and questioned his roster choices and lineup decisions, particularly for the Ghana match. Two debatable selections, midfielder Ricardo Clark and forward Robbie Findley, did not play well and were replaced after only 31 and 45 minutes, respectively.
While Gulati decides whether to retain Bradley, the coach might opt to pursue other opportunities. In his final World Cup briefing Sunday, 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."
Successes aside, it's not unusual for national team coaches to step down after a four-year term. Bradley's predecessor, Bruce Arena, held the position for eight years, the last four after guiding the U.S. team to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals.
"I have known Bob for a very long time, I have a lot of faith in him and I think the world of him at a personal level," Gulati said. "We will make the right decision for the sport; it won't be about the personal level. It's not going to be a snap decision.
"I want to hear his thoughts about how things went. I have some questions [about] why we did some things collectively -- decisions that he made along the way. I'm sure he is going to want to hear about some of my reactions."