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Time for choices: where the U.S. national team goes from here

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U.S. coach Bob Bradley, seen here on Wednesday with assistant Lubos Kubic; it's time to sort out the national team's direction.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley, seen here on Wednesday with assistant Lubos Kubic; it's time to sort out the national team's direction.

I know some folks are all hot and bothered for change around the U.S. national team. And a listless night against a bunch of hungry and talented young Brazilians is doing nothing to tamp down all this raging hot-and-botheredness.

Honestly, though, these are big decisions. The coaching choices and overall direction of the U.S. national program should never be entrusted to knee-jerk reactions and logic corrupted by emotional responses. For that reason, I have no problem with the fact that, six weeks after the U.S. elimination from South Africa, the head coaching position remains on the dangle.

Now, however, going forward …

I’d love to see something happen before the October friendlies. There will be a pair of matches as U.S. Soccer takes advantage of what they call a “double fixture date.” That’s fancy talk for a Wednesday-Saturday set. And it means the manager will have access to the players for almost a full week, plenty of time to really get something done.

 

For the federation, it’s a shot at a payday. But it can also be a great launching point – two matches days apart being better than one – if a new coach is introducing himself to players and introducing the players to his personal approach.

Or, if the federation retains Bob Bradley, then it’s a good chance for Bradley to make any tweaks or start looking at new faces. Personally, I have no problem if federation president Sunil Gulati chooses to retain Bradley – but I’d like to see the coach experiment a little more, if only to keep things from growing stale.

For instance, I think it’s time to start looking at a couple of new combinations. I’d love to see one match without Michael Bradley, for instance. Bradley is a quality player – but I know what the man could do. And I’d love to see a match where Michael Bradley wasn’t the “starting point” to midfield arrangement.

Or, I’d love to see the United States try a 4-2-3-1. About half the teams at the World Cup used some version of this setup, with two holding midfielders. And honestly, holding mid is a position where the United States is fairly deep: Bradley, Maurice Edu and Ricardo Clark, with Jermaine Jones soon to be folded into the mix. Brandon McDonald at San Jose shows some promise. Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman could still be useful somewhere in the mix; he’s probably better as a holding mid in international play, as limited pace makes him less capable as a true two-way midfielder.

But that’s the point; these things need to be sorted out.

Going back to whether Bradley will continue to oversee it all, here’s the bottom line: Gulati shouldn’t opt to make a change unless he has a better option in mind. Because once you get past everybody’s favorite choice (Jurgen Klinsmann), who else looks like a better alternative? Yes, there are some interesting options, but no one should presume success here just because someone has delivered the goods elsewhere.

I liked Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa as much as everyone else, but that does not necessarily mean he would be a good fit here. (Besides, it now looks like Bielsa will remain with Chile.) Aston Villa’s Martin O’Neill? Yes, he did well at Aston Villa, but he’s never managed a national program and he’s never managed (or played) beyond the UK. Want to roll the dice on that one?

Word to those of you who don’t like the thought of Bradley for four more years: remember what they say about the devil you know. Believe me, the U.S. program could do a lot worse.

Either way, it’s time to sort it out.