For all those that have criticized United States head coach Bob Bradley for being boring and not having guts, he took a little swipe at them with his 2011 Gold Cup roster. Well, it was more of a big swipe, and his critics who wanted more out-of-the-box thinking from him still probably won't like it as his roster is filled with several curious names. Bradley went far out on a limb with his roster for a tournament that both he and the U.S. Soccer Federation have said is the team's priority this year. He showed guts, even more guts than it might first appear because if his risks don't pay off Bradley could pay for it with his job.
Just a few days ago it was tough to imagine a situation in which Bradley would lose his job at any point in the near future. For all Bradley's critics, and there are many, he has been the most successful coach the U.S. has ever had. A 2007 Gold Cup title, a run to the final of the 2009 Confederations Cup, finishing first in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying and winning his group at the 2010 World Cup are all shining accomplishments on Bradley's resume.
Bradley got a new contract only months ago to lead the U.S. in the 2014 World Cup cycle. With a team that has always showed extreme patience with coaches, Bradley looked as safe as could be. The critics could moan about Ricardo Clark, Robbie Findley and Bradley's sweatpants all they wanted. Bradley was the U.S. coach through 2014 and nothing was changing that.
Maybe not anymore though. If Bradley had taken a roster similar to the one most expected him to take with the likes of Teal Bunbury, Jay DeMerit, Alejandro Bedoya, Herculez Gomez and Timothy Chandler, but didn't win the tournament, Bradley likely would have been in the clear. Instead, he made some strange decisions.
Freddy Adu? Chris Wondolowski? Robbie Rogers? Bradley called in players so questionable that people overlooked the inclusion of someone like Oguchi Onyewu, who hasn't played a decent match since October 2009. Heck, for the first time in four years the roster announcement had enough other issues that nobody even charged Bradley with nepotism for calling in his son, Michael, or seemingly adopted son, Jonathan Bornstein.
Now if the U.S. fails to win the Gold Cup, attention will turn squarely to Bradley. Had Mexico defeated the U.S. badly in the tournament final with a conventional U.S. roster, the shots would have likely missed Bradley. After all, there are plenty of other reasons that could explain Mexico winning the Gold Cup.
Mexico would do it with their young striker, Javier Hernandez, doing the work, while the Americans' young striker, Juan Agudelo, just wasn't ready. Mexico has the best league in the region, producing great player after great player, while MLS just isn't developing them. The Bradenton Academy is out of date. Any number of excuses could have been made if the U.S. didn't win the Gold Cup. Now, those excuses are out the window.
If the U.S. does not win the Gold Cup, Bradley's roster decisions will be the focus of the discussions. The U.S. didn't score enough goals? Bunbury or Gomez would have gotten the job done. The U.S. lacks wide play off of the bench? Bedoya was just the player to give the U.S. that width. Chicharito makes Onyewu look like a statue? DeMerit would have tracked him and organized the back line.
It's not all fair that the blame would fall on Bradley. Any unbiased observer would have to make Mexico the tournament favorites so expecting the U.S. to win is a bit much. That doesn't matter though. Bradley has faced his critics in the past and with this roster, he's facing them right in the face.
And while most of Bradley's critics are fans, it is not as if he has had the full support of USSF President Sunil Gulati anyways. He was hired on a interim basis originally and Gulati hesitated before hiring him again last year. With quality coaches like Marcelo Bielsa, Matin O'Neill, Jose Pekerman and Gulati's favorite, Jurgen Klinsmann, available, a poor Gold Cup finish and pressure from fans would be more than enough to push Gulati into making a change for the big-name, foreign coach he's been eying.
Of course, if the U.S. wins the Gold Cup because of a great run by Rogers down the wing, Bradley would look like the genius. If Wondolowski, who has been a lethal finisher for the San Jose Earthquakes, can translate that over to the international game and knocks in a few goals, Bradley would look like a genius. If Freddy Adu plays the killer pass in to set up the winner in the final, Bradley would like like a genius.
It's not a lose-lose situation for Bradley. It is very much a win-lose situation for him and he's made it so it's about him, even if that is unfair. The difference is losing could now mean his job.