Whenever things go wrong it is easy to point the finger of blame at the manager. This isn't unique to soccer. It happens in all sports. After all, it's really hard to overhaul all the players on the team. There are a lot of them and that would take a lot of time to get done, especially in international soccer when the team can't go out and buy or trade players. It's tough for fans to accept their team needs a lot of work so the manager gets the blame because that's just one man and for fans it is much easier on their emotions if they believe "if we just get rid of the manager we can turn this around."
Enter Bob Bradley, manager of the United States national team. He's made his share of questionable decisions since taking over as manager on December 6, 2006. He's never been a manager in Europe and is nowhere close to a big name. His team got knocked out of the World Cup by Ghana, who is good, but isn't Spain or Argentina or Germany. Now his U.S. team gave up four unanswered goals to lose the Gold Cup final, 4-2, to arch-rivals Mexico.
The calls for Bradley's ouster, which have been audible since he was hired 1,665 days ago, have only gotten louder since the Americans lost to Mexico in the final. How could this U.S. team that just two years ago looked like it had not just closed the gap on Mexico, but surpassed them, be so inferior to them now? Why isn't the U.S. capable of dominating inferior opponents? Why isn't the team getting any better?
All of the above questions are legitimate, but the answers to all of the questions have nothing to do with Bradley. The simple fact is that the U.S. doesn't have enough good players to be as good as fans would like them to be. Combine that with Mexico developing a generation of players that could be their best ever and things do not look good for the Americans.
Bradley has no control over the fact that the U.S has produced one halfway decent centerback since Oguchi Onyewu made his debut in 2004 in Jay DeMerit, who has a history of watching matches from the bench due to injury, a role Onyewu has filled ably himself in the last two years. How many teams win tournaments without a centerback?
Let's not forget that Bradley has never had a capable striker either. Jozy Altidore? The guy who has scored two club goals since 2008. Charlie Davies was an option for only a handful of matches. Juan Agudelo has played fewer professional matches than he is years old. He did call in Chris Wondolowski, inexplicably snubbing Teal Bunbury, who has scored just eight goals in 39 MLS matches. How bad is the U.S. striker situation? A young Brian Ching might be considered a savior at this point.
No central defenders, no strikers, but Bradley is supposed to beat teams like Mexico? Consider the players at Bradley's disposal then consider this. He won a Gold Cup. He finished second in the Confederations Cup. He topped CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. He won his group at the World Cup. That's not too bad.
It's not as if Bradley is perfect. He is far from it. Ricardo Clark over Maurice Edu against Ghana at the World Cup. Spending the past year trying to figure out a formation and taking until the knockout stages of the Gold Cup to get it done. Calling in Robbie Rogers for the Gold Cup. All poor decisions and even the staunchest of Bradley supporters will admit he makes mistakes. They will admit that he is not the best coach out there, but even that shouldn't lead to his ouster.
Firing Bradley remains a popular refrain. "He has faults! The U.S. needs a coach more tactically sophisticated who doesn't play favorites!" Who could the U.S. Soccer Federation get to replace Bradley though?
The reality is that the U.S. job isn't that attractive. Again, the team has no center backs or strikers. What top coach wants to manage a team with no quality options up top or at the back? You know, a team that also doesn't have a star player and because of the Gold Cup's relative insignificance has only one major competition each cycle, the World Cup. A team that has to travel to Central America, where closets serve as locker rooms in the finest of conditions. Coaching a team without great fan support or backing, but has to go out of his way to do interviews and visits with ESPN and the couple other outlets that request things like that just to grow the sport. Doesn't that sound like a great job for a top coach with options?
If Bradley were fired then USSF President Sunil Gulati would probably flirt with Jurgen Klinsmann again. He'd talk to a few other coaches and all would look at him and say, "you better back a truck full of cash that you don't have here to get me to take this job." Out of options, Gulati would look back to the kind of coach that would really like the job. That kind of coach is in MLS and someone like Dominic Kinnear or Jason Kreis. Is either option really better than Bradley?
Even if they are better than Bradley, they will deal with the same issues Bradley has to deal with. The team doesn't have enough good players. Tactics don't make marginal defenders good defenders. They don't make strikers score goals and they don't reverse more than a decade without a left back.
Nobody is going to confuse Bob Bradley with Guus Hiddink or Vicente del Bosque. He won't even be confused with an average manager, but it's a lot easier to argue that he's done more with the talent available to him than it is that he's underachieved. Blaming the manager is the easy way out because it's the quick fix, but the U.S. isn't in a place to take the easy way out because they don't have one. They have a roster overhaul on their hands and that's the case no matter who the manager is.