An open letter to Sunil Gulati – President U.S. Soccer
Dear Mr. Gulati,
I am writing this letter to express my concern with the direction of our men’s national team. In the past three months, our U-20 national team failed to qualify for the U-20 World Cup in one of the weakest confederations in the world and our U-17 national team was dismantled by the Germans in the round of 16 at the U-17 World Cup just days ago. This also happens to be the fifth consecutive time our U-17 team has not advanced beyond the round of 16. In the last month, our full national team has been embarrassed by Spain in a friendly, beaten for the 1st time in our history in the group stage of the Gold Cup and relinquished a 2-0 lead in the Gold Cup Final giving up 4 unanswered goals. Our national team at all levels has clearly stagnated and it is time for significant changes to be made.
I am typically not a naysayer of coaches. In his time as national team coach, I have always had a great deal of respect for Coach Bob Bradley. Although I certainly was not excited about his original hire, he has brought a stability to our program and has always provided an appreciated level of dignity. However, he has also proven that he cannot properly identify the best American talent, cannot properly put the best 11 players on the field and does not learn from his mistakes.
In looking at his team selections over the past few years, I am often baffled by his decisions. While we all came out feeling good from our performance in the 2009 Confederations Cup, everyone seems to have forgotten some key points from that tournament. We were played off the field in both the Italy game and our 1st game against Brazil. Everyone also seems to have forgotten that we needed to win our final group game 3-0 AND have Brazil beat Italy by the same score to even advance to the knockout stage. And while I cheered as loudly and as passionately as any American during our victory over Spain, let’s not kid ourselves. We were extremely lucky to win that game. We were dominated for long stretches. Jozy Altidore’s goal was off a poor shot that fortunately went in and Clint Dempsey’s goal was off a deflected cross. However, the feel-good energy that came out of the way that tournament ended helped hide several serious problems within our team.
In last summer’s World Cup, Coach Bradley continued to show numerous poor decisions. His decision to repeatedly start Robbie Findley despite his obvious inability to play at the international level simply because he had pace was embarrassing to all true soccer fans. The fact that DaMarcus Beasley was even on the roster despite not having gotten consistent playing time with his club since 2007 proved that Coach Bradley is loyal to a fault regarding some players. Coach Bradley continued to play Ricardo Clark even with his inability to play with his back to pressure, with his tendency to give away possession in dangerous areas and with his propensity to pick up bookings despite the fact that Maurice Edu was clearly the better player. But once again, American fans were left to think it was a successful World Cup because we qualified for the round of 16. But again, this “success” hid several problems. Again what few remember is that we would have never made it to the knockout round without Landon Donovan’s heroics in the Algeria game and the inability of Robert Green to catch a simple shot in the England game. Ghana once again exposed Coach Bradley’s poor choices as Robbie Findley was, not surprisingly, completely ineffective, Ricardo Clark, not surprising, lost possession in the middle 1/3 directly leading to a goal against.
In this last Gold Cup, Coach Bradley’s decision making was again poor. After choosing not to call-in Alejandro Bedoya in favor of Robbie Rogers, Bedoya proved his ability while Rogers did not play a single minute. One has to wonder how Bedoya did not make the original roster and how we would have done had an injury to Benny Feilhaber not forced Coach Bradley into bringing Bedoya into the team. One also has to wonder how in the world Chris Wondolowski made the roster, let alone started a game. His miss in the Panama game will not soon be forgotten by U.S. fans. Then we were forced to turn to Juan Agudelo, a promising forward no doubt, to lead the line despite the fact that he is clearly not ready for this level of competition and does not even start on a regular basis for his MLS team. In looking at the forwards we have used over the past World Cup cycle and over the last year, (Eddie Johnson, Brian Ching, Teal Bunbury, Juan Agudelo, Charlie Davies, Jozy Altidore, Conor Casey, Hercules Gomez, Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley) I have heard some commentators remark that we suffer from a lack of scoring options. However, that clearly ignores the fact that we have the two most prolific scorers in the history of our national team in Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, but we have a coach who continues to play them in wide midfield positions. This is done repeatedly despite the fact that they both regularly play forward for their clubs and that everyone considers forward the position with our least amount of depth and the midfield as the place with our most depth. It seems to be a shockingly stupid decision to continue to play them both out wide while it is consistently obvious that our weakest players on the pitch are up top and some of our best players are on the bench because there is not room in our midfield for them. In every game, around the 60th minute, Coach Bradley brings on a wide midfield player and shifts Clint Dempsey up top where, more times than not, he scores the all important goal. My question is, why doesn’t he just start him there in the first place if we cannot find a regular striker and have so many good midfield options on the bench?! And why can’t Coach Bradley learn from making this mistake over and over?
This brings us to the repeated selection of Jonathan Bornstein, a man who has consistently proven to be the weakest part of our backline. Despite the fact that he can’t competently defend against CONCACAF teams and rarely makes his club’s lineup in the less than stellar Mexican League, he is brought in to start against teams like Italy and Brazil in the Confederations Cup, got multiple starts in the last World Cup and as everyone saw in the Gold Cup final was clearly at fault for several of our goals against. It is also shameful that Coach Bradley began calling in, and now consistently starts, Jermaine Jones who is clearly a mercenary with no real ties to the United States. He has never lived in the United States, speaks little English and only declared his eligibility to be called in to the U.S. team after it became clear the German team no longer wanted him. He does not deserve a spot in the starting lineup over Maurice Edu who has represented this country in the Olympics and at the youth level. I’m sorry, but this is no longer 1998. We do not need any David Regis’ to shore up our team. In the meantime, world class players who were born in America, or represented our country at the youth level, like Neven Subotic and Giuseppe Rossi, opt to play for the country of their parents because of the poor state of our program.
It has also been embarrassing to watch Coach Bradley blunder through numerous formation shifts before stumbling upon the “revelation” that we would be best with an attacking midfielder underneath our striker. While Coach Bradley did tinker with 3 central midfielders during several friendlies over the last year, when our “A” team was playing, he did it with 3 defensive midfielders. It wasn’t until deep in this most recent Gold Cup that he finally realized that an attacking midfielder like Donovan or Dempsey, or in this case Sacha Klejstan, would open up the space needed to create an effective attack.
Last month, a close friend of mine and I flew out to Boston to watch that disaster of a game against Spain at Gillette Stadium. After fielding only ½ of our starting lineup, Coach Bradley explained that he considered the upcoming Canada game the more important game and that is why he rested so many of our starters. I understand his logic, with the Canada game being part of the Gold Cup competition and the Spain game a friendly, but what I cannot understand is why the game was scheduled in the first place if we had no intention of trying to be competitive. If we wanted a warm-up game for the Gold Cup and had no intention of fielding our full team, why did we bring in the defending world champions and not some mid-level team? Not only did thousands of American fans spend thousands of dollars in air fare, hotel rooms, transportation and tickets, but it was embarrassing to sit in that stadium, dominated by the away fans as most of our home games are, and have to watch that debacle. U.S. Soccer, Coach Bradley and you should all be ashamed of that performance. As far as I can tell, it was done for the sole purpose of making money for U.S. Soccer.
Personally, I believe there are some things that Coach Bradley has gotten right and I give him credit for that. I believe that despite calls of nepotism, he is right to start his son Michael in our midfield as he is clearly the best player at that position and has proved it time and time again. I believe he has done the right thing by bringing Freddy Adu along slowly after all of Adu’s struggles in Europe. I also like the fact that he has experimented with different formations, although it took him 5 years to realize we would be best with a 4-2-3-1. However, the fact remains that results matter and that a couple of correct decisions do not hide his consistent mistakes. Right now we are squandering the best generation of American players we have ever had. Coach Bradley has proven that he cannot identify and select our best roster, formation, or starting 11. While he is often hailed for his 2nd half changes, he is forced to make them because of his consistent blundering with the opening lineup and game plan. When results exceed talent, the coach is doing well. When results are below the level of talent, the coach is obviously failing. Coach Bradley has proven he is not the best man for the job time and time again. We cannot allow a few feel-good moments over the past 2 years to gloss over the glaring problems with his leadership.
Our players compete with more heart and passion than the national team players of any other nation I’ve seen. They deserve better. Please consider replacing Coach Bradley with a top-notch coach with strong international credentials. Considering our recent results at all levels, I feel like if it’s not his job, it surely will be yours.
John D. Halloran
Passionate American Soccer Fan
John D. Halloran