Wednesday, June 17, 2009

If U.S. Soccer Wants Real Success, They Must Turn To The Experts

After watching the U.S. men’s soccer team play the other day against Italy in the Confederations Cup, I was left with a feeling of emptiness.  Something appeared to be missing; something that would bring a whole new dynamic to the team’s results.  So I thought for awhile, was it the players’ overall performance?  Was it the gameplan? Or was it poor coaching? 

While I consider all three of the above options to be part of the overall problem I have with the U.S. team, I decided on a bigger issue as the main culprit.  And it’s quite simple…the U.S. Soccer Federation has not made a big enough commitment towards success.  Now, yes that could include the coaching, the gameplans, and some of the player selections, but it starts from the top.  In my opinion, the people overseeing the operation have it all wrong.

Let’s start with the coaching position.  Bob Bradley, the current coach, had great success in the MLS.  Heck, I will even say that his time as head coach of the national team has gone pretty well so far.  But we often times in sports hear about someone’s “ceiling.”  By that I mean, what is someone’s highest potential?  For Bradley, I think he has nearly reached it.  All he knows is soccer.  He doesn’t know “football” or “futbol” or “calcio.”  By that I mean, his experience lacks an international flavor; it’s limited to America’s version of the sport. Since that is the case, I just don’t think he has much more to offer.  It’s not his fault, but we need more versatility to succeed. 

My proposal is to bring in a foreign coach with international experience.  And before you offer your rebuttal to this proposal, let me anticipate your question of “You really think a bigtime international coach wants to coach an American soccer team?”  Well yes I do.  I can see where someone is coming from if they cite the fact that most of the world thinks that American soccer is a joke.  But let’s think about this here.  In recent history, the U.S. men’s national team coaching position has been a great gig, not by winning standards, but more in regards to the lack of job pressure.  There has been HARDLY ANY pressure associated with the U.S. job.  There are low standards and low expectations, so the job security for the coach has been very good.  As long as you qualify for the World Cup out of CONCACAF, you’ve done your job.  That’s it.  And maybe if the U.S. Soccer Federation gets extra stern, you could be subject to a firing if you lose all 3 of your 1st round World Cup games.  Rough task…I think it would be a fun project for a foreign coach to tackle.  

There hasn’t been anything in a U.S. coach’s mind in recent years to suggest that they better get their act together and actually get something done.  The pressure is practically 100% off.  So what I’d like to see is a clear-cut message from the leaders of the Federation simply saying that mediocrity will not be good enough to keep your job.  In European soccer and in most of the international ranks, managers or coaches are on the hot seat constantly.  If you don’t win, you don’t remain coach.  It’s as simple as that.  Now, I don’t think we need to get that harsh because it’s important to develop your own style within the sport, but for god’s sake, the U.S. Soccer Federation needs to change their standard for success. 

I think an international coach is a start.  Take a guy like Guus Hiddink.  He is native of the Netherlands and as a player, he was a pretty good goalscorer in the Dutch First Division. As a coach, he led the South Korean national team to a 4th place finish in the 2002 World Cup, he took the Netherlands team to a 4th place finish in the 1998 World Cup, he led Australia’s team to the 2nd round in the 2006 World Cup, and he took the Russian national team to the semi-finals in the Euro 2008.  So this guy has successfully coached teams who speak 4 different languages on the international level.  Not to mention the fact that he just salvaged Chelsea’s season in the English Premier League this year.  There are other coaches out there like him too.  Ireland and England are both coached by Italian men.  Now take into account the living situation and the income that the U.S. coaching position would bring, and you’ve got a pretty sweet deal. 

As far as the American players go, I don’t think they are necessarily the problem.  There just needs to be someone, as I mentioned earlier, who is experienced enough to properly manage them.  There are a lot of U.S. players that play over in Europe.  Some of them have improved since moving overseas, and others have suffered due lack of playing time.  It’s very important to look at all of them, but you also can’t forget some of the players in the MLS.  The MLS is clearly at a lower-level than most European leagues, but they house a lot of players that possess great attitudes and impressive work ethics.  And sometimes, I think the U.S. team is missing that fire.  But it's all about choosing the right mix of players as your recipe for success.  Right now, it looks like our team lacks chemistry. 

The international manager is also probably going to be better in terms of understanding player roles and formulating game plans.  Again, these worldly coaches have seen it all, whereas the strictly American soccer-raised coaches don’t exactly see the whole picture.  Properly evaluating talent and creating a strategy to correspond with it is a very key aspect of coaching international soccer.  I think guys like Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley lack in that area….It’s not their fault either.  The people at the top are appointing these men and although they do the best they can, it just hasn’t been good enough. 

For years now, United States soccer has settled for “average.”  We’ve seen that mentality portrayed as recent as this week when the U.S. players were quoted as saying that the Confederations Cup was just a way to “see where they are in their preparation for the World Cup next year.”  How about having enough damn confidence in yourselves to say “hey let’s go out and win a few of these games!”  And even though the players are the ones saying those things, it speaks more to the overall mantra of U.S. national soccer.  So I say change is needed.  They’ve got to put their nationalistic hiring practices aside and realize that if they really want to do their country proud, they will actually get the guts to employ some international expertise…because after all, soccer is the WORLD’s game.           

1 comment:

  1. Rather than an international coach, how about no coach at all? Our team just looks paralyzed by over-coaching every time we get the ball in our offensive third. Rather than attack the goal, players are holding the ball waaaaay too long and waiting for plays to develop. Do you see Brazil doing that? No, because Brazilian players all grew up playing pickup soccer in the streets without coaches. They learned how to move the ball when they need to, and how to attack the goal when they need to.

    We need to just get someone who will pick a team, make substitutions, and let the players do their thing. Maybe Eric Wynalda or Alexi Lalas. They know soccer, they know what US soccer is all about, and they have no trouble pointing out what Bradley is doing wrong. Hell, they could even go old-school and name Landon Donovan player-coach. He seems to be at his best when he's allowed to create on his own terms, and nobody knows the ins and outs of the current US soccer situation than he does.

    Whatever they choose to do, the most important thing is to get someone who will inspire the US to play to win, not just play not to lose.