When the United States Men's National Team takes the pitch against Poland on October 9 in Chicago, they will have a familiar face at the helm. Bob Bradley, the man who guided the Americans through their most successful World Cup qualifying cycle ever, will be in charge through 2014.
While both the coach and the United States Soccer Federation flirted with other options - Bradley expressed a desire to manage in Europe while Sunil Gulati reportedly met with former German National Team manager Jurgen Klinsmann - the pair ultimately decided the status quo was the proper path.
"Experience. The record over the last four years in games that mattered, especially," Gulati said when asked why he retained the coach during a Tuesday afternoon conference call. "And frankly we had to weigh that against something Bob and I spent a lot of time talking about which is this issue of eight years and whether things might get stale."
The coach understands the need to keep things fresh and cited Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson as a master at keeping players motivated. For Bradley, each day represents a new challenge, no matter how long he's been in one coaching position.
"Quite frankly, you can be on the job for a short time and if you lose your concentration or you get caught up with other things... credibility is put to the test every day as a coach whether you've been on the job four years or four days," he said.
Bradley has been on the job for four years already, so he knows the system and the players. He can begin prepping for the new cycle immediately, focusing first on October friendlies against Poland and Colombia. He said plans to call in some new faces, although Major League Soccer's playoff push will make it difficult to bring too many players from the domestic league. Some talents will have to wait until November or the January camp as the Americans build toward winning the 2011 Gold Cup, which will earn them the right to play in the 2013 Confederations Cup.
"Gold Cup is absolutely the top priority over the next 12 months," Gulati said.
The president of the USSF wanted to solve the coaching conundrumquickly - he cited September 1 as a target - but also needed to take time and get it done right. The impending visit by FIFA inspectors for the 2018/2022 World Cup bid didn't play a factor in the timing of the announcement. The deal between he and Bradley came together quickly after a phone call early Monday morning.
The coach, it appears, had discussions with other clubs.
"The respect that we've gained this World Cup and actually in the last two summers for our team and our players has been significant and that's been also something that means there's been a great respect internationally for the job that was done on the coaching side," he said. "So following the World Cup, it was nice to have the opportunity to talk to people in different situations, get a sense as to what types of opportunities might exist now or going forward."
"At times my name would pop up in certain places. I was always quite clear, for example with both the Fulham and Aston Villa situations, when people would ask me if there was interest, and I would say, 'Yes, there is,' but at the same time I would say very, very definitively I did not have discussions with either club. It was a process on one side of accessing the situation around the world, seeing what types of things might come up while at the same time always reiterating how strongly I felt about the job that I had done along with our staff in the last four year and talking about the challenge of continuing."
The focus now turns to the future. But would Bradley be happy to repeat the level of success he's experienced during the past four years?
"I'm not easily satisfied," he said. "You want to win. You want to make the final [of every tournament]. We feel good about what we've accomplished in the last four years but that doesn't mean that we were perfect. That's what motivates us and our players."
With Bradley the helm again, the U.S. National Team finds itself in the middle of something, rather than at the beginning.
"We've started a lot of good things," the once and future coach said.
Now he gets four more years to finish them.
Noah Davis (@noahedavis) covers the United States Men's National Team for Goal.com.
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