U.S. Soccer ended the rampant speculation surrounding Bob Bradley's future by resolving the situation in a manner no one quite expected.
It extended Bradley's contract for another four years.
Bradley and U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati will explain the reasons behind the new pact in a conference call on Tuesday as the incumbent coach will enter the friendlies against Poland (Oct. 9 in Chicago) and Colombia (Oct. 12 in Chester, Pa.) with a fresh brief to lead the Americans to Brazil in 2014.
The extended partnership between Bradley and U.S. Soccer represents a somewhat reluctant truce struck between two parties destined to separate after the World Cup.
This scenario likely required a rather reluctant step by U.S. Soccer despite four relatively successful years under Bradley. Gulati expressed some measure of disappointment after the Americans' failure to travel further down a fortuitous road to the semifinals and hinted he might look elsewhere for a new manager for the next World Cup qualifying cycle. Gulati's willingness to allow Bradley to twist in the wind for two months only underscores his apparent indifference to his coach's claims for a new deal, though the final result also shows he wasn't particularly enamored with most of the alternatives either.
Reports over the weekend also suggest Gulati once again explored the idea of hiring Jurgen Klinsmann before deciding to retain Bradley. The exact breadth and depth of those discussions with Klinsmann remains outside the public domain, but it seems unlikely the usually thorough Gulati would initiate cursory talks with the former Germany coach considering the protracted flirtation prior to Bradley's hiring in 2006 and the rather stark differences between the two parties.
While the inevitable dance between Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer didn't draw the headlines it did last time, it concluded with the same result: Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer decided the partnership wasn't the right fit and U.S. Soccer turned to Bradley to fill the void.
Bradley's decision to continue as U.S. coach appears relatively straightforward because he possesses no particularly appealing alternatives at the present time. His representatives engaged in a campaign worthy of Sven Goran Eriksson in an attempt to drum up interest overseas, but prospective employers such as Aston Villa and Fulham did not bite. More than a few MLS clubs surely would have entertained Bradley's overtures, but a return to the American top flight wouldn't exactly constitute a fresh challenge and almost certainly wouldn't include matching the reported $600,000 salary on offer from his first U.S. contract or the inevitable raise included this time around. Throw in Bradley's affinity for his current job and the decision to return – even with Gulati's less than enthusiastic actions over the past two months – looks like an easy one.
The circumstances led both parties to reach a conclusion most knowledgeable insiders ruled out as recently as this weekend. While the solution looks expedient for both parties given the current situation, it may not sustain quite as well over time despite Bradley's previous success.
Bradley deserves plaudits for a successful first term given the talent at his disposal. His tactical and personnel decisions occasionally confounded, but he generally drew the most he could out of a shallow talent pool and exceeded most of the expectations placed in front of him. The World Cup performance may not have satisfied Gulati or the increasingly demanding American soccer fan, but it corresponded fairly well with the pre-tournament goals despite the lingering bad taste after the disappointing exit. It is by no means certain Gulati could improve upon Bradley if he had chosen to make a change, as Bradley has done enough to indicate he will remain a capable steward for the program.
It is not guaranteed, however, that Bradley possesses the capability and the imagination to push the program onwards during the next World Cup cycle. Bradley has done his best work as U.S. boss when asked to err on the side of caution and conservatism, but this rebuilding phase will require more creativity and inventiveness in order to cultivate a new group capable of succeeding at the highest levels. In previous attempts to concoct novel approaches or freshen up the squad, Bradley has only succeeded intermittently despite his diligence, and he will have to make significant strides in this department in order to make this contract renewal work for both parties.
If Bradley can't quite find the right formula as he attempts to integrate new ideas and new players into his squad, this agreement likely won't preclude Gulati and U.S. Soccer from making a change if required. The summer may have yielded Bradley a new four-year contract, but it also rather paradoxically reduced his long-term job security.
In this marriage of convenience, the two sides decided the status quo made the most sense for the short-term. The extension may end the speculation for now, but don't expect the silence to last all the way through to Brazil.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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