Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bradley And The American Coaching Conundrum

By Jason Davis, August 10, 2011 - WASHINGTON, DC (Aug 10, 2011) US Soccer Players -- Don't cry for Bob Bradley. Despite losing his job as the head coach of the United States National Team rather unceremoniously just a week and a half ago, Bradley is already in the mix for another position. According to reports and confirmation from his agent, Bradley is the front runner to become the next head coach of Egypt. Whether he gets the job or not, Bradley's candidacy represents a step outside of the traditional bubble for American coaches. If he does take over in Egypt, Bradley will immediately become a trailblazer for coaches from the United States.

American coaches live in a fishbowl, swimming laps in a confined space. Whether they start in college or the pros, the men born in the US and raised on the game here are typically coaches of American soccer in some form for the entirety of their careers. As a matter of course or circumstance, Americans just aren’t plucked for jobs abroad. Rarely are the even mentioned as candidates. Upward mobility in the American coaching ranks means turning a college gig into a pro gig, and if fortune smiles, into a National Team run. Bradley, like his predecessor Bruce Arena, followed that path.

It might be fitting that just as US Soccer has changed course with the hiring of a non-American for the first time in twenty years, the American coach they dismissed is being considered for a landmark appointment.

There’s not much history of American coaches taking their talent to foreign shores. The list of head coaches at the international level begins and ends with Steve Sampson’s tenure with Costa Rica's National Team, a position he held from 2002-2004. Sampson had moderate success with the Ticos before being dismissed during a poor run in qualifying. He promptly returned to MLS to coach the Galaxy. Sampson’s sojourn turned out to be nothing more than a blip, and the status quo took hold again.

There is a smattering, or less, of American head coaches outside of the country in the club game. While their careers prove that it’s possible to be American and get a job somewhere other than in America’s unique patchwork of schools and clubs, none is guilty of having a profile of much note. That’s mostly a function of where they coach, off the radar in lesser soccer countries or in lower divisions that get little attention. It’s a task just to find references to them in the information-easy internet age.

Here's the thing, Bradley’s name popping up as a verified candidate for the Egypt job shouldn’t be all that surprising. His reputation has always been much stronger outside of the United States than within it, and he’s proven himself to be a capable international coach by taking the Americans to heights previously unseen.

It was interesting to watch the reaction from foreign journalists when Bradley’s dismissal hit the wires. Beyond the prevailing “two-cycle” wisdom, many were taken aback by the apparent ease with which Bradley and his record were dismissed. After renewing Bradley’s contract after the 2010 World Cup, the decision to make a change now was eyebrow-raising. That says something about the perception of American talent, but it’s also a commentary on how much respect Bradley has garnered from people with an outsider’s perspective on US Soccer.

Bradley’s candidacy for the Pharaohs position alone is a breakthrough of sorts. With apologies to Steve Sampson and Costa Rica, Egypt is a significant step up as a well-regarded team with several continental championships and a tradition of success. Egypt failed to make the World Cup in South Africa last year, losing to Algeria in a playoff, but they’ve hardly dropped off the map. It can’t hurt Bradley’s chances that one of the signature victories on his resume was against Algeria just last year. Bradley’s serious consideration by a nation of Egypt’s stature - hardly a world beater but a a perennial African power - means someone is looking either looking past his American-ness, or does not see that as an impediment to his doing the job. If it’s the latter, times, they are a-changing.

And if Bradley gets the job? An American coach in charge of a team with serious ambitions outside of the North and Central American environment is something that was previously impossible to imagine. Mostly, this is a credit to Bradley and the job he did while at the helm of the National Team and the impression he made on the greater soccer community.

If there’s a river to be born, a dam first has to burst. Bob Bradley, swimming beyond the American cultural sphere could be the man to cause the first fissure.

We’re quickly running out of firsts when it comes to Americans and soccer. There’s still a league or two to crack, and an American has to play in a Champions League final, but for the most part Americans have broken through the glass ceilings that matter. American players captained their sides in Europe. Americans have led their teams in goals. Young American players are the next frontier for clubs constantly on the hunt for new talent. Americans have sufficiently wormed their way into the fabric of the sport to become less and less of a novelty with each passing year. Americans are just a part of the game.

American players, that is. When it comes to head coaches, the United States has yet to produce one with any notable resume written outside of its borders. Perhaps Bradley will have an opportunity to change that. Even if he doesn't, his candidacy is a sure sign that day is coming.

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