New England Soccer Today

Sideshow Bob

Tonight, the United States Men’s National Team kicks off its Gold Cup schedule against Canada. And for the first time in my life, I cannot bring myself to wholeheartedly endorse the Americans’ efforts.

As a supporter of American soccer – not to be confused with the United States Soccer Federation – it’s not that I want to see the team lose. Not at all. I am rooting for their individual success. I want to see Jozy Altidore muscle past defenders and score. I want to see Clint Dempsey breakin’ ankles. And I would love to see underdogs like Chris Wondolowski and Freddy Adu make statements during the tournament.

But I refuse to support Bob Bradley in any forum. Not after the Spain debacle. In more ways than I can count, Bradley’s decision to field a B-team against the Spaniards not only disgraced the integrity of the National Team, but the sport of soccer here in this country.

From the moment the starting XI’s were distributed, Bradley made it as clear as the Foxborough sky above him: the Spain game was a laboratory rather than a legitmate match against the best team in the world. After all, any sensible coach wouldn’t keep Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Steve Cherundolo on the bench and start Eric Lichaj at left back and move Robbie Rogers up top unless he’s 1.) experimenting, or 2.) doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing.

He openly admitted to the first count, while the proof exists of the second. He said he wanted to see where certain players (i.e. non-automatic selections) could fill in. He saw to it that Lichaj was embarrassed out of position on the left. He watched Jozy Altidore get smothered in a ill-advised three-striker formation. He witnessed Robbie Russell and Chris Wondolowski get outclassed. In short, he virtually ensured that his team would roll over like dogs in the name of development.

In addition to disrespecting his own players, he gave the middle finger to the fans. He treated the match as if he was at the Cary, N.C. practice pitches. Forget that Spain was there. Disregard that a number of fans had paid close to $300 a ticket for the privilege. And don’t worry that it was a nationally broadcast match that was highly-billed in advance. The following was just a test.

But, perhaps the most troubling aspect of the match had to do with something that took place prior to the home-pitch humiliation. Something that, if you have an understanding of how much work it’s taken to build this sport here, is nothing short of a shovel to the face.

Hours before the opening whistle, the National Soccer Hall of Fame inducted Bob Gansler, Bruce Murray, Cobi Jones, Eddie Pope, and Earnie Stewart – all of whom have worked tirelessly to foster the sport’s growth – literally paces away from the Gillette Stadium pitch at an event in which Federation president Sunil Gulati was present.

After the ceremony, the inductees along with their families, friends, and other former national team members, were on hand for the match. It was supposed to be a great theater: a rematch of the classic 2009 Confederations Cup semifinal, which saw a determined U.S. side shock Spain to advance to its first-ever FIFA Cup final.

But, minutes after the whistle, it was clear: this would not be a reprisal of ’09. With Bradley’s misguided agenda taking center stage, the newly-inducted were forced to stomach a dreadful display of soccer that tarnished what should have been a spectacular day.

Listen, there’s no shame is losing to Spain. None whatsoever. No one could be faulted if the Americans lost 2-0 or any other respectable score so long as it was evident that everyone – including the coach – was doing their best. The players, despite some of their obvious vulnerabilities, worked their butts off. The coach clearly did not.

It’s become Bradley’s M.O. to chalk losses up to development, and wins to his players, which some have seen as the hallmark of a successful, modern day coach. The focus is almost never on him.

But, there are times when it should be. There are times when a coach gets it so completely wrong that an immediate mea culpa is in order. The Spain humiliation was one of those occasions. Bradley messed up on a grand scale Saturday afternoon, and not once did he admit it to it. Not that I expected it.

This is because Bradley is notorious for never giving a straight answer, at least not to the media. In the midst of his post-match presser, he said a lot, but offered little. He simply gave the same answers he always gives (development, looking forward, experimentation, etc.)  and, as he has been wont to do over the years, never accepted the blame for the poor decisions – and there were many – he made during Saturday’s slaughter.

Bob Bradley must go. He and his coaching staff spit on the sport Saturday afternoon. Millions of people watched Spain crush a poorly-assembled team of Americans – our National Team – in a sour display of soccer that embarrassed its supporters and emboldened its detractors.

And because of this, I cannot back Bob Bradley any longer. I cannot watch his agenda be validated any further in any shape or form.

It’s time for change. And in order for change to happen, Bradley must fail. He must fall short in the Gold Cup tournament – even if it means that his players miss out on another opportunity to shock the world at the 2013 Confederations Cup.


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