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Loss puts Bradley’s future in doubt

A day after the US was eliminated by Ghana, coach Bob Bradley refused to second-guess starting Ricardo Clark in midfield. A day after the US was eliminated by Ghana, coach Bob Bradley refused to second-guess starting Ricardo Clark in midfield. (Timothy A. Clark/Getty Images)
By Jeffrey Marcus
New York Times / June 28, 2010

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IRENE, South Africa — After 120 minutes, Bob Bradley still was not done coaching, even though his team had lost, 2-1, to Ghana in overtime in the Round of 16.

“I never sleep well after games,’’ he said yesterday, the morning after his team was eliminated from the World Cup. “Wins, losses, it’s never easy after a game winding down. I usually watch the game over and over a few times and then sneak in a few hours.’’

There was nothing that surprised Bradley upon review of the spirited but ultimately inadequate performance of a team that had a habit of giving up early goals and fighting to come from behind. The United States seemed depleted after three grueling group games, and met a Ghana team, the lone African team remaining, that was boosted by an enthusiastic crowd.

“I think that Ghana had three very good chances and scored twice,’’ Bradley said. “They scored on their first shot of the game. They scored on their first shot in overtime.’’

Bradley did not second-guess his decision to start Ricardo Clark in midfield after he had sat out two consecutive games. He said he thought Clark would bring fresh legs to a team that had grinded out a 2-2 tie with Slovenia and a 1-0 victory over Algeria in injury time. He also said it was the right move to replace Clark after he turned the ball over to Kevin-Prince Boateng, who scored in the fifth minute.

Still, Bradley, tired after a long night and little sleep, could not turn off his instincts.

“When one game ends, as a coach, you start thinking about the next one,’’ he said. “A lot of those thoughts have already been running through my head.’’

The United States is scheduled to play an exhibition against Brazil Aug. 10 at the New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey. But it remains to be seen if Bradley will still be in charge, or even if he wants to be.

“I’ve always enjoyed new challenges,’’ Bradley said. “But I’ve also — from Day 1 — said and considered it a tremendous honor to coach the national team.’’

Bradley’s contract runs through December, and he said that he had not talked with Sunil Gulati, the president of US Soccer, about an extension.

“Over time, there will be discussions,’’ Bradley said. “At this point, it’s too soon after the final whistle.’’

As much as the US team’s performance raised the profile of American players internationally, it also may have boosted the estimation of Bradley among clubs in Europe looking for a new manager.

Since 1990, when a group of mostly college players qualified for the World Cup in Italy, an increasing number of American professionals have played significant roles for clubs in Europe’s most competitive leagues.

Nineteen players on the US team play abroad — 17 in Europe and 2 in Mexico. Four play in Major League Soccer, but striker Robbie Findley is out of his contract at the end of the season. Landon Donovan, who signed a lucrative four-year contract last season to stay with the Los Angeles Galaxy, may be looking to return to England, where he played well during a three-month stint with Everton of the Premier League.

But no American coach has ambitiously pursued or been seriously considered for a job overseas. It intrigues Bradley, but he was noncommittal.

Whether it falls to Bradley or another coach, the US will have to improve in a number of areas to build upon its performance here. Early defensive lapses and the inability of the team’s forwards to score illustrated the difference that persists between American players and their international peers.

All of the US’ goals came from midfielders. Donovan, who had three, will be 32 when the next World Cup is played in Brazil in 2014, past the prime for attacking players. Clint Dempsey, who had one goal, will be 31. The only other player to score was Michael Bradley, the coach’s son, who is 22 and will probably be a major factor for the national team for years to come.

Ultimately, the United States could not score or defend consistently enough to go further in the tournament. But the Americans played one game more than Italy, the defending champion, and France, the 2006 runner-up. Both were eliminated in the first round. The United States went just as far as England, which lost, 4-1, to Germany yesterday.

But despite winning their group, and advancing to the knockout round, Bradley and his players see the 2010 World Cup as a lost opportunity.

“There’s a pretty empty feeling,’’ Bradley said. “We felt there was a real chance of doing something bigger. That had to be done 90 minutes at a time.’’

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