Bob Bradley’s future seems to be in doubt. Sunil Gulati declined comment about whether he would remain as coach, suggesting U.S. Soccer is at least considering a replacement. The U.S. doesn’t have any competitive fixtures until World Cup qualifying begins. Expect the process to resemble the South Africa aftermath – deliberate and awkward. I don’t expect it to be open-ended. If Bradley is fired, it will be because the U.S. has a replacement. I’m not sure that replacement exists.
Said replacement would have to be an upgrade over Bradley to the point where it’s worth buying out his contract. He would have to be willing to live in the U.S. and to accept a modest salary. He would have to be amenable to a significant amount of control from the U.S.S.F.
Jürgen Klinsmann is the ideal candidate, as he was when Bradley was hired in 2006 and rehired in 2010. He’s a camera-friendly European with a track-record of international success. He’s familiar with American soccer and already based in California. He would love that job. The question, as it was the previous two times, is whether the U.S. would give him the autonomy he requires.
Klinsmann engendered resentment at both Germany and Bayern Munich. He brought in his own people, his own training methods and insisted on absolute control. He got away with it at Germany because he was ultimately successful. At Bayern, his leash was short. Hiring Klinsmann would make the 2014 run the Klinsmann show. It would require the federation to hand off the car keys and step away. I’m not sure Gulati is desperate enough to make that sacrifice.
There really aren’t many other serious options, unless you live in some fantasy world where Rafa Benitez or Guus Hiddink will come running to take a job well below their pay grade.
Sigi Schmid might be the most likely candidate from MLS. He has experience working with U.S. soccer, both as a World Cup assistant and as head coach of the U-20 team. He’s known for his discipline and ability as a defensive tactician, two things the U.S. could use. He would probably take the job. At 58, he would offer a safe, one-term stop gap and more time to plan a bolder move for 2014, but is safe really an upgrade over Bradley?
Jason Kreis could be another intriguing option. The 38-year-old took over Real Salt Lake upon retirement in 2007 and led the club to an MLS Cup triumph in 2009, without the benefit of a designated player. The worry with him is he’s a very intensive, energetic personality. That doesn’t jive well with the more stately, easy-going position of being an international coach. Two-time MLS Cup winner Dominic Kinnear could be another answer as Houston enters a rebuilding process. Though, does U.S. Soccer really fire Bradley to break in another unproven MLS coach?
One outside candidate could be Marcelo Bielsa. He did a great job with Chile in 2010. There have been persistent rumors about him being a candidate for a technical director position with U.S. Soccer. He’s an inventive and often effective technician. The trouble with him is his eccentricity. He’s renowned for being surly, skipping press conferences and outright refusing to do exclusive interviews with media members. He presents the same autonomy issue as Klinsmann, but he’s far more of a loose cannon. It’s hard to see U.S. Soccer ceding ultimate control to a guy whose nickname is “Madman.”
Bradley’s future is in doubt, but I don’t believe it’s untenable. The U.S. would only fire him with a replacement in place and it’s hard to see a candidate who is a significant upgrade taking that job. Bradley may not be the ideal option, but he very well could be the only one.