- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bob Bradley looks well on his way to a permanent job as coach of the U.S. men’s national team. A 3-1 win against Denmark last month followed by a morale-boosting 2-0 victory over Mexico before a pro-Mexican crowd of 62,462 in Glendale, Ariz., has propelled Bradley to the top of the list.

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, who has been interviewing several foreigners for the position, says he will not make a decision until spring, but the Feb. 7 win over archrival Mexico just might have sealed it for Bradley, a former D.C. United assistant coach.

If Bradley does lose his interim tag, he will have a busy summer. The Americans will play in the Copa America in Venezuela from June 26 to July 15 and learned this week they will face Argentina, Colombia and Paraguay in group play. That event begins just two days after the regional CONCACAF Gold Cup ends. Playing two big tournaments so close together is unheard of in international soccer, and MLS coaches likely will be frustrated about losing players to international duty. Bradley, though, is not concerned.

Although the Copa America pits the United States against World Cup teams, Bradley says the emphasis will be more on the Gold Cup. With a win, the United States would be invited to the Confederations Cup in South Africa in 2009 to play in three major games. Also, it will be easier to call in European players for the Gold Cup.

Bradley hinted the United States may field two different teams for the events, with perhaps a few players competing in both.

“We knew when we entered the Copa America that we would have to dig deeper into our pool of players,” Bradley said.

However, the Copa America berth is welcome.

“The style of play in Venezuela will be very important for our players,” Bradley said. “Playing in a tough environment will be good for the team.”

The Copa America is South America’s biggest national team event, and the U.S. team now has been invited to the biennial tournament for the third time. The Americans beat Argentina 3-0 at the 1995 games and reached the semifinals. The two other groups in the Copa include Venezuela, Uruguay, Peru and Bolivia in Group A and Brazil, Ecuador, Chile and Mexico in Group B.

As for the Gold Cup, which determines the champion of the CONCACAF region, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and two more Central American qualifiers will join Cuba, Guadeloupe, Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago and previous Gold Cup champions Canada, Mexico and the United States in playing from June 6 to 24 at six venues across the United States.

Bradley also seems to have found the perfect assistant coach in Peter Nowak, who left D.C. United to join the national team program.

“Peter’s experience, his energy, his competitiveness are all things that I think are very, very important,” Bradley said. “The two of us not only know each other so well but have such a great level of trust. I am very, very pleased with how we have been able to start things in 2007.”

These are busy days for Bradley and Nowak. While he works to win the senior team job, Bradley also coaches the U.S. under-23 team, which serves as the Olympic team. This week, the team trained for the first time since it failed to qualify for the Athens Olympics at the 2004 qualifying event in Mexico. The team left yesterday for Japan, where it will play two games.

Howard likes Toffees — American goalie Tim Howard has made the permanent move to Everton from Manchester United. Howard was on loan to Everton but has signed a five-year contract with the Toffees. The 27-year-old has made 27 appearances for Everton with 11 shutouts. Howard has played in 16 games for the U.S. team, the most recent coming in the 2-0 victory over Mexico.

Rankings — Italy is again the world’s top-ranked-team. The World Cup winners toppled Brazil, reclaiming the top spot in the FIFA rankings for the first time since November 1993, ending Brazil’s 55-month run at the top. The U.S. team moved up three spots to No. 28 after the wins over Denmark and Mexico.

Brazil was ranked second , with Argentina, France, Germany, England, the Netherlands, Portugal, the Czech Republic and Spain rounding out the top 10.

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