JOHANNESBURG (AP) — U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati says the American team did not meet his expectations at the World Cup and he likely will meet with Bob Bradley after the tournament to discuss the coach’s future.
Bradley was hired in December 2006 and has a contract running through the end of the year. The Americans were eliminated last weekend in the second round with a 2-1 overtime loss to Ghana.
“I think the team is capable of more,” Mr. Gulati said Monday during a one-hour assessment. “I think the players know it. I think Bob knows it. And so at that level we’re disappointed we didn’t get to play another 90 minutes at least.”
Gulati described Bradley as being “very disappointed” with the team’s outcome.
“The missed opportunity is partly a chance to get to the quarters and the matchup with Uruguay, but it’s also a missed opportunity to stay in the American public’s eyes for another four, five, six days, maybe 10 days, when interest is at an all-time high,” Mr. Gulati said. “I have no doubt there will still be people at bars watching games at strange times, that the TV ratings will still be good. But what the ratings might have been for a quarterfinal game or dreaming beyond that, it’s certainly a missed opportunity.”
Mr, Gulati said there was a slight chance he would start discussions with Mr. Bradley later Monday before the coach returned to the United States, but that extensive talks probably will wait until Mr. Gulati traveled back after the World Cup final on July 11.
“I want to sit down with Bob,” Mr. Gulati said. “I think that’s the appropriate thing. I want to hear his views, express some of mine and see what makes sense. I think he’s done a very good job. I want to make that very clear. … When we’ve had our ‘A’ team, the record is pretty darn good. … The problem is that our expectations have risen pretty sharply and there have been some performances where we didn’t play as well as we would have liked.”
Gulati said a coach can do only so much.
“I think it ultimately comes down to players,” he said. “The expectations have to be realistic. The players that are representing the U.S. are not players at Arsenal and Inter and Real Madrid and Barcelona and Chelsea and Manchester United and so on. The players we were playing against in some of these situations are.”
Before Mr. Bradley was hired, Mr. Gulati held talks with former Germany coach Juergen Klinsmann, who lives in California. Mr. Klinsmann withdrew after Major League Soccer refused to guarantee access to players for the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the Copa America in 2007.
A member of Germany’s World Cup team in 1990, 1994 and 1998, Mr. Klinsmann coached his nation’s team to a third-place finish as host in 2006. He agreed in January 2008 to become coach of Bayern Munich the following summer, but was fired in April 2009 with the club in third place in the Bundesliga following its quarterfinal elimination from the Champions League. Mr. Klinsmann then moved back to California with his family, and last month he wouldn’t say whether he’d be interested in taking over the U.S. team. At the time, Mr. Klinsmann said he hoped Mr. Bradley kept the position for a long time.
For Mr. Gulati, domestic and foreign coaches both have advantages.
“Having someone who understands the mentality of Americans and American players is a plus,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. On the other side of that, it’s also a plus to have played in a World Cup final and coached in a World Cup final, and we don’t have anyone that fits that in the United States.”
A charismatic coach would assist in marketing the team.
“Would we be in the news and capture some interest by doing that?” Mr. Gulati said. “Sure. But we capture far more interest by having a good team, so that’s the critical element.”
He also revealed he met with Fabio Capello three years ago about a possible job before the Italian agreed to become England’s coach. Mr. Gulati said the meeting in London included Bradley and Capello’s son, and the discussion was about a position as director of soccer or working with youth teams.
“He said he was looking forward after being in the cauldron of Real Madrid and other places, to a little bit less pressure, a little bit more privacy,” Mr. Gulati said. “It didn’t quite work out that way, I guess.”
According to Mr. Gulati, talks never progressed.
Bruce Arena has been the only coach to lead the U.S. at consecutive World Cups, taking the Americans to a quarterfinal finish in 2002 before first-round elimination in 2006. Mr. Gulati then made the change.
Mr. Gulati didn’t think the national team necessarily would go stale under a two-term coach.
“I would say the sense was that 12 years would be too long.” he said.
But, he also said: “He may want a different challenge. I don’t know.”
Mr. Gulati took notice that all five U.S. goals at this World Cup were scored by midfielders: three by Landon Donovan, one by Clint Dempsey and one by Michael Bradley. And in 2006, Dempsey was the only American to score.
“We’ve gone two World Cups without a forward scoring a goal,” he said. “That’s not a good thing. And that’s not blaming the guys who have been playing forward for us. It’s just a statement of fact.”
“However we evaluate a coach in a short-term situation like the World Cup, the broader issue is we’ve got to get better development, better players at the other end of it. And that is not something you do in a year or two. And that’s everything else we’re doing in our system or trying to do, whether it’s the development academy, whether it’s MLS having youth teams, whether it’s reaching out further to the Hispanic and African-American communities. …
“I don’t think it takes a lot of watching to know that (Carlos) Tevez and (Lionel) Messi have a different control of the ball than most of our players or most of the players in the world, for that matter. So we’ve got to be better. Players have to be better, sure. And I take responsibility for that that, on where the sport is.”