- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

ESPN2 color commentator Eric Wynalda’s latest gimmick is to pass judgment with “red card,” “yellow card” and “game ball” distinctions. While this idea borders on the silly, Wynalda’s “yellow card” on U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati for not naming a head coach of the U.S. national team after eight months has resonance. The clock is ticking and the team still is without a full-time coach with the Gold Cup and Copa America on the horizon in June.

Wynalda and his sidekick on ESPN2 — former U.S. coach Bruce Arena — believe Bob Bradley, who was named interim coach in December, is the right man for the job. Bradley has chalked up three wins and a tie in exhibition games since taking over, including Sunday’s impressive 3-0 win over Ecuador and Wednesday’s frustrating scoreless tie with Guatemala.

The players seem to like Bradley. He’s American. He has an eye for talent. Remember, it was Bradley, who brought Peter Nowak — now his assistant coach — to the Chicago Fire. And golden boy Landon Donovan, who hadn’t scored in 18 games, has suddenly come alive, notching five goals in the four games under Bradley. So should Gulati now remove the interim tag from Bradley’s title?

It’s not that easy. For Gulati, this is the biggest decision he will make in his four-year term at the helm of U.S. soccer, so it is understandable why the Columbia University economics professor is taking his time. He has to get it right.

Look at the situation in England, where the English Football Association hired Steve McClaren right after the World Cup, after its failing to nab Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari. Now McClaren is one of the most maligned men in the country and the English team looks like it might not qualify for Euro 2008.

Bradley has done well. But exhibition games and qualifying for the World Cup are two different things. Gulati is looking far down the road and World Cup qualifying games won’t begin until late next year.

It has been tough for Gulati. He thought he had former German coach Jurgen Klinsmann on board for the job last December, but when the deal fell through at the last minute Gulati brought in Bradley while he treaded water. Now that Bradley has done reasonably well, Gulati has been left with a dilemma — does he hire Bradley, who has limited experience on the international level but is learning on the job, or go with someone who already has proven credentials coaching at the highest level?

The rub against Bradley is that he is viewed as a disciple — a clone even — of Arena, and Gulati wants fresh blood. Gulati says he is in talks with overseas coaches. Names such as French coach Gerard Houllier, Manchester United assistant coach Carlos Queiroz and Argentine coach Jose Pekerman have been mentioned. But European-based candidates can’t get into talks until their club’s seasons end in May. So for the next few months, Bradley will be left hanging while Gulati ponders the latest biggest decision of his life.

As for Wynalda, he gets a “yellow card” for his thoughtless outbursts, but a “game ball” for his entertainment value.

England’s woes — Life is so tough for English coach McClaren that the mass-selling tabloid the Sun declared that the besieged coach should “Get off the planet.” The paper had an illustration showing McClaren strapped to a rocket and even went so far as to spend $90 to officially name a star “Planet McDonut” with the International Star Registry in the coach’s dishonor.

World Cup entrants — A record 204 teams have entered the preliminary competition for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Only the Philippines, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam and Laos have not registered. In 2006, 198 teams entered, and a then-record 199 entered the 2002 event. The first qualifying matches will take place in August 2007. With South Africa as host, the other 31 places are allocated as follows: Africa will get five teams, Asia 41/2, South America 41/2, CONCACAF 31/2, Oceania 1/2 and Europe will get 13 teams.

McClaren has had the worst run in his first eight games (3-2-3) of any of England’s coaches dating to 1963.

Roundup — Mia Hamm, 33, gave birth to twin girls on Wednesday in Los Angeles. …

MLS commissioner Don Garber took a 45-minute tour of PGE Park in Portland, Ore., on Tuesday. The league is seeking an expansion team in the Pacific Northwest, with Seattle and Portland as target cities. …

Manchester United is still ranked by Forbes magazine as being more valuable than any American sports franchise, including the New York Yankees and Washington Redskins.

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