I stayed up late last night watching the USA-Mexico game, so if your idea of sport is some steroid-juiced bumpkin pounding a pea over a wall, smashing someone’s head in, or swatting a basketball away bear with me. (Picture from MLSnet.)
The game was the typical smash-and-grab we’ve become used to since Bruce Arena became the USA coach in 1998. The team concentrated on its defense, got lucky on a set play, and then dug in deeper until Mexico made a mistake that allowed a quick counter. Another 2-0 victory. (That’s Landon Donovan rounding the Mexico goalkeeper and putting the game away.)
This is sad (in a way) because Mexico plays beautiful football and they love the game so much. The tactics Arena introduced (and interim coach Bob Bradley employs) come directly from the way Germany played it for years. It’s not pretty, let alone beautiful, but it’s effective.
Why Mexico doesn’t just find themselves a big-footed power kicker, fall down a few times and beat up anyone who comes near their box is somewhat beyond me (at least when they play us). Instead they insist on playing beautiful (Beautiful!)…believe it or not Mexico hasn’t scored a goal on U.S. soil this Millenium.
Anyway, the real news was made at halftime, only no one noticed.
Suni Gulati (below), who runs USA Soccer, was interviewed about the US coaching situation. Bob Bradley was named as "interim" coach after Bruce Arena failed to progress in the 2006 World Cup. Arena has been complaining loudly (as an ESPN analyst) that Bradley deserves the job full-time. But
Gulati insisted the federation will stick to its original timetable, which is to make a final decision on Bradley’s status in May (and here’s the news) "after the European season ends."
Now why is this last news?
In all the talk over the vacancy the leading candidate is assumed to be Jurgen Klinsmann. Klinsmann transformed the German national team after taking over
a year ago in 2004. They played beautiful, flowing, attacking football, and while they wound up losing in the semi-finals (at home, no less, to an Italian team which played the way they used to) the German people loved it. Klinsmann did this while still keeping his home in Newport Beach, California. (He became known as California Klinsy.) He danced around the American job for months before taking himself out of the running, after which we got Bradley and his interim tag.
Klinsmann is still at his home by the sea. If you’re waiting on the European season to end before making a run at someone, it’s not Klinsmann.
So who is it?
I believe it’s this man, Sam Allardyce.
Allardyce presently runs Bolton Wanderers, which he took from the second division of English football to its present spot near the top. He was a finalist for the job of England coach (it went to Steve McClaren), but he has said publicly he’s gotten as far as he can with Bolton, that the franchise is performing to its capacity, that he wants a new challenge. He has also been the subject of "bung" allegations, basically kicking-back transfer fees to agents. England does not look so good to "Big Sam."
What would he bring to USA Soccer?
Publicity for one thing. He’s a great interview. Leno and Letterman would love him. USA Soccer needs a star coach to keep David Beckham from sucking all the oxygen out of the room and doing to MLS what the New York Cosmos did to the NASL back in the day. I can’t imagine Bradley on anyone’s couch, except sleeping.
Training is another thing. Allardyce has been able to take over-the-hill stars, give them a regimen that’s heavy on things like massage, yoga and diet, then get three or four more great years out of them for less than the price other managers pay for a 17-year old prospect. That’s something USA Soccer needs badly.
Tactically he’s strong. He adapts to his personnel. He’s a winner. He’s respected at the highest levels in Europe. He knows everyone and can get us friendlies against all the big clubs. He also knows the top people in South America and can help us get games there. He can help our best prospects get good placements on the continent, and that’s how they’ll develop.
We’ll know in May. I could be all wet. But speculation is half the fun of following any sport.