Friday, July 29, 2011

Thanks Bob

TigerBlog didn't watch any of the 2002 World Cup, the one that was in South Korea and Japan.

He watched way more of the 2006 World Cup. By 2010, he had watched and followed most of the qualifying rounds and almost every game of the tournament itself. He's still annoyed that Ireland didn't get in after France's Thierry Henry's obvious hand-ball wasn't called, and he would have loved to have seen how the U.S. would have done had it gotten past Ghana.

Of course, there was the goal that Landon Donovan scored against Algeria in stoppage time, one of the single greatest sporting moments TB can remember.

It didn't hurt of course that the call on the play was from Ian Darke, the best announcer in the world.

Through the years, TigerBlog has come to appreciate the enormity of international soccer, especially as it contrasts with American professional sports and in particular how it's televised. TB realized that, with no commercials and a two-hour block featuring excellent announcers, international soccer is the perfect TV sport.

Of course, it didn't hurt that that the head coach of the United States men's team was a Princeton alum, a former Princeton coach whom TB knew, covered during his newspaper days and worked with when he first came to Princeton, not to mention the brother of the current Princeton baseball coach.

And now, 13 months after the U.S. defeated Algeria to win its group at the World Cup, Bob Bradley is out as the American coach.

It's the nature of being a coach at the highest level professional or international level that you're almost certainly going to be fired one day. That day came yesterday for Bradley.

His last appearance as the U.S. coach didn't go well, with a group loss to Panama and then a finals loss to Mexico at the Gold Club. The Mexican game was a disaster, as the U.S. jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead only to see the game get away, 4-2.

The sport of soccer is this country is unlike any other.

TigerBlog has seen different surveys that give different information about which sport more American children play than any other, but TB's hunch and experience is that it's soccer. At least, they do when they're really, really young, since soccer is about the first sport every kid seems to get signed up to play.

Usually, this is in the four-year-old range, when they play co-ed, 3 v 3 with no goalies.

Still, for all the kids who play it, soccer still lags behind in the American sports conscience, way behind football, basketball, baseball and even hockey.

On the international scene, the U.S. team has gotten past the days when making the World Cup is the goal, though it hasn't quite reached the elite level either. The goal for U.S. soccer obviously is to win a World Cup, or reach the semifinals at least.

The question is how to get there. And who can get the team there.

The first question is the tough one to answer. The current youth system loses players throughout, and the ones who do stay with the sport go through a highly structured process that robs American players of individual creativity, especially on offense. At least that's what people who know way more about the sport tell TigerBlog.

The answers to that problem aren't very easy.

Neither is the fact that the best American athletes overwhelmingly go to the other sports, especially basketball and football. It doesn't take a genius to see that if the elite of American athletes played soccer, the country would be much more competitive internationally.

Of course, those issues couldn't be solved by Bob Bradley alone. Or any other coach who takes over the program.

The reality is that it's rare for a coach to go through two World Cup cycles. The other reality for U.S. soccer is that the next coach will face the same challenges Bradley did.

TigerBlog is getting ready for the start of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

Still, it won't be the same, not without Bradley as the U.S. coach.

Every time TB watched the U.S. team play, at least part of the interest was in the Princeton connection. Now that that is gone, it won't be exactly like it was before.

Of course, the World Cup has become one of his favorite sporting events, and Bob Bradley is largely responsible for that.

TigerBlog was sad to see the news about Bradley, as he assumes all Princeton fans were.

Nobody will be able to convince TigerBlog that he didn't do a great job as U.S. coach - or that he deserved to lose the job.

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