Now this isn’t to say that Bradley is performing avant jazz by bebopping and scatting confusing and cryptic phrases on our ears. No, far from it. However, following the 2-1 victory over the national team from Turkey on Saturday afternoon at the Linc, it was evident that the coach believes his team has some more work to do before its first match against England on June 12.
Again, Bradley wasn’t hiding anything, but then again he really didn’t have to. There was no conspiratorial tone from Bradley whatsoever. Still, it seemed as if Bradley was trying to sell the notion that everything was going to be OK.
Certainly that’s a relative term when it comes to U.S. soccer in international competition. Still, based on the team’s painful 0-3 showing in the last World Cup and the experience of the players on the current roster, Team USA has to be a little better than OK. It’s the round of 16 or bust in South Africa for the U.S.
Still, Bradley touched on a few themes after Saturday’s game against Turkey. Call them buzzwords for a lack of a better term. Based off a first half where Turkey clearly outplayed the U.S. and took a 1-0 lead into the locker room and a second half where Bradley’s team dominated the action, those terms were reaction, transition, response and most importantly, understanding.
In other words, Bradley is still doing a lot of team building and teaching with his team with the World Cup to begin in 11 days.
“The type of game we were in pushed the team very hard and that’s what you want from a game like today,” Bradley said. “The response, especially in the second half, was a strong one. We did a good job pushing through the second goal, we had a couple of chances to get the third goal, but when you consider everything that’s gone on the last few weeks it puts us in a good position and I think now we’re ready to move on to South Africa.”
See, he thinks the team is ready. Bradley knows there are still plenty of question marks with his team, and though the game against Turkey ended well, it should be noted that it is not a team that will be competing in the World Cup and is currently rated 29th in the latest FIFA world rankings. So when Bradley talks about the team pacing itself during the first half it raises an eyebrow considering goalie Tim Howard exploded out of the penalty area to bark at a teammate for some perceived lackadaisical defense.
If the U.S. team was pacing itself, someone forgot to tell Howard.
“We were a little all over the place,” Howard said. “I’ve been saying that’s been something we have to try to get better at, and we don’t have a lot of time to do it.”
Of course there is the notion that the U.S. team was still trying to figure out some things. During the first half the team looked slow and disorganized—reaction and response as Bradley pointed out—but when the coach subbed in Jose Torres and Robbie Findlay and paired them with star midfielders Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, everything clicked.
In that regard, yes, there was an understanding of what the team can do and who can do it. That will be valuable when the team gets going in South Africa—especially considering the team has a favorable draw in its group. Sure, England is No. 8 in the FIFA rankings (the U.S. is 14th), but there are two winnable games against Slovenia (23rd) on June 18 and Algeria (31st) on June 23. Potential opponents in the round of 16 are Australia (20th), Ghana (32nd), Serbia (16th) and the always tough Germany (6th).
No, the U.S. is not going to win the World Cup. At least not until the next Kobe Bryant and LeBron James opt for soccer instead of other sports.In other words, this could be a very good year for U.S. Soccer… that is if it can take care of a few issues before the games start. That means no more repeats of the first half of the game against Turkey in Philadelphia.
“It was a slap in the face what happened in the first half and they hit us hard,” Howard said. “They were getting too many chances, too many good opportunities and good looks that we had to tighten up. …”
Like Howard said, there isn’t a lot of time to iron it out, but Bradley remains positive. He has to.
“There’s a lot of things on the field to build on, a real good push when we got behind and in the end a good heartfelt win against a good team so, in that regard, we accomplished a lot,” the coach said.
Now they have to accomplish something in South Africa.