October 11, 2009
By Michael Lewis
GULATI ON BRADLEY
'I'm not sure how much more we can ask
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras -- Just after referee Roberto Moreno sounded the final whistle signifying the U.S.'s World Cup clinching 3-2 victory over Honduras was official Saturday night, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati immediately went over to coach Bob Bradley and gave him a hug and a thank you.
|Sunil Gulati on Bob Bradley: "I'm not sure how much more we can ask."
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Bradley has been the center of criticism from media and fans during a qualifying run that many fans and media felt should have been easier, in terms of how it played and how close some of the results were.
Fans called for Bradley's head while the team struggled through the early stage of the FIFA Confederations Cup in June before the Americans bounced back to finish as runners-up to Brazil in South Africa.
"That's part of the game and Bob knows that," Gulati said outside the team locker room at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano. "I'm sure somebody is going to criticize him because Conor [Casey] didn't get a hat-trick. Jozy [Altidore] might have or something. Who knows?"
Gulati rattled off the former Fire coach's accomplishments. That included recording the highest winning percentage in U.S. Soccer history (.688 off a 34-14-5 record since 2007) and capturing the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup, which paved qualified the team to play in the Confederations Cup. In South Africa, the U.S. stunned then top-ranked Spain, 2-0, in the semifinals and led eventual-champion Brazil at the half, 2-0, before succumbing, 3-2.
Gulati reminded reporters that the Confederations Cup team was a relatively young one.
"I'm not sure how much more we can ask," he said.
The same went for the players. Landon Donovan, who scored one goal and created another Saturday, has impressed with Bradley's work ethic.
"Bob is one of the most prepared coaches I've ever met, ever been around," he said. "He makes sure that we're never not ready for a game. So, it doesn't mean we always have our best teams. This game was a culmination of what Bob has been talking to us about for a long time. It came together a little bit in the Confederations Cup. We know that if we play this way, we have enough talented players to play with the good teams in the world."
There is little doubt the U.S. has better players. MLS has improved considerably since its inception in 1996 and more American players perform in Europe.
The latter might have been great expectations.
"Do I think some of it [criticism] is unfair? Yeah. But it's nowhere near unfair in a lot of other places in the world. so that's part of the job," Gulati said. "We don't have a lot of players playing at ManU and Barcelona. We're getting there. Those are the best clubs in the world. So people's expectations to be that we're going to play like that or a high level . . . every time, that's not the case.
"A lot of a big name teams in quotes have struggled in places like this in Costa Rica and obviously in Mexico to get results. So we've grinded some of those out. Winning here when they have been 8-0 here is a damn good result with how much this game meant not just to the team and the federations and the players, but to the country."
Gulati was proud of the fact the U.S. has qualified for six consecutive World Cup going back to Italia '90.
"Not too many teams have done that," he said. "An emotional day for everyday. Obviously for us to qualify early, which we've done every time since 20 years ago against Trinidad, great joy and also frankly great relief of not having to fight the last day."