the next big step

for those of us who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, the idea of american soccer players in europe pretty much only came true when they visited the old continent for vacations. fantasies of american’s playing in europe were almost exactly that… fantasies.

sure their were pioneers who crossed the pond for short stints. john kerr played for clubs like portsmouth, peterborough united and linfield of northern ireland. paul caligiuri played for the prestigious meppen (4th division), hansa rostock (3rd division) and freiburg (bundesliga!), all of germany. i recall ’94 cup stars cobi jones (coventry city), alexi lalas (padova) and eric wynalda (saarbrücken and vfl bochum) all having some short playing careers with teams that weren’t exactly “elite.”

once upon a time, when kasey keller actually had hair, american's had to prove they could make the giant leap to europe's elite leagues.

so needless to say, we weren’t seeing many american’s living the “european dream” and making their way to the big leagues of europe.

it wasn’t until the late 90’s when yanks started to make regular appearances in some of europe’s top leagues. claudio reyna (wolfsburg and rangers), kasey keller (millwall, leicester city and spurs), earnie stewart (willem ii, NAC breda), brad friedel (liverpool, blackburn and aston villa) and even john harkes (sheffield wednesday and west ham) became regulars in elite level competitions…albeit not always for the best teams.

it was those players making themselves established names for top level sides that was the first big step for american’s in in europe.

that they were able to hold their places in those leagues paved the way for clint dempsey to become a star at fulham, tim howard to become one of the best keepers in england at everton, and jozy altidore to be given several half-chances in two of the top leagues in europe. without that big step, players like stuart holden would have had little chance to ever become a starter for bolton, or marcus hahnemann to find regular work in the top flight in england, or for oguchi onyewu to make a disastrous “dream move” to a.c. milan.

but despite all of this success, yanks still aren’t exactly respected overseas. it’s taken one big step (and a multitude of little ones) to get us where we are today, and it’s likely going to take another big step for us to truly gain the respect of our peers across the pond.

so what is that next big step for american soccer?

to answer my question above that none of you probably even tried to answer, the next big step for american football is for one of us to land coaching jobs in europe’s top flights.

look, the euros don’t trust us about anything, including topics away from the pitch. when it comes to the economy, they’d rather listen to germany. when it comes to style, they prefer the designers in paris and florence to those of new york and l.a. they like our music, but they’re better at it then we are (for the most part).

as detailed above, they’re only now beginning to trust american’s in their football. they definitely don’t trust us to be owners, unless of course it’s to prevent a russian from buying their team. and while we’ve made headway in that department on the pitch, europeans sure as shit haven’t entrusted one of their sides to being guided by an american mind from the bench.

putting an american on the pitch is one thing, because if he screws up, you can sub him out. but to put an american on the bench, in the changing rooms, and directing on the training pitch is much more of an “investment” for the club. it’s not like you can just sub him off for a portion of the game; he’s making the decisions the whole game. and the next one. and the one after that. you can fire him, but that’s expensive.

giving an american the gaffer’s role means you have to totally trust his decision making, his strategies, and his ability to perform under the intense pressure of the media and fans. and that’s why this would be the next big step for american’s in the world of football. if an american manager can deliver in the international realm, we will convince everyone that we’re relevant and worth the risk.

to this point, there really haven’t been any american coaches that are even worthy enough to be considered for such a role. steve sampson? get out of here with your 3-6-1. bruce arena? maybe, but he showed his failings a the 2006 finals in germany. the mere fact that our national team often looks abroad first to fill it’s coaching vacancies is testament enough to say we haven’t ever produced a high quality coach.

so who is the man that’s going to take this next big step for us?

aston villa fans should shudder at the thought of seeing this face being made on their sidelines.

everyone’s favorite i-robot and current USMNT coach, bob bradley, certainly thinks he’s got a big enough stride.

i guess based on pedigree alone, bradley probably is the most qualified coach we’ve ever produced. he’s been relatively successful at the collegiate and MLS levels, and he’s done well enough with the national team. taking the team to the confederations cup final in 2009 (with a massively impressive win against spain), as well as “winning” the group at this summer’s world cup are enough to say he did his job sufficiently.

but don’t mistake those words as my endorsement for bradley to be the first american coach in europe. remember, i’m the same guy that said he needed to be fired from the USMNT post during the confederations cup. sure i wrote that before the spain win, but my reasons are unchanged.

bradley’s massive short coming as a manager is his ability to adjust tactics quickly enough in a game to make a difference. i’m not saying i would be better at it than he would, but even extremely talented managers such as liverpool’s roy hodgson struggle with this from time to time.

the problem is that bradley struggles with it a lot. and at times, it’s against teams like honduras and trinidad & tobago. think what would happen when bradley’s side comes up against master tacticians such as old red nose, the professor or money mad mancini week in, week out.

and tactical agility won’t be the only thing facing bradley should he land the aston villa job:

  • martin o’niell ditching the team days before the season means that bob will be left with the task of reigning the team back in. that takes a lot of testicular fortitude, especially with head-strong players such as new arrival stephen ireland.
  • the villains are a club with ambition. the microscope of the press and fans will be heavily upon him, scrutinizing each move he does/doesn’t make.
  • oh yeah, and he has absolutely no experience managing in england. it doesn’t take a paragraph to say that the game is a bit different from MLS and the international realm. this also makes him an extremely risky pick for aston villa or any other club.

so if you hadn’t been able to read between the lines to this point, i’ll just come out and say it. i don’t think bob’s the man to take that next step for our country’s soccer development. whether or not he will actually get the job (or whether he’s even being considered for it) is another story all together.

maybe he could be the solution somewhere in europe… but if that’s the case, he definitely needs to aim lower. start off in the championship, or maybe in a smaller league (belgium or holland perhaps?). and even then, he’s still a risk for a multitude of reasons.

sorry, bob… you’re just not ready yet. but there’s always time, and there will certainly

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