Call Landon Donovan one of the best players in the tournament thus far and most footy fans would have a tough time arguing with you. Call Bob Bradley one of the best coaches in the tournament thus far and you’d be far more likely to be laughed out of the room.
Some USA fans unaffectionately refer to Bradley as “Robo Bob,” which gives you an idea of his perceived flexibility. Yet his willingness to substitute aggressively and change formations on the fly have been crucial to the US group victory.
Think back to the Slovenian game. First, he started Jose Torres in the game, looking for a creative spark after the dour offensive display against England. It turned out that the tiny Torres was a bigger boon for Slovenia than the US, and with a 2 goal deficit threatening to ruin his World Cup, Bradley inserted Maurice Edu. Edu, you might recall, struck the disallowed game winner from Donovan’s free kick. Bradley also removed Robbie Findley for Benny Feilhaber, which pushed Clint Dempsey up front and gave the US more punch in attack. During the second half, Bradley went from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-4 as he sought every way possible to achieve the tie. Once he did, he pulled back a few bodies, but not so many that the game shouldn’t have been won.
Against Algeria, with the US coming off another scoreless first half, Bradley played the Feilhaber card again. This time, he removed Herculez Gomez so that Dempsey could move up front and make room for Feilhaber in midfield. Feilhaber was involved in several chances, and Dempsey had the most memorable close calls of the second half. Bradley continued to add offense from the bench and push players forward as time ticked on, maximizing his chances for a winner even if it left his squad more exposed at the back. England fans would love to see such flexibility from Capello.
Arguably, the team plays so much better with Dempsey up front and Feilhaber in midfield that one might criticize Bradley for not starting with that lineup. However, while Feilhaber plays a good 45, he might not hold up for a full 90, and the US benefits from Dempsey’s versatility in midfield as teams feel each other out in the early part of the game.
Not only has Bob Bradley been shedding his “Robo” label with bold, offense-oriented game management, his decisions have played a significant role in the US comeback and victory over the last 2 games. Plastic Bob FTW.