By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
This time last year, the U.S. Soccer Federation was mulling over candidates to replace the departed Bruce Arena, when the name of German national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann shot to the top of the list.
Klinsmann was the unquestioned number one candidate of the federation, he had just led Germany to the semifinals of the World Cup, and was a world-renowned former striker on the German national team.
His hiring would have created a much-needed buzz for American soccer, but negotiations broke down for good on December 7 and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati was left to pick up the pieces.
Gulati had to be a little embarrassed that he could not lure Klinsmann to the States, so he acted swiftly and handed the position to reigning MLS Coach of the Year Bob Bradley the next day.
Bob Bradley was the MLS Coach of the Year in 2006.
At the time it looked like Gulati was applying a Band-Aid in a situation that clearly required a tourniquet, as evidenced by the fact that he only gave Bradley an interim label, not the full head coaching title.
While Bradley's resume did not jump out at the average American soccer fan, he was the winningest coach in MLS history, and had just guided Chivas USA to the playoffs in only the club's second year of existence.
Bradley had to prove himself in a short period of time, as he was charged with overseeing a transition period in American soccer.
With players like Claudio Reyna, Brian McBride and Brad Friedel moving on, Bradley had to rebuild a team that flopped in the World Cup, and also had to lay the foundation for a side that was setting high hopes for the next World Cup in 2010.
He was handed the unenviable task of trying to bring along young players to build for the future, while knowing that instant results would be needed if he wanted to shed his interim label.
It took only two games for Bradley's star to begin its ascent, as a 3-1 win over Denmark was followed by a 2-0 win over border-rivals Mexico. The United States then took down Ecuador 3-1 before a 0-0 draw against Guatemala.
Bradley's good run of results to start his tenure was all that Gulati needed to see, and he removed the interim tag from Bradley's title on May 16th, saying, "Bob Bradley has shown every one in the past few months just how ready he is for this job. Every decision he has made has been about the betterment of the team, and the betterment of the program, not about what might be best for the future of Bob Bradley. While it has only been a few months, you can already see those decisions paying dividends. I firmly believe Bob has the ability to take this program forward."
Gulati's confidence was rewarded just one month later, as Bradley led a youthful team on a 6-0 march to the Gold Cup title, culminating in another win over Mexico in the final.
Bradley's roster included youngsters like Benny Feilhaber and the coach's son Michael Bradley, in addition to regulars like Landon Donovan and Carlos Bocanegra.
Although the United States went to the Copa America tournament and lost all three games the following month, Bradley used the competition as an opportunity to match his younger players against teams like Argentina and Paraguay.
Losses to Sweden and Brazil followed, giving the US five straight defeats, but they rebounded nicely by winning games in Switzerland and South Africa to close out the year.
All in all, Bradley's first season has to be viewed as a tremendous success. He put together a 12-5-1 record on the year, including two wins over Mexico, the team's first ever win on the African continent, and a win over Switzerland that was just the fourth in 22 matches for the Stars and Stripes on European soil.
How's that for a transition period?
Bradley also held up his end of the deal in terms of player development, as a record 61 players earned caps in the team's 18 games.
The team that Bradley took to South Africa on Saturday included five players with less than five caps, including goalkeeper Brad Guzan and midfielder Maurice Edu, the MLS Rookie of the Year, who has shown plenty of promise in his two appearances for the team this year.
Fellow U-20 World Cup teammates Freddy Adu and Jozy Altidore were also on the roster, with Adu earning his first-ever start and Altidore coming on in the second half to receive his first cap in the 1-0 US victory.
"The result is important", Bradley said after the game. "We have some young players with us, so the experience to play in front of this kind of crowd and get a result is important.
"We have made a lot of progress this year, and it is nice to cap off a lot of hard work with a victory."
It is clear that Bradley understands what is expected of him. He has gotten results and, at the same time, made plenty of progress.
But that is what you come to expect from a coach that is proving to be anything but a second choice.