Bradley instills his own philosophy
New interim U.S. coach Bob Bradley may not be a drastic change from former coach Bruce Arena, but the little things may be the differences that matter most.
Some players training in Bradley's first camp noted certain similarities to Arena.
"They're both intense," said defender Todd Dunivant. "They both push you and they don't let you get away with being lazy, being sloppy."
"The differences aren't much," said another defender, Heath Pearce. "Bob is hard on us. Bruce had high expectations as well."
Bradley's focus was mentioned often.
"Bradley is very intense," said forward Nate Jaqua. "We're working hard, so that's good. I'm improving."
There were no apologies for the difficulty of training from Bradley.
"People need to realize that the work is hard sometimes," said Bradley. "You can't always just tell people what they want to hear. But there's an understanding that everybody's in something together and if you create that kind of environment, where people believe in the work, and trust each other, then there's a better chance for success."
Success will be needed to salve the disappointment that preceded Bradley's appointment.
"It was a letdown for the soccer community in general -- and by no means is that a comment on Bob Bradley, it's just that there was a tremendous amount of focus and speculation on Juergen Klinsmann," said Alexi Lalas of the fallout after the U.S. soccer federation failed to land Germany's former coach.
Lalas, who as then-GM in New York dismissed Bradley as coach there, offered a qualified approval of the U.S. choice.
"I think that Bob is a wonderful selection in that he is going to work his ass off, probably harder than any coach out there. He also recognizes an opportunity when it's given to him, whether it was with Chivas USA, or now with the national team. I certainly wish him well. I think that given the proper circumstances, he could have some tremendous success."
Though some maintain that Bradley is merely a placeholder for whoever will eventually be named, Landon Donovan believed such a view was unfair.
"He deserves a chance like anybody else," said Donovan. "He knows as well as anyone that he's got to prove himself."
In a relatively short amount of time in camp, Bradley has tried to emphasize certain elements.
"Tactical plays and positioning on the field so far," said midfielder Justin Mapp. "Learning where you need to be at certain times and how quickly you can get there. Just overall, he's done well."
Still, a lot was derived from an established pattern with the U.S.
"[Arena and Bradley] both come from the same line of thinking," Dunivant said. "4-4-2-system, though they vary it a little bit. They both encourage attacking, creative soccer."
"They have similar coaching philosophies," said Pearce. "Of course, they have individual ways of presenting it as different."
How the players view Bradley's tenure will be a crucial factor in whether or not he stays on. The last interim coach for the U.S., Steve Sampson, was granted the post permanently in August 1995 after several players pushed for him to be named.
"Steve had, and Bob for that matter, had the advantage of seeing what their predecessors did," said Lalas, who was a member of the squad back in Sampson's era.
"Inevitably, a new coach will come in and change what was bad, and hopefully continue with the good. That gives you a little grace period, because it's a breath of fresh air."
Such revitalization could be deceiving, cautioned Lalas.
"It's a double-edged sword," said Lalas. "Certainly, there was part of that in 1995. We had some tremendous results, and then unfortunately, we couldn't sustain that positive atmosphere and environment that existed when the change was made. I think that Bob is smart enough to learn from the past and not make those same mistakes again. But yes, there is a danger of that happening."
Sampson was fired after the 1998 World Cup, with several players openly criticizing the coach. Nearly a decade later, the dynamics among the U.S. players are a priority for Bradley.
"In order to be able to get at the important things, you need to be able to have the trust and respect of everybody inside the group," said Bradley.
In order to build those aspects, Bradley made some changes to how the squad functioned off the field, instituting group meals to start each training day. Previously, players ate on their own, meeting up at training sessions.
"[The purpose is] to be able to cut out as many distractions as possible and make people appreciate being together and talking about the kind of things that are important to becoming a good team," said Bradley.
Another player, who did win a World Cup, partially influenced Bradley's decision. Youri Djorkaeff had related an anecdote that Bradley took to heart.
"It was after a meal [in 1997] and it was just Youri, [Lilian] Thuram and [Zinedine] Zidane," said Bradley. "The three were talking about what would need to happen for the group to win something. I just think the seeds for those kinds of successes are planted when you get together in every camp."
Perhaps such small adjustments will have a major impact that will be borne out in the team's first few games. Though the evolution might not be readily apparent, sometimes vital moves aren't always the obvious ones.
"The philosophy is that a lot of work goes on on the inside," said Bradley.
Against Denmark, Bradley and the world will see some of the results.
One observer in particular could be the person with the power to remove Bradley's interim status.
"I have a lot of faith that he'll lead our program in every way that's positive," said Sunil Gulati, USSF president. "I think this group of players has a lot of faith in him, as well as the players that aren't here, the ones primarily in Europe. We'll see how the program goes."
Andrea Canales covers MLS and women's college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She also writes for topdrawersoccer.com, lasoccernews.com, soccer365.com and contributes to a blog, Sideline Views. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.