Did Bob Bradley’s substitution policy (or delay in instituting one) doom the U.S. vs. Brazil?

Posted on 28 June 2009 by ASN Staff

Perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be. The U.S. Men’s National Team put on a brave showing and jumped out to a shocking 2-0 lead in the first half of the Confederations Cup final at Johannesburg Sunday. But a resurgent second half performance by Brazil, along with a refusal by USMNT head coach Bob Bradley to go to his bench until it was too late, doomed the Yanks, who lost 3-2.

The U.S. was holding on to a 2-1 lead midway through the second half when Brazilian coach Dunga brought on a pair of fresh players, Daniel Alves and Blumer Elano, in one swoop. The USMNT defense at that point looked stretched and at the breaking point; its players tired. The Brazilians, denied the apparent tying goal when the referee failed to see a ball had crossed the line moments earlier, had reestablished control of the match. With two more fresh players, surely the balance of power would tip in Brazil’s favor even more. It was, in short, a necessary time for Bradley to go to his bench.

Why he refused to do so remains an open question. Presumably, Bradley lacked confidence in players at his disposal (Sacha Kljestan, Luis Robles, Marvell Wynne, Heath Pearce, DaMarcus Beasley, Jonathan Bornstein, Conor Casey, Jose Francisco Torres and Freddy Adu, for the record). This is understandable on the one hand, as none of the aforementioned impressed much in recent national team play (then again, neither did most of the starters until the Egypt game). Perhaps Bradley was simply hoping to hold on and nurse whatever minutes he could from his starters. For whatever reason, his response did not come until the 74th minute–nine full minutes after Dunga’s move–and after Brazil had equalized. At that point it was too late. The U.S. was on the ropes and Lucio’s game-winner in the 83rd minute the logical conclusion.

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On the bright side…

Still, despite this disappointment, nobody in the U.S. Men’s National Team camp has anything to apologize for. The U.S. run was nothing short of remarkable. The semifinal victory over Spain will go into the annals of great upsets in the history of U.S. team sports (though we agree with those who say it bears no comparison with certain events in Lake Placid, N.Y., circa 1980). After two subpar group stage matches against Italy and Brazil, the U.S. stepped up with some of its best soccer ever. Yes, even better than 2002. That gives U.S. soccer fans reason to be optimistic going into the final rounds of Hex qualifiers and ultimately, next year’s World Cup tournament itself. A lot can still happen between now and then, of course. And no matter its progress at the Confederations Cup, the U.S. still has no realistic chance of competing for the 2010 World Cup. Anybody who says otherwise, in the mainstream media or elsewhere, simply has no clue about the sport or its showpiece tournament. Fact.

Nevertheless, U.S. soccer fans have many reasons to feel gratified. Not only did their team exceed expectations, but their media even took (some) notice. Those are two major accomplishments that speak to the bright future of the sport in this country. We’ll take it.

Read more about the USMNT’s loss to Brazil here, including player ratings and the lessons it should take from the tournament.

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