By Dave Johnson
So now what?
The United States' run at the World Cup in South Africa was thrilling but somehow incomplete for American fans. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about U.S. Soccer, but in sport the future is about as certain as the flight of a Jabulani ball.
That lack of certainty about the future only added to the Americans' frustration in losing to Ghana 2-1. The players are dealing with the harsh reality of accomplishing so much but still failing to seize the moment and continue the dream.
Suddenly the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is both light years away and at the same time, just around the corner. It is clear that there is a core group of players to build around, but as Charlie Davies car accident shockingly reminded us, there are no guarantees and there are so many variables.
There is second-guessing about some of head coach Bob Bradleys decisions around team selections at this World Cup. That goes with the territory, but there should be no second-guessing that Bradley was indeed the right man for the job and could still be going forward.
Like Bruce Arena before, Bradley has earned the right to either stay or go out on his terms. Arena didn't become a bad coach overnight because of the disappointments at Germany 2006, and he continues to prove his worth on the sidelines with the L.A. Galaxy.
It is possible that Bradleys decision on his future with national team could be made for him. Bradleys contract expires at the end of December and United State Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati is disappointed by what he considers a missed opportunity in South Africa.
The team is capable of more, Gulati said. I think the players know it. I think Bob knows it. At that level, we are disappointed we didnt get to play another 90 minutes at least.
While Bradley is very much his own person, it is impossible not to link him with Arena. The two turned D.C. United into the flagship franchise of MLS, and then Bradley carried that knowledge on to success winning the 1998 MLS Cup in the first year of the Chicago Fire.
It is fair to say Bradley has options. U.S. Soccer would be served well with him in charge for another four years. Bradley is a product of the American soccer experience and his clear understanding of an American players journey to the highest level should not be discounted.
It is also possible Bradley might be missing the day-to-day interaction involved in being in charge of a club. Certainly Bradley would be an amazing catch for an MLS team looking to build long term success. Perhaps Bradley will get a call from overseas. American players have succeeded in Europe so why not a coach? It is doubtful Bradley would get an offer from a top tier league, but there is every reason to believe he could be successful if given a chance in one of the Scandinavian countries.
Whether Bradley stays or goes, the quality and depth of the national team is better than it was four years ago. Bradleys son, Michael, is just starting to make an impact. Landon Donovan still has more to give and in goal Tim Howard is just coming into his prime.
Its hard not to focus on the top end of the pyramid, but its also important to take a close look at the base and question whether enough is being done to develop the American player. For all the good feelings around South Africa 2010, the reality is that the U.S. was seconds away from an early exit.
To make the World Cup is no longer a question for the U.S. but an expectation. After this year's tournament, it is fair to say that failing to advance from the group stage will no longer be an acceptable outcome at future World Cups. With success, demands must be placed on the United States Soccer Federation to make sure it has the right plans and the right resources for youth development programs--and the players in them--to flourish.
There has never been a question about the U.S. having the right facilities and finances to achieve success in soccer, but with the World Cup in the rear-view mirror, the focus needs to shift to the road ahead and the next generation of American players.