An urgently needed victory did nothing to ease the pressure on Bob Bradley on Monday night, as the under-fire United States head coach’s struggles continued.
Bradley’s team stumbled through to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, but only after an unconvincing and uninspiring 1-0 win against Guadeloupe, one of the smallest and weakest teams in the tournament.
At this exact point a year ago Bradley was in good shape, having led the USA to a 1-1 draw with England to begin a World Cup campaign that would see the team top Group C.
Now though, he is in desperate trouble, having suffered a humiliating loss to Panama in the second Gold Cup group game, and his team has struggled to perform in each of its last four games.
Monday’s clash in Kansas City did nothing more than serve its purpose of booking qualification for the next stage and indeed, has actually reduced Bradley’s stock further.
US Soccer president Sunil Gulati has remained steadfastly tight-lipped on the managerial situation, but if the Americans fail to win the Gold Cup on home soil, the coach’s head could be on the chopping block.
Bradley has never been the most popular choice among USA fans, but silenced some of the critics at the 2009 Confederations Cup and then took the team to the final 16 of the World Cup.
Opinion against him has swung quickly and resoundingly over the last 10 days, ever since a 4-0 hammering by Spain in Boston, when a depleted team was emphatically swept aside by the world champion.
That result may have been quickly forgotten if the side had conjured a strong response and lived up to its billing as one of CONCACAF’s dominant teams in the Gold Cup.
Instead, it has been unconvincing throughout, and the matchup with Guadeloupe was no different. Jozy Altidore’s fine first-half strike aside, the home side never took control in the way that was expected.
The team has a similar look to the one which showed up in South Africa last year, but has none of the same level of confidence about it and seems thoroughly disjointed.
That’s what will hurt Bradley most when decision time comes as to whether he remains in employment in a couple of weeks’ time. Even though the coach signed a new long-term contract a couple of months after the World Cup, Gulati felt an opportunity was lost last summer and wants to be certain he has the right man in charge for Brazil in 2014.
If a change is going to be made, it needs to be done quickly. Bradley would save himself by winning the Gold Cup, but for that outcome to occur a drastic increase in performance would be needed.
At this point, a quarterfinal against Jamaica – a game for which the USA would have been a resounding favorite before the tournament started – could by no means be taken for granted.
After Panama’s draw with Canada earlier in the night, Bradley’s team had no chance of topping the group but a comfortable victory over Guadeloupe was both needed and expected.
Instead, the small Caribbean nation put up a strong fight and could even have grabbed a point after the Americans failed to put the game away. Clint Dempsey hit the crossbar with a free kick late and then failed to convert an opportunity just in front of goal.
[Related: Clint Dempsey whiffs on goal]
Much more will be needed in Washington D.C. on Sunday, and surely, after four straight mediocre performances, improvement can be expected.
If not, then Bradley’s days may be numbered.