PASADENA, Calif. – U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati declined to show support for under-fire head coach Bob Bradley after the national team lost the CONCACAF Gold Cup final to Mexico 4-2.
Gulati, who doesn't normally shun opportunities to address the media, refused to comment on the matter of Bradley's future, claiming he needed to leave the Rose Bowl immediately in order to catch a red-eye flight back to New York.
Bradley certainly could have used support at the end of a night which began with great promise when his team burst into a two-goal lead, only to see its hopes of lifting the trophy fritter away in the face of an outstanding Mexican performance.
The coach held onto his job following the USA's exit from the World Cup last summer, but only after Gulati had considered other candidates, believed to include former Germany boss Juergen Klinsmann.
However, a series of uninspiring performances both leading up to and during the Gold Cup piled more pressure on him heading into Saturday's final.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard insisted doubts over Bradley's position were unfair.
"A game like today has nothing to do with Bob," Howard said. "It is about us. We stepped over the line. The game plan was right and we didn't get it done."
Forward Landon Donovan would not be drawn on the subject of Bradley, offering a curt response when quizzed as to whether scrutiny over his job was justified. "That is not my concern," Donovan said.
Saturday's defeat and the manner in which it came about was arguably Bradley's lowest point in charge, such is the significance placed upon this local rivalry with opponents from south of the border. Gulati now has a decision to make whether to stick with his man or to make a switch with a view to the next World Cup in 2014, for which qualifying begins next year.
A win at the Rose Bowl would have certainly cemented Bradley's position, and the evening started in wonderfully positive fashion for the home side. Although Mexico was supported by more than 80 percent of the 93,420 in attendance, most of those were silenced just eight minutes in.
Freddy Adu, the former boy wonder whose career dipped drastically since his teenage years, was given a shock call-up and had a hand in both of his team's goals. Adu's pinpoint corner from the right was met by Michael Bradley, who appeared quickly at the near post and guided a header into the net.
If that was the beginning that the often slow-starting Americans could only have dreamed of, soon they would go into wonderland. Adu was at the center of it all again after 23 minutes, holding off his defender with strength and a turn of speed, and finding an open Clint Dempsey, who squared to Donovan and left him the sort of chance he rarely misses to open up a two-goal lead.
For the USA though, that was as good as it got. Within six minutes the fight-back had begun, with Pablo Barrera sliding the ball over the goal line thanks to an assist from Javier Hernandez. If Bradley's team could have made it to halftime still protecting a lead, they might have stood a chance. Andres Guardado had other ideas though, hitting a messy equalizer that left the USA rattled.
Most worrying for American fans, there seemed to be little in the way of new ideas after the break and Mexico began to run the defense ragged. Barrera added a second goal at the 50-minute mark, before Giovanni dos Santos, who terrorized the USA defense all night, added the best goal of the night with an exquisite late chip to round out scoring.
Some critics of the Americans will look to players such as substitute left-back Jonathan Bornstein and fellow defender Eric Lichaj as scapegoats, but in reality both were left woefully alone – thanks to their midfield – on far too many occasions.
A healthy share of the blame must go to coach Bradley, after a bitter and disappointing night where the national team lost the bragging rights of the region, snatched from under its nose in the suburbs of Los Angeles.
Mexico is a fast and skillful team, full of legs and youth and running and imagination. Their current FIFA world ranking of 28th is nonsense – they are justifiably at least 10 places ahead of that. Losing to them is no disgrace, but after holding a two-goal lead the USA had no answers once its Plan A was successfully combated by its rival. There are serious concerns, and serious doubts over whether Bradley will still be around next time they play.
American soccer is right to feel concerned right now and some serious improvements are certainly needed. Whether Bradley is the man deemed capable of pulling off another revival remains to be seen.