For quite some time now, soccer fans all across the fruited plain have questioned whether Bob Bradley has any idea what he's doing.
There's been a long-held suspicion by those of a more cynical bent (certainly not to include anyone in these parts, no sir) that his "March to the World Cup" campaign was nothing much more than an example of The Peter Principle on steroids as Bradley, a well-meaning but hopelessly over matched boob, selected his lineups based on nothing quite so much as a firm grasp of the obvious.
It's not like he's coaching, say, Argentina or Italy where he's got a list of six world class players at every position and the choice between Superstar #1 and Superstar #2 comes down to nuances redolent of the kind of sublime subtlety that the Good Old Kick It And Run USA not only cannot attain but in fact can barely even comprehend.
All Bradley has to do most of the time is call in anyone who's currently starting someplace in Europe and then fill out the balance of the team with a) Landon Donovan, b) any other MLS player holding a US passport who Ives Galarcep, Greg Selzer or Kyle McCarthy has recently said was playing well and c) Landon Donovan.
Making out the US lineup would not normally be an intellectual challenge to my Labrador Retriever who, it should be noted, has been planted under his favorite pine tree out back for almost a year, having finally succumbed to the ravages of age and the effort it took to be the best goddam dog who ever drew breath.
Unfortunately for Our Boy Bob he occasionally has to deal with matches where the push button lineup is not an option and he's forced to field a team that he himself has assembled out of the leftovers, the youthful pretenders and the single-digit-cap crowd.
In these situations he can (and does) haul out the "I'm just getting a look at some guys who could still make the team" meme, famous in song and legend throughout the civilized world, and thereby insulate himself from being held otherwise responsible for the inevitable dismal, even disastrous, result.
In these cases then, the explanation for the fact that the guys running around on the pitch in shirts that say "USA" across the front are apparently unfamiliar with the game of soccer beyond some very rudimentary concepts, eg. which direction to face on a kickoff, how to identify the right shoe from the left and, of course, how to encircle a referee and whine like a 9 year old in the 17th hour of the big family drive to Yosemite when he makes a call you're not crazy about, is that "this really isn't our best team (don't call it a B team) so it's OK to suck".
Now it's absolutely true that if we turn on the TV set come that momentous day in June when the US takes the pitch in South Africa and we see most of the same faces we saw last night we might as well shove Glocks into our mouths right now and avoid the pain, horror and agony which will surely ensue, but we all know that's not going to happen.
Still, if these matches are nothing but glorified auditions, somewhat spiffier versions of the MLS combine, then let's treat it as such. Let's offer free admission, let the fans bring lawn chairs and have Buzz Carrick and Joe Mauceri do the post game wrap up.
But let's be honest here, shall we? Did we really need to hold a camp, rent a stadium and hand out a huge pile of otherwise expensive Nike clothing in order to determine that Marvel Wynne can't defend? Or that Jeff Cunningham, while he forces lead footed MLS defenders to back off of his midfield in Dallas, doesn't scare decent defenders enough to make them account for him?
That Jimmy Conrad is a walking turnover who, while a solid, gutsy player, also lacks make-up speed? That Chad Marshall isn't ready for this level? (In fairness, he clearly was on the hook for the second goal but the third, contrary to what I've seen today, was on not one but two other guys; Marshall came off his man to try and cover, but it clearly wasn't his responsibility) .
Or that Robbie Rogers isn't a left back? That Sacha Klesjian needs to hire a search and rescue team to go find his game, which disappeared about a year ago and hasn't been seen since? That Feilhaber is a good player when he has other good players to work with but can't (yet, anyway) put a team on his back?
And for the guys who we could very easily see in RSA, like Beckerman and Bornstein and the aforementioned Mr. Feilhaber, what we need to see is how they play off of guys like Donovan and Dempsey, not Rogers and Hammerstein. Excuse me, I mean Kljestan.
All of which is not to say that I think a game like this serves no purpose. Indeed, I can think of a couple different possibilities:
1) The United States feels really bad about behaving like The Ugly American this summer down in Honduras by not only beating them at home but trying to tell them how to run their country as well, and felt like throwing them a make up win.
2) After listening to Mexico fans calling for Jack Lord ("5-0", "5-0") ever since last summer we wanted to give the Catrachos a resounding win over a fake team as well, just to be fair. (Although, to paraphrase Mohammed Ali, "No Honduran never called me no spazzo")
I think though that the most likely scenario is:
3) Bradley is engaging in a psy-ops/disinformation campaign, hoping that our first round opponents will watch the tape of games like this, where we look like we couldn't beat their sisters, and figure we're a pushover. As a result, they'll spend the night before we play them out drinking and chasing South African hookers rather than taking us seriously.This means they'll show up to play us both hung over and broke, after their hotel rooms are cleaned out.
Bob Bradley: he's one smart cookie.