For all his success in his five years as coach of the U.S. men's national soccer team — which includes leading the squad to the knockout stage of last summer's World Cup — Bob Bradley is well aware of his detractors.
He knows all about the message boards and websites that dissect and criticize his nearly every move, as well as those that repeatedly call for his sacking and the hiring of a high-profile coach from overseas to replace him.
Bradley, who will be at the helm of the U.S. team Saturday night in Raymond James Stadium when the Americans take on Panama in Gold Cup play, says he has skin thick enough to deflect the knocks against his coaching ability. But at the same time, he believes U.S. supporters have every right to grumble and moan.
In fact, Bradley says he's glad the technology exists today for fans to gather and discuss all his moves. And he seems genuinely glad there's passionate supporters of U.S. soccer with high expectations.
"It's a great thing, that there's fans and there's places for those fans to share their thoughts," Bradley said. "It shows how far the game has come in this country."
Back in 1990, when the U.S. men made it back to the World Cup for the first time in 40 years, then proceeded to exit with three consecutive losses, you didn't hear many fans calling for the head of then-coach Bob Gansler. And if they did, there wasn't much of an Internet to do it on. That could explain why there have been just four U.S. coaches since Gansler while, in soccer-crazed nations like Mexico, there have been more than a dozen in the same period.
Today, however, there are any number of websites where U.S. fans can congregate to celebrate, analyze or question Bradley's tactics, player selection and formations. At bigsoccer.com, for example, multiple discussion threads are dedicated to Bradley, including "the Bob thread part II," another claiming nepotism because Bradley's son, Michael, plays on the national team and a new one entitled "If we don't win the Gold Cup, will Bob get fired or will he stay?"
As someone with a Princeton education who has patiently worked his way up through the coaching ranks, Bradley seems to roll with the jabs while taking a cerebral approach to his critics. This is, he says matter-of-factly, professional sports, where coaches are lambasted by fans and fired by their bosses on a regular basis.
And even though Michael Bradley has proven valuable to the national team (including his tying goal against Slovenia in the World Cup) and plays professionally overseas, Bob Bradley says he doesn't allow himself to worry about what fans say about his son playing for him.
"In this country, whether it's in sports or politics or you name it, the Internet, message boards, this is part of our culture now. Especially since, in some cases, it's anonymous and people can scream and yell and say anything they want," Bob Bradley said. "You just have to accept it as part of the game."
So, is Bradley the best coach for the U.S. team? With a record of 40-23-12 since taking over in 2007, he is certainly one of the most successful in the squad's modern era. But as he begins the second World Cup qualifying cycle with the team, fans will continue to debate.
That, says veteran U.S. defender Carlos Bocanegra, is to be expected. But he believes Bradley has been good for U.S. soccer and the national team.
"I think our record the past few years speaks for itself, and I think we're going in the right direction," said Bocanegra, whose club team is Saint-Etienne in the French first division. "(The fans) are going to criticize the coach no matter who it is, you know, it doesn't matter. Everybody has different opinions, because soccer is a game of opinions."
CONCACAF GOLD CUP
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium.
MATCHES: Canada vs. Guadeloupe, 6 p.m.; United States vs. Panama, 8 p.m.
PREGAME: Football Fiesta, 3 p.m.
TV: Fox Soccer.
TICKETS: Ranging from $30 to $100. Available through Ticketmaster or at the Raymond James Stadium box office.
TOURNAMENT FORMAT: The top two teams from each of Gold Cup’s four groups advanced to the knockout-round quarterfinals. The United States, Panama, Canada and Guadeloupe are in Group C. In the tournament’s first games, contested in Detroit, the U.S. defeated Canada 2-0 and Panama downed Guadeloupe 3-2. After leaving Tampa, the Group C teams head to Kansas City, Mo., for Tuesday’s games (Canada vs. Panama, followed by U.S. vs. Guadeloupe). Winner of the Gold Cup championship match, June 25 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., advances to the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil (held one year before the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil).