IRENE, South Africa – Winning makes everyone happy. Even Bob Bradley.
I’ve been covering the US national team since before Bradley’s first day on the job back in Dec. 2006, and I would never be caught using the adjectives “easygoing,” “ebullient” or, especially, “jovial” to describe perhaps the most intense coach in USMNT history.
But on Thursday, less than 24 hours after the Americans’ amazing victory over Algeria that put them in the Round of 16 of the World Cup, reporters were treated to a 33-minute press conference that saw perhaps the most relaxed, engaging and casual version of Bradley we have ever seen. He joked, poked fun at himself and even – gasp! – smiled while discussing a whole range of topics.
Here are some highlights from a candid exchange with the coach:
On Landon Donovan’s emotional moment Wednesday night:
“We’re just proud of the way he has grown as a person off the field, for sure, and what that means then for our team on the field, in the locker room, for our group of guys. One of the great things is when you get a group of people is this idea that people are willing to put their heart and soul into something, to put it all out there. So when you see Landon talk that way, when you see him have a moment that’s special, then you feel good for him. You’re proud of him.”
On Jozy Altidore:
“You can tell that he’s learned from tough situations with clubs when things just haven’t come easily. But that’s part of the process for a young player. He’s handled those challenges well and, again, he’s grown and matured. In this tournament, in tough games, he’s been a presence, he’s kept going. In the second half, when we’ve needed him to be stronger, he’s been there. So it’s just a sign of a talented, young player who’s continuing to grow and step up. He’s become a real important man in our team.”
On the fan support here in Africa:
“To see our fans here, to be on the bus going to the stadium and to hear them shouting “U-S-A, U-S-A,” to see our flags being waved, that’s a special feeling. That’s something that every one of us on that bus felt. We’ve had the experience when we’ve had our fans behind us. We’ve had the experience when the stadium was mainly filled with supporters for the other team. But we typically can find our supporters in those stands. We have always had a very loyal group of people that support US Soccer. We appreciate that.”
On exposing the players to the hype back home:
“It’s important for the players to have a taste, a feel for what’s going on. I don’t have any doubts that, in their world, with their ability to have access to friends, family, media, the whole bit, that they’re on top of a lot of that. The only thing that we try to do is try to balance that out. I’m old school. And they know that. For the most part, they hate that. The bottom line is that there is something special when a group of people have an opportunity to share an experience. To share, on the inside, work, communication, laughs and, to know that, at the end, those are experiences that no one can ever take away from you. You want them to be special.
“I hate to see players acting like they’ve been hit getting away with it. I think that’s the simplest thing of all to clean up. When I see Kaká get sent off, I think that’s too bad for the game because he’s a great player, and that is play-acting at its best – or worst. So I like to see real competition and, at times, there will be some contact. I still remember Laurent Blanc missing a World Cup final because a play where there was contact, but not even near the face. I know that Thiago Motta missed the Champions League final this year. I think that’s terrible that a player in his career misses a big game because somebody else has embellished something. I’d be ashamed if I was the one doing it.”
On a possible players panel to discipline fakers:
"I would be in favor that if it’s as obvious as somebody getting pushed in the chest and grabbing his face and laying on the ground, I’d rescind the other red card and suspend the player who did it for a good number of games. I don’t think FIFA’s going to be asking me about this one, but that’s how I would see it."
On US players looking to leverage their World Cup:
“Our main responsibility is … to show that our national team can play at a high level. But what goes along with that is now that people respect our players. You want that respect to be in two ways. You want it to be first that they understand and see that MLS has grown, MLS is a very good league, it continues to be more and more visible around the world.
“Then, hand-in-hand with that is the fact that we have some players that choose to try to go to other parts of the world. I think we’ve seen more of our players having success, but there’s next levels for that. So I think down the road, the possibility that we’ve got players who are playing for some of the bigger clubs, playing in Champions League in Europe. I mean, those are things that I know some of the players are still aiming for. So you hope that when we do well as a team in these kinds of events, that that might open up doors, if that’s what players are looking for.”