Ex-Fire coach envisions next Cup squad

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Familiarity of the U.S. Soccer system and the pool of American players clearly benefited former Chicago Fire and current U.S. National Team head coach Bob Bradley.

"When we started, we tried very hard at first to establish a routine," Bradley said before Wednesday's Fire-Toronto FC match. "I think the players would even say at first it was maybe more rigid than it had been in that regard. Sometimes [former U.S. head coach] Bruce [Arena] and I do things a little different. Then as we got closer to the World Cup, and now we knew each other better and things were pretty firmly established, I also think we adjusted as we got closer."

The U.S. advanced through the group stage at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, then bowed out against Ghana. It was a high-and-low moment for the man who led the Fire to an MLS Cup in the team's inaugural 1998 season.

The team's performance was enough for U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati to extend Bradley's contract until 2014. And now Bradley is in the early stages of a new cycle -- a four-year period where the canvas will need some alterations along the way.

"It's a balancing act," Bradley said. "It's not about bringing a whole team of players. Little by little, guys that we've seen who are doing well, we start to envision the potential to help us in this next stretch of four years."

Several years in advance of another Cup, it is far too early to know the exact pool of players, styles and intangibles that the team will bring. But in looking at the team's recent play, the Americans were direct and more likely to attack on a counter rather than possess the ball for large stretches.

Bradley went through a large pool of players heading into this year's Cup, though when all was said and done he went with a select core of guys that he also believes will be retained four years from now.

"Certainly you can look at a core of players that I thought were right in the middle of our team in this particular World Cup and believe that they're still going to be there over the next four years," Bradley said. "We felt quite good the last time that on different levels we identified players that needed to take bigger roles, and I think in many cases guys like Timmy Howard, Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey, Stevie Cherundolo and Oguchi Onyewu became leaders and took more responsibility."

The U.S. hosts Poland on Oct. 9 at Soldier Field, marking only the second match following the Americans' World Cup showing. Bradley and company will continue to tap into some of the younger talent, and quite often that large pool is generated from MLS.

"When you look at the number of players that have played this summer in South Africa for our national team, so many of them began their careers here or still play here," Bradley said. "So in those ways the work of the league and the people who have been here at all levels have directly impacted the success of the national team."

A key component for Bradley over the next several years will not only be trying to find the suitable talent, but to keep an open vision along the way.

"When you've coached for a while and you've stayed with the same team, you stay sharp by looking first at yourself and assessing things -- finding little ways to make sure that the environment stays fresh," Bradley said. "I think as a staff we've done a good job of constantly assessing how we're doing everything."