Lots of American players in action around Europe this past weekend, but before I get into that I wanted to focus on the announcement that Guus Hiddink will be ending his tenure as Russia's coach on June 30.
Why's this significant? Well, with all due respect to current U.S. coach Bob Bradley, I've always been of the firm belief that the U.S. needs to hire one of the world's elite coaches to reach the next level of its development. If that coach happens to be an American, then fine. As we all know, right now, there isn't an American coach that is close to being on the level of a Jose Mourinho, a Fabio Capello, a Rafa Benitez or a Hiddink. With Hiddink in play, the USSF should push hard to secure him as coach for the 2014 World Cup cycle.
That's not intended as a knock against Bradley, who has some significant strengths to offer, such as his man-management skills and his knowledge of the U.S. domestic scene. Tactically, though, he just can't compare to the world's top coaches. This isn't something that's limited to Bradley or American coaches, even other top European coaches often suffer in contrast to the elite of their profession. Case in point, Liverpool's Glen Johnson remarked earlier this season that he had learned more about tactics in three weeks under Benitez than he had in his entire previous tenure at Portsmouth (three years) under Harry Redknapp.
The temptation, of course, will be for the USSF to stick with Bradley, especially if the U.S. gets out of its first-round group and advances in the elimination phase. Barring progress to the semifinals, this would be a mistake, in my opinion, the same mistake the USSF made when it stuck with Bruce Arena for the '06 World Cup following the unforgettable '02 World Cup run. The U.S. isn't a team that can overwhelm its opposition (outside of CONCACAF) by sheer talent, so it needs to compensate for that shortfall by utilizing superior X's and O's.
Hiddink's body of work is well known. In addition to tremendous club success, he led Australia and South Korea to unprecedented heights in the World Cup. Reports have linked him with club teams Juventus and Liverpool, but I suspect that, at this point of his career, he prefers coaching at the international level as opposed to the daily grind of club management.
He's going to be a hot commodity on the open market, but the USSF has the cash to make it happen. Whether it would accede to roster control that Hiddink presumably would demand (and are rumored to have ended any possibility of Juergen Klinsmann taking the job pre-Bradley) are a different story. If the USSF doesn't make a run at Hiddink, I'd like to see him take the reigns with Turkey, a perennial underachiever and dark horse brimming with flair players. A coach like Hiddink could lead Turkey to the Euro 2012 title.
Americans in Europe
Things of note this weekend included Chris Rolfe's goal for Aalborg in an exhibition game. Rolfe was always something of a poor man's Landon Donovan with MLS's Chicago. He never really seemed to get as much of an opportunity with the national team as he deserved, or even at times at club level, where he was forced to play second fiddle in midfield while average talents like Calen Carr or Patrick Nyarko got playing time up top. It'll certainly be interesting to see if he can raise his profile by playing in Denmark. Outside of Robbie Findley, there really doesn't seem to be many potential replacements for Charlie Davies available to Bradley.
This, of course, could all change if Eddie Johnson and Freddy Adu continue their resurgence in Greece with Aris. On the heels of Johnson scoring a couple of weeks ago, Adu notched his first league goal for Aris in its 2-1 comeback win -- his first since the 2007-08 season with Benfica. Now, before some fans start going overboard, let's put things in perspective. Neither goal was particularly impressive (Johnson's was basically a goalkeeping error, while Adu's was a simple tap in from six yards out into an open net). However, the fact that they are now both receiving extensive playing time is promising (I'll be honest, I didn't think either would make much of an impact, even in Greece). If they can keep this up, and if they get called up for the March 3 friendly against the Netherlands and have an impact, then they might both still make a late push for World Cup roster consideration. Those are some big ifs though.
The X factor for England
Outside of Wayne Rooney, the single biggest factor for England against the U.S. in the World Cup will be right winger Aaron Lennon, who on his day is one of the most unplayable wingers in the world. Lennon's weakness was always his lack of end product. Describing his crossing in seasons past as woeful would be an understatement. However, it's an area that he has greatly improved over the past season and a half.
Tottenham's recent stumbles in the Premier League are largely due to the loss of Lennon, who provides the speed and creativity to break down any defense (Spurs averages two goals a game with Lennon in the lineup, 0.6 goals a game without him). There's a degree of confusion about the seriousness of Lennon's groin injury, with some media outlets reporting that if it doesn't improve in the next two weeks, he might face surgery that could rule him out for the rest of the season and possibly the World Cup. If that's the case, U.S. fans should breathe a sigh of relief, because the Lennon versus Jonathan Bornstein/Jonathan Spector/Edgar Castillo/last U.S. man standing scenario is a huge mismatch waiting to happen.