U.S. Coach A Steady Light, But Not A Shining Star It's the elimination round in the World Cup, with the U.S. pitted against Ghana. The winner of Saturday's game will move on to the quarterfinals. Many think the U.S. team has a strong chance to advance -- and credit the team's coach for its success.
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U.S. Coach A Steady Light, But Not A Shining Star

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U.S. Coach A Steady Light, But Not A Shining Star

U.S. Coach A Steady Light, But Not A Shining Star

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

In World Cup action today, the U.S. plays Ghana in the elimination stage. The U.S. team has had an emotional run, but they have a steadying influence in Coach Bob Bradley.

As NPR's Mike Pesca reports, Mr. Bradley is not what you normally see on the sidelines.

MIKE PESCA: Average build, average face, no scars, no marks, no hair - Bob Bradley would be a police sketch artist's worst nightmare. Trim and neat, Bradley speaks softly and slowly. His sartorial choices run to the navy blue track suit and the other navy blue track suit.

In a sport where national team coaches act and are treated like royalty, Bradley is the competent civil servant. Or, as he suggested to the press corps yesterday, that's what he'd like us to believe.

Mr. BOB BRADLEY (Coach, Team USA): I don't know any of you very well, but somehow all of you think you know me.

PESCA: In truth, Bradley is detail-oriented. He never stops studying. His players joke that he has a DVD player taped to his forehead - such is his dedication to watching film. But Bradley can deliver the occasional inspirational speech, so he says.

Mr. BRADLEY: You speak passionately about the game and what we're trying to do. It can't be overdone. But certainly the ability to, in words, be able to put everybody on the same page and give a thought that everybody can understand and embrace, that's pretty important

PESCA: It's clear he's not Vince Lombardi. But he's also not Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots coach to whom Bradley is sometimes compared. Both are serious, neither are quotable, but Bradley isn't snide and he's not controlling. Bradley empowers players. He's also thoughtful, even when his team's fundamental makeup is questioned.

Mr. TIM COLLINS (Reuters): There's qualifying football, and you wear your blue overalls, and there's tournament football, and in tournament football you put on your dinner jacket. Do you feel that the team has it within itself - if you're going to make progress - to change the way you play a little bit?

PESCA: Let me translate from the English for a second. Tim Collins of Reuters means that unlike in American football, where a grind-it-out approach is an accepted path to championships, in soccer, artistry is seen as essential. And the suggestion is that the Americans are merely dutiful.

Bradley's answer?

Mr. BRADLEY: We think that the ability to be a team that works hard but also is smart, disciplined, creative in the right moments - these are all things that become important.

PESCA: It's not scintillating, but it accurately suggests how the U.S. will succeed: hard work and teamwork, boring but true. It worked so far, it could work against Ghana. It's not impossible to suggest that the U.S. can make the semi-finals or maybe even better. And if that happened, it would be the most exciting development for U.S. sports since the Miracle on Ice.

And when words like miraculous or stunning start flying around, they'll attach themselves to the coach we now think of as nondescript.

Mike Pesca, NPR News, Rustenburg, South Africa.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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