A reader left a comment asking about the personal styles of the national team coaches, in terms of how that affected training.
I thought about it for a while, and came up with a few observations.
Bob Bradley is all business. I've never seen or heard him crack a joke during practice. He's intense, and that filters down to his players. They focus because he always demands concentration. Funny has a place - off the field.
Bruce Arena had more of a jokester turn. He'd call out things to players, usually a humorous insult or observation of some kind. It would lighten things up a bit for players, and I think it also served as a sort of bonding ritual - to get razzed by Bruce. That seemed to encourage players to do that to each other as well. It seems to me that players walking off the field after training with Bruce were always kidding each other more than they are now.
I remember when Bob Holtzman, another reporter, was working on a Bradley story soon after Bob had gotten the interim post. He asked players to give an example of Bob telling a joke or funny story.
Every player he talked to said yes, Bob did have a sense of humor that he occasionally displayed, but not a single one could think of a joke he'd told.
Another quirk I remember about Bradley, something I don't recall Arena doing, is that Bradley stands in goal sometimes during scrimmages or shooting drills. No, he doesn't play goalkeeper. He stands in the goal, perhaps to watch the shooting form of players from there. I'm not sure if the viewing angle is different than standing safely behind the goal. Anyway, I never remember Arena doing that, though he in fact was once a goalkeeper.
In general, though, what I've observed about a lot of soccer practices is that no matter who is in charge, they run through a lot of the same stuff. Small-sided scrimmages, skill work, shooting drills, etc.
Overall, though, I think the Bradley Era may differ from the Arena one partly because of circumstance. Expectations have really grown for the national team. The 2006 World Cup was a disappointment because fans wanted so much more. The entire squad was going to have a higher level of pressure under Bradley, and consequently, a more serious tone, because of the feeling that people care about the team now, that results matter. So it wasn't just Bradley that contributed to a more somber tone.
Arena and his players rode the high of 2002 for a while (perhaps for far too long, considering how Arena clung to some instrumental players from that time, like Reyna and O'Brien).
What I've observed is that even good coaches have styles that sometimes mesh better with some players than with others. The spark that they bring to a national team, however, can settle into a routine after a while. Inspiration is a tricky thing - what worked once often won't work again, simply because it worked before. A type of ennui can set in.
I think Bruce stayed Bruce, but wasn't as effective doing exactly what had worked before as time went on. That's why I believe that Bob shouldn't stay on as national team coach even if the U.S. performs well in 2010. I hope he takes the initiative to move on of his own volition.
There are reasons why national teams around the world, including the most successful ones, change coaches so often. Clubs are different, obviously, with a number of leaders lasting for years and years. With a national team, though, one needs constant fresh ideas, tactics, evaluations and the ability to energize players quickly.