Howard hails US coach Bradley's gentle approach
When the United States takes on England in their World Cup opener expect a clash of cultures and coaching styles.
While Fabio Capello has cultivated a fearsome reputation in the England camp and helped to banish player-power, U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard says his team should thrive in South Africa due to the more congenial atmosphere encouraged by Bob Bradley.
Howard, who is based in England with Premier League club Everton, has been able to contrast it with the strict regime the Three Lions have been subjected to since Capello took charge in January 2008, when the team was at one of its lowest ebbs.
"With Bob Bradley there is a huge amount of respect there, but to say that we don't fear him is the way that he is," Howard said in an interview with The Associated Press. "He is very gentle in terms of how he interacts with his players and he doesn't want there to be a barrier.
"Yes of course there is a hierarchy-he is the manager and what he says goes and as players we respect each other and we respect him-but he doesn't want there to be a wall."
And players are not afraid to tell Howard what they think.
"He wants there to be open lines of communication and he wants to be able to have conversations with players and get their feedback and that allows him to do his job better," Howard said as he prepares for the June 12 opener against England.
England striker Peter Crouch last week praised Capello's disciplinarian approach-one that is in marked contrast to Sven-Goran Eriksson's more relaxed rule between 2001-06.
"Sven was a lot more laid-back," said Crouch, who will face Howard in Rustenburg. "This time the atmosphere seems a lot more serious, a lot more focused."
While Capello, the former Real Madrid and Juventus coach, was an outsider in England before taking charge of a bedraggled national team, the 52-year-old Bradley has been a mainstay of American soccer for decades.
As a result the former Chicago Fire, New York MetroStars and Chivas coach has crossed paths with many of his World Cup-bound players as they were growing up.
"There is a history there between Bob Bradley and a lot of us and there was already a good relationship that was built," Howard said. "In the last four years we have cultivated that relationship and it has got better and better and the trust level has gone up and it's brought us together as a strong unit on and off the field."
Bradley has transformed the U.S. team since replacing Bruce Arena after a lackluster 2006 World Cup. No longer are the Americans considered minnows, as Spain, which was beaten in last June's Confederations Cup semifinals by the U.S., can testify. As can Brazil, which had to recover a 2-0 deficit in the final, before prevailing 3-2.
"The one thing we proved last year at the Confederations Cup is that we are not pushovers-that we do have the ability to compete on a very, very high level," Howard said. "And fingers crossed we can do that again this summer- maybe not surprise people, but definitely live up to those expectations.
"For us the Confederations Cup was awesome in terms of being a dry run. We've met a lot of the people, we've traveled a lot of the routes, we've played in the stadiums, trained at the training grounds, stayed at the hotels and we are going to stay and do a lot of the things we did last summer."
But there will be no grand proclamations from the 31-year-old Howard about what can be achieved on their return to South Africa.
"It's a very gray, fuzzy line what will be considered success and what will be considered failure … and we must not let outside influences determine that," Howard said. "In order to win the World Cup we would be a long shot at best, but it doesn't stop us from going and trying.
"And I am a firm believer that when you do get to these kinds of tournaments you really can't think about winning it-you have to think about playing England, Slovenia and Algeria (in the group stage)."
Howard has also been feeding information back to the U.S. coaches on the England players.
"If there is a nugget of information I can give based on one player or another I will try and there are other players that play in England who have the ability to have that same insight so we will do what we can," said Howard, who has been promoting the "One Goal" charity initiative to promote education in Africa ahead of the World Cup.
Many of the top U.S. players are known to England, though, and rated highly by Howard.
Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan was on loan at Howard's Everton at the start of the year-"he answered the questions, and then some"-while striker Clint Dempsey helped Fulham reach the Europa League final-"his aggression, his passion, talent helps to make the U.S. team go."
Negotiating England is just the first task, then it's Algeria—a team Howard knows little about.
"There is a little bit of fear when you face an opponent that you don't know very well," Howard said. "But then there is the other side of it-it allows you to play with a bit of reckless abandon, knowing that there isn't that fear, that team is going to paralyze you.
"It's going to do the opposite-give you a bit of freedom to express yourself and find out what the game is going to throw at you."