PRETORIA, South Africa — The moment of truth has arrived for Bob Bradley, the moment he has waited a lifetime — and especially the last four years — to experience.
Bradley is already only the fourth coach in U.S. history to take a team beyond the first round of the World Cup. Bob Miller did so in 1930, Bora Milutinovic matched that in 1994, and Bruce Arena accomplished the feat in 2002.
Bradley would become only the third to reach the quarterfinals with a win over Ghana at Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg today.
What sort of man Miller was is difficult to say, 80 years after the fact. Milutinovic remains an extrovert, the Serb's ready smile, warm welcome and shaggy locks hiding a savvy coach and shrewd tactician.
Arena, to some extent Bradley's mentor, was perceived as haughty, an American who thought he knew as much about the sport as anyone in Europe or South America. It turns out Arena knew what he was doing, and still does.
If Bradley had slipped at South Africa 2010, there would have been some clamoring for Arena to again take charge of the national team.
But Bradley, 52, has not failed. By reaching the second round — on top of his accomplishments in winning the Gold Cup, finishing second in the Confederations Cup and coming out on top in region World Cup qualifying — he likely has secured his job for another four years.
There are no rumblings of discontent among the players and U.S. Soccer seems more than pleased with the gaunt, icy-eyed man from Montclair, N.J.
His players, perhaps doubters at first, are among his staunchest allies.
"Bob has a very distinct way of doing things and some people like it and some don't," Landon Donovan said. "I think it's taken a long time for a lot of us to wrap our heads around what exactly Bob wanted from us, and now we all understand why he put us through some of the things he put us through.
"He could see the big picture from the beginning, while a lot of us were shortsighted."
Instilling self-belief in his players and belief in the system has been crucial. So, too, has been his willingness to study the sport in depth. He intently studies the game at the highest level, and knows the quirks and foibles of leading players and coaches.
"I think he's right up there with the best coaches in terms of tactics," U.S. forward Jozy Altidore said. "I haven't been in a game where I haven't been well-prepared going into it. He analyzes the opponent really well, the key players, what they do, their tendencies."
Where Bradley falls down, perhaps, is in his public image, not that it concerns him very much. He comes across as too much in control of himself, too careful not to show weakness or flaw. It's the Princeton in him.
Reporters wonder whether he is man or machine.
But he does have a sense of humor, he insists. And there is a twinkle in his eye when he hears or sees or says something that amuses him. But Bradley deliberately draws a curtain across his private life, and shields his players in the same way. There is a "them and us" mentality.
Nor are Bradley's public comments in any way useful as quick sound bites. It takes a lot of sifting and sorting to find anything lively and out of the ordinary.
"I'm a pretty simple guy," he said. "I see things for what they are. I'm old-school and (the players) they know it. And, for the most part, they hate it."
They will love it, though, if the U.S. defeats Ghana today.