JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Bob Bradley was as frustrated as his players that his United States team let a two-goal lead slide to a 3-2 loss to Brazil in the Confederation Cup final.

Yet he said the experience of the 14-day competition was another sign of the remarkable progress his team is making since the disappointment of the 2006 World Cup.

In their first mens’ final of a FIFA tournament, the Americans were leading the five-time World Cup winners 2-0 at halftime at Ellis Park on Sunday only for the Brazilians to hit back for a victory which meant a record third Confederations Cup title too.

But Bradley, the Under-23 coach who was promoted to the top job after the team performed poorly in Germany three years ago under Bruce Arena, saw past the result, even though he shared the disappointment of his players.

“Progress involves understanding how you play in harder games when they have to play against the best teams,” he said. “Everything gets put under the magnifying glass a little bit more when you’re playing the best teams. It’s easy to talk about those things but it’s important that the players see it for themselves and I think that’s what’s been happening.

“It’s not that we learned it today but I think we get confidence that we are able to go up against big teams and create chances and make it harder for them in terms of when they have the ball. We were able to make it a real game with a top team. Over time to be able to sustain that longer, not have ups and downs throughout the game, that’s a sign of progress.”

Bradley has turned the team around, winning the respect of the players with his calm approach and leading them to a triumph at CONCACAF’s Gold Cup in 2007, a title it defends next month on home turf.

The Americans also managed to turn around an awful start to this competition.

With 10 players on the field after Ricardo Clark’s red card, they led Italy before going down 3-1 thanks to some top quality strikes by the Italians and were then outplayed 3-0 by Brazil. It looked almost certain that Bradley and his team would be going home early but they beat Egypt 3-0 and, thanks to Brazil’s 3-0 victory over the Italians, advanced to the semifinal.

If that itself was an amazing achievement, what followed was even more stunning — a 2-0 victory over Spain, the world’s strongest team which was on a record 15-game winning streak and unbeaten in 35.

The former coach of MLS clubs Chicago Fire, MetroStars and Chivas USA, Bradley started with three victories and the Gold Cup triumph meant the Americans qualified for the Confederations Cup in South Africa. Now Bradley is getting the best out of players who have often shown they have the potential to mix it with the best in the world but not the consistency required to win titles.

Landon Donovan has shown at this competition he has the ability to break through defenses and striker Jozy Altidore unnerved the Italian, Spanish and Brazilian defenders with his powerful running. Defenders Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit have shown they should be playing for better clubs than Standard Liege and Watford and goalkeeper Tim Howard has displayed why he has played for teams like Manchester United and current club Everton.


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