TALK ABOUT TAKING advantage of an opportunity that drops into your lap . . .

A year ago, when longtime U.S. soccer coach Bruce Arena's contract was not renewed, Bob Bradley wasn't really on the radar as a replacement.

After the USA's disappointing showing in the 2006 World Cup, most people figured the United States Soccer Federation would look for a high-profile coach in an effort to restore some of the shaken faith from the momentum-stalling World Cup effort.

The United States had the perfect candidate in former Germany head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

Klinsmann, who helped win a World Cup for Germany as a player, had just restored Germany's honor by leading the host nation to an unexpected third-place finish.

The fact he has an American wife and lives full time in California made Klinsmann the clear favorite to take over the national team.

But for some reason - likely millions of green reasons - Klinsmann and USSF president Sunil Gulati couldn't reach an agreement, and on Dec. 8, Bradley was named interim coach.

At the time, many analysts said Bradley was just keeping the seat warm until the USSF could lure some international heavyweight to America.

But on Wednesday, Bradley had the interim tagged removed from his title and was named U.S. head coach through the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

To soccer enthusiasts, this decision might appear premature. In many countries, it is common for soccer federations to change coaches often and sometimes not name a permanent one until the eve of World Cup qualifying.

And if things don't go as well as expected, making another change is not uncommon.

The United States is not like nations where soccer is a national passion and where an unsettled coaching situation won't slow momentum.

As Americans, we like stability at the top, and pressure was building on Gulati to name a permanent head coach.

Bradley's performance made the decision an easier one.

In four matches since taking over, Bradley has guided the United States to a 3-0-1 record, including a decisive 2-0 victory over archrival Mexico.

Even if some out there wanted an internationally renowned coach, Bradley, by virtue of his quick start, must be viewed as a competent choice.

I wanted Klinsmann, but I don't mind Bradley.

I guess some skeptics are concerned that Bradley is close to Arena, having served as his assistant at the University of Virginia and with D.C. United, and that his style won't necessarily mean a drastic change in what's gone on.

I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

I know the last memory of Arena's tenure was the failure in World Cup Germany, but he did guide U.S. soccer through the greatest 8-year tenure in history.

When Arena took over in 1998, USA soccer was in shambles after a last-place finish at the World Cup in France.

Arena restored U.S. pride.

He brought youth to an aging squad and took it to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup. He took the United States to its highest international ranking and moved it past Mexico as the top team in the North America region.

Arena's legacy is pretty darn good.

Thus far, Bradley, who won the 1998 Major League Soccer title with the Chicago Fire and is the winningest coach in MLS history, seems to have a long-range plan for USA soccer, with 2010 World Cup qualification beginning next year.

In only four games, Bradley has reached into the U.S. player pool for 36 players.

Obviously, friendlies are different from World Cup games, but the team that was so offensively challenged in Germany has scored eight goals and given up only two under Bradley.

Whether you favor Bradley or not, at least U.S. soccer has stabilized itself again.

Next month, the United States will host the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup; in July, it will compete in the Copa America in Venezuela.

The head-coaching issue needed to be resolved.

"The work throughout this year has established a good foundation and instilled in the players the ideas that we need to carry with us in order to progress as a team," Bradley told the media Wednesday. "Our goal is clear - to build a team capable of being successful in the 2010 World Cup. We are off to a very good start, and I'm looking forward to the challenging road ahead."

The road is always challenging for U.S. soccer, but at least now we know who will be driving the car.

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Send e-mail to smallwj@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to http://go.philly.com/smallwood.