Michael Bradley Scores Totti-esque Chipped Golazo Against Mexico
Michael Bradley scored a stunning golazo against Mexico in Sunday in World Cup qualifying when he chipped Mexico’s goalkeeper Memo Ochoa from some 40 yards out while sprinting. Bradley’s goal was worthy of Francesco Totti who lived to score by the cucchiaio, as it’s called in Italian.
Several minutes into the game against Mexico, Bradley stole a pass from Mexico weaved right in between two defenders and more or less immediately hit a soft chip while sprinting over Ochoa who was near the top of his own penalty box.
Shawn Francis had it right when he posted a photo of Michael Bradley on Twitter with the caption, “Remember when you thought my dad got me this job?”
Bradley’s goal was impressive for several reasons. First, he hit his chip without any hesitation when he possibly could have tried to score by hitting his shot low and hard into the corner. Second, Bradley hit the chip from some 40 yards out, and, third, it’s very difficult to get the weight of the shot just right off a chip. Finally, Bradley hit his chip while dribbling at a sprint which makes the chip so much harder not to hit too hard over the crossbar.
In many ways, you can’t help thinking that Bradley should still be playing in Serie A if he’s able to score that caliber of an international goal. MLS offered Bradley a huge salary, but Bradley’s abilities are better maximized in European club soccer. In Serie A, Bradley proved himself to be an excellent dead ball specialist, and his chip against Mexico further showcased this control of the ball.
Before Bruce Arena took over as head coach of the United States, fans and the media had been lamenting Bradley’s play with the national team, but with better players deployed in a more logical tactical setup, it appears the Bradley’s struggles might have been caused by playing with subpar players.
After a goal like he just scored, Bradley might have silenced a small minority of his critics who unjustly blamed him for the U.S.’s poor play before Arena took over.
Michael Bradley Should Play Defensive Midfielder for USMNT
Michael Bradley was born to play as a defensive midfielder. Bradley’s incredible engine – meaning his cardiovascular stamina – has been praised for years, and this has caused some coaches and fans to push for him to play a more offensive role in the midfield. But, Bradley’s ability to run hard for more than 90 minutes is a key quality for a defensive midfielder.
Having the energy and endurance to constantly cover for the defense and present oneself as a constant passing option is vital for a defensive midfielder. Somehow, there is a belief that Bradley’s ability to run nonstop is wasted as a defensive midfielder, but that position is a physically demanding position. In fact, not having the air in one’s lungs or the power in one’s legs to be able to mark and chase down opposing players would be a major problem.
At the base of the midfield, Bradley can control the United States’ passing and protect the American backline from being overrun and burned. Playing the defensive midfield role doesn’t mean that Bradley can’t advance forward together with the team, and it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have any cover to make attacking forays. The Number 8 midfielder or box-to-box midfielder has the responsibility to cover for the defensive midfielder in this situation. The American midfield needs a tireless runner at its base, and this is where Bradley can best use his skill set. The base of the midfield even affords Bradley more touches on the ball, and therefore more influence on the game.
The misuse and miscasting of players has been a constant problem for Jürgen Klinsmann, and a non-American example of this was his attempt to get rid of Thomas Müller when Klinsmann was the coach of Bayern Munich. Bradley and Jermaine Jones have been consistently misused by Klinsmann, and the American midfield continues to be too weak as a result of not having a defensive midfielder with the technical ability and athleticism to truly compete against top national teams.
With the emergence of Darlington Nagbe, it makes sense to use the more dynamic Nagbe in his natural role as a Number 8 with a flair for the offensive. This means Bradley as the Number 6 and Nagbe as the Number 8 makes a lot of sense for the United States, and as World Soccer Source has previously written, Sebastian Lletget should be given the Number 10 role and set loose.
Bradley has many years of excellent soccer ahead of him, and it’s time to stop forcing him into different midfield roles that don’t suit him or his teams. For the National Team, using Bradley correctly as a defensive midfielder ultimately means the more creative Nagbe and Lletget can play the more attacking roles.
Don’t forget that, with AS Roma, Bradley’s position was listed as a “mediano” which is the midfield destroyer role.
In 2016, a midfield triangle with two holding midfielders and one attacking midfielder would serve the U.S. Men’s National Team well. This type of three-man midfield is a tried and true midfield formation.
Michael Bradley is a central midfielder that performs equally well as a defensive midfielder or as a box-to-box midfielder, but Darlington Nagbe is an attacking midfielder that also has good ball recovery ability and a good engine. Filling the last point on this hypothetical midfield triangle is Kellyn Acosta, the FC Dallas central midfielder that thrives as a box-to-box midfielder or as a defensive midfielder.
More so than with Bradley’s partnership with Jermaine Jones, Acosta is a midfielder that could potentially partner well with Bradley. Both players play both types of defensive midfielder roles, so covering for each other won’t be a problem. Bradley should play the deeper defensive midfielder role, but he has some freedom to go forward since Acosta will cover for him. Acosta has already displayed the willingness to play either holding midfielder role with FC Dallas.
If Bradley and Acosta are the base of the triangle as holding midfielders, then Nagbe is the creative top of the triangle. Nagbe is a smooth and technical player that brings lots of speed and non-stop running to the midfield. Nagbe’s ability to open up midfields and defenses with a pass or off the dribble is a needed dimension to the U.S. midfield. The fact that he runs so much and also drops deeper into the midfield can only help the U.S. to improve its passing and possession in the midfield.
The inclusion of Acosta and Nagbe should solve the problem of Bradley trying to be the team’s attacking midfielder and defensive midfielder at the same time. Bradley has been the player bursting into the penalty box behind the forwards and the player collecting the ball from the Back Four, and this is too much to ask of any player. With Acosta and Nagbe, the U.S. has a player to help Bradley recover possession and keep it, and the U.S. has a player to link the midfield with the attack.
Acosta is a key player in this triangle because he provides support to both Bradley and Nagbe, and he has the speed and skill to burst through the midfield and put the opposition on their heels. The FC Dallas midfielder has already displayed the willingness and ability to surge forward and score from outside of the box, and the U.S. needs more dynamism in its play.
The U.S. National Team must make changes in 2016, and a three-man midfield triangle with two holding midfielders at the base of the midfield with a creative point at the top of the triangle would be good tactics.
With Bradley, Acosta, and Nagbe the U.S. midfield would be a technical and athletic midfield that is also balanced. Using this midfield triangle could fix the U.S.’s problem of having no link-up with the attack and no possession in the midfield against quality opposition.
If Acosta doesn’t appear ready, then Dillon Powers can occupy the box-to-box midfielder role, but the U.S. National Team does have players to choose from that can keep possession and perform on the international level.
Rather than insisting on using so many players out of position, the U.S. National Team would be wise to use two holding midfielders with one attacking midfielder. Doing this requires making changes instead of just recycling the same group of midfielders that aren’t up to the job.
The U.S. Men’s National Team’s lineup needs an overhaul immediately.
It’s unlikely that Jürgen Klinsmann will admit to unjustly snubbing players from his rosters or picking misguided starting lineups, but he is certainly capable of taking corrective action without admitting to doing so.
You have to assume that an ex-player of Klinsmann’s pedigree can easily look at the American player pool and say, “I need to simplify my lineup and play a three-man midfield with a center midfielder, a defensive midfielder, and an attacking midfielder, plus I need a Front Three with outside forwards on the right and left off a center forward.”
The problem with Klinsmann is that for some reason he thinks reinventing the wheel is just what the doctor ordered for American soccer.
Klinsmann probably holds American soccer in too low esteem.
Instead of just thinking that the United States doesn’t have enough players of Clint Dempsey’s level, Klinsmann thinks that the good players are just awful. The quality players are dismissed as not as good as elite world soccer stars, so therefore they have zero value for Klinsmann. Nothing else explains the exclusion of players like Benny Feilhaber, Maurice Edu, or Eric Lichaj.
The main problem with the U.S. National Team is a lack of a logical lineup made up of players deployed in their natural positions.
The United States is way below soccer’s giants in terms of the overall technical ability of the squad, but the United States does have international class players for every position.
Let us look over a possible lineup briefly to explore just how simple it is to form a capable, cohesive group.
The defense. There is no reason that Eric Lichaj, Maurice Edu, Geoff Cameron, and Fabian Johnson cannot perform well as the American Back Four. All of those players are being deployed in a position where they have tons of experience, and all of these players are both technically and defensively up to snuff and athletically impressive.
Edu and Cameron have experience together in the center of the defense, and both Lichaj and Johnson know their responsibilities as outside backs very well.
One of the biggest problems with the American midfield is Michael Bradley being forced to play as an attacking midfielder instead of as a defensive midfielder where he is world-class.
Bradley should anchor the midfield with Benny Feilhaber playing as a center midfielder where he has been playing in MLS for several seasons. Feilhaber, known for his creativity and attacking play, is now a much more industrious player, and he and Bradley can provide plenty of defending in the midfield.
The third player I would add to the midfield is Sebastian Lletget, who has done more than enough to prove himself for international play. Lletget is an exciting and creative attacking player that is more than happy to run non-stop and defend when the United States loses possession. Lletget also has a knack for scoring goals and setting them up.
Starting Lletget, Bradley, and Feilhaber in the midfield would be an enormous upgrade for the United States.
As for an attacking trident, Ethan Finlay, Juan Agudelo, and Clint Dempsey from right to left immediately come to mind. Finlay has been excellent in MLS assisting goals and scoring them, and he has tons of speed and skill to use attacking down the wing. Finlay is versatile enough to cut inside and also switch places with Dempsey and Agudelo in a fluid attack.
Why Agudelo hasn’t been a reference point for the team’s attack since he has been back in MLS after work visa limbo in England and Europe is a mystery, especially since Agudelo is a more dangerous and effective center forward than Jozy Altidore.
An attack with these three would also be a major upgrade for the United States compared to past incarnations.
With Brad Guzan in goal, the lineup proposed above is entirely made up of skilled and athletic players deployed in their natural positions.
There is no reason that the United States cannot start a lineup similar to this in the next two friendlies before the competitive match with Mexico for the 2017 Confederations Cup spot.
It’s unclear what the reason is for Klinsmann’s refusal to form anything resembling a logical or effective lineup, and it’s unclear why Sunil Gulati has made it clear that it doesn’t matter how Klinsmann performs as coach of the National Team.
Both Gulati and Klinsmann have to know that the media and fan base are not satisfied with the direction of the National Team, and if the same type of puzzling and bizarre lineups are used against Peru and Brazil, both men will likely witness a new level of criticism and complaints.
After the United States’ poor play in the 2015 Gold Cup, improving the midfield should be the first thing to address.
With the exception of Michael Bradley, the U.S. Men’s National Team needs a total overhaul.
The American midfield must have some logical balance of center midfielders and attacking midfielders. There’s no possession or clinical and elegant passing in the American midfield, and there’s no collective defense being played.
The real problem with the midfield is the personnel. The right players aren’t starting, and the right combination of players are not being played together.
Under various national team coaches, the United States has not fielded a midfield with the right balance of possession and ball recovery.
In a time when the best club and national teams are mostly using a three-man midfield made up of a defensive midfielder, a center midfielder (box-to-box midfielder), and an attacking midfielder, the United States refuses to field something similar.
The American player pool has all of these types of midfielders, even if they aren’t famous, world-class players.
In the past, World Soccer Source has backed Dillon Powers, Michael Bradley, and Sebastian Lletget, and there’s no reason that these three midfielders cannot start for the United States now.
Many observers seem to want guarantees and years of experience from American players before even a single national team call-up for a friendly comes, but the United States isn’t at the level yet where qualified midfielders like Powers and Lletget can be left off the National Team, especially when they fulfill a specific need.
For a national team that needs to improve, inserting the impressive two-way play and engine of Powers with the skill, creativity, and activity off the ball of Lletget can improve the American midfield.
Bradley thrives in the center of the midfield, so he should start the deepest and in the middle of a three-man midfield. Powers provides enough running and defending to allow Bradley to go forward, but the midfield should really be a unit of three players working together with and without the ball.
Based on all of the available information, there is nothing to suggest that Powers and Lletget lack the talent, the confidence, the mentality, the work rate, or the athleticism to play for the National Team.
If the goal is to improve the National Team with quality players that can represent the team long-term in order to raise the level and respect of American soccer, then Powers and Lletget are the two players right now that can partner with Bradley for years to come.
Time will tell what other players make their case or how the careers of Powers and Lletget go, but these two midfielders are exactly what Bradley and the United States need to be more successful.
If for no other reason, Lletget and Powers can play with Bradley and produce quality and effective soccer, and this is so important for the midfield of a soccer nation on the rise.
The United States needs better coaching decisions to improve the midfield, and it shouldn’t be acceptable for various players that aren’t midfielders to be forced to play out of position in the midfield.
Powers and Bradley in slightly deeper midfield roles than Lletget is a sound formula to fielding a quality three-man midfield for the United States.
This trio gives the National Team technical skill, a high work rate, effective defending, and quality midfield passing.
Almost everyone in world football is using the 4-2-3-1 formation, and for the United States Men’s National Team, Michael Bradley should play as the Number 8 in this formation instead of playing as the Number 10.
Against Mexico, Jürgen Klinsmann used a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation on paper, and with Jermaine Jones away in Europe, Kyle Beckerman played the Number 6 or midfield destroyer role; it would have been interesting to have seen Maurice Edu start in place of Beckerman.
As was the case in a World Cup qualifier against Panama where Geoff Cameron partnered with Bradley, the use of a defensive midfielder other than Jones allowed Bradley to be more two-way, as opposed to having to play deep as the Number 6.
The important takeaway from the friendly with Mexico was that the United States possessed the ball better when Bradley had more freedom to attack and drop back as he saw fit.
Jermaine Jones is too talented, too athletic, and too valuable to drop from the United States Men’s National Team roster, but Jürgen Klinsmann needs to use the time before the 2014 World Cup to build up some strong chemistry between Geoff Cameron and Michael Bradley as a two-man defensive midfield partnership.
Jones’ talent is undeniably, and he displays a level of size and athleticism that is impressive even by world football standards. Despite these realities, Cameron and Bradley seem to perform remarkable better as a two-man defensive midfield, even if they only started together in one game in this capacity.
Despite some criticism of the two defensive midfielders from the media, for this writer, Cameron performed quite well with Jones when the two started together in a World Cup qualifying lose to Costa Rica in September of 2013.
Many observers feel that Jones needs to always be the more stay at home defensive midfielder so that Bradley can be more involved in the attack, but Jones doesn’t necessarily need to just hang back deeper when he plays, as he should also be allowed to pick and choose his opportunities to advance forward in the attack.
The problem with the Bradley and Jones partnership is that Jones often doesn’t drop back to cover for Bradley when Bradley makes marauding runs, but Jones should still be able to make his own runs with the confidence that Bradley will cover for him defensively.
The United States Men’s National Team is close to becoming a Giant Killer.
Granted, there is a big talent gap between the technical ability of the United States as a collective unit, but someone like Clint Dempsey is a world-class soccer player, even if someone like Robinho is much better.
Furthermore, a defensive or box-to-box midfielder like Michael Bradley isn’t anywhere close to Paul Pogba in terms of skill or athleticism, but that certainly doesn’t take anything away from Bradley’s qualities and physical gifts.
For the United States to become a Giant Killer, the entire Starting XI needs to be players who are close to or equal to Dempsey’s and Bradley’s level.
The key is a team comprised of technically-skilled and athletic players who have different and complimentary skills that allow them to play their own natural positions better than other American players.
There has been real progress in American soccer, and even if Jürgen Klinsmann isn’t using the best outside backs at his disposal and even if he doesn’t seem to be entirely convinced that he needs to start a playmaker, the talent and athleticism is there in the core group of United States internationals.
To be fair, it was already there when Bob Bradley was coach because Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore were all regulars during his tenure.
The good news is that Bradley and Altidore are drastically better than they used to be, and Bradley was somewhat close to being a finished product before Klinsmann took the reins as coach of the United States.
Altidore is really the player who has seen an enormous improvement in his technical ability, his smoothness on the ball, his finishing, and the aggression with which he attacks the goal, but the reason for these improvement was his time spent in Dutch football.
On the other hand, Dempsey is a player who has just progressively become better over time, but Dempsey’s skill-level and his ability to excel against top competition was already excellent when he first started playing for the United States and before he went to play in the English Premier League.
Of all the core group of strong U.S. internationals, Donovan has been around the longest, and players like Bradley and Dempsey provided skills and qualities that he didn’t have or they served as needed support. Dempsey and Donovan play the same position, and they can just be started together on opposite sides of the field and allowed to roam free.
Looking really closely at Bradley, Dempsey, Donovan, and Altidore, what one sees is a defensive midfielder, two attacking midfielders who aren’t playmakers but who can score, and finally a first striker who combines athleticism with size and technical ability.
These four players along with Tim Howard give the United States half of a Starting XI minus the Back Four and a playmaker, and the role of playmaker has a front-runner: Benny Feilhaber, a proven and experienced central attacking midfielder.
Giant Killing is the next step for the United States.
Jürgen Klinsmann needs to start Bradley as a defensive midfielder behind Donovan, Feilhaber, and Dempsey as a line of three attacking midfielders with Altidore as the first striker.
If Klinsmann does that, which he hasn’t done, then he simply needs to find four quality defenders and either a second defensive midfielder or an additional center forward or a second striker, the latter of which can play off Altidore as a sort of secondary playmaker to compliment Feilhaber.
Once Klinsmann fields something like the Starting XI proposed in the paragraph above, then the United States Men’s National Team is inching closer to becoming a Giant Killer.
There are probably very few people in the American soccer media or in the American fan base who would strongly doubt the logic of starting Bradley, Donovan, Feilhaber, Dempsey, and Altidore together, especially if Geoff Cameron was inserted into the Front Six to be the midfield destroyer in place of Jermaine Jones so that Bradley had more license to go forward and attack.
Although Brazil, Spain, Germany, Italy, and the like would be better in terms of collective team skill, starting Cameron, Bradley, Donovan, Feilhaber, Dempsey, and Altidore together is certainly a competitive and legit Front Six that national teams would take seriously.
The Front Six proposed is strong because it has a more stay-at-home defensive midfielder or midfield destroyer, a defensive midfielder with more licence to attack, a playmaker flanked by free-roaming attacking midfielders who can score, and a first striker that has the skill and speed to stretch the opposition’s defense. The Front Six is also all players who can keep possession by playing one-to-two touch soccer with purpose.
Despite the skill of the Front Six, the weak area is thus the American defense because no matter how well that American Front Six does, what happens when really first-rate midfielders and attackers terrorize the American Back Four?
This is the true impediment to American success because Tim Howard or Brad Guzan can only make so many game-saving saves before top national teams or second-tier national teams eventually find the back of the net. Howard and Guzan cannot be expected to stop every shot off the feet or head of elite players.
Klinsmann has Brad Evans, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, and DaMarcus Beasley as his preferred Back Four, but questioning their ability to stop the type of competition in the World Cup is a fair question, and it is a question that needs to be taken seriously.
Many people have placed too much trust in the ability of those four defenders (two of which aren’t defenders) to stop elite attackers or even merely international-caliber attackers, and this mentality could doom the United States in the World Cup.
American soccer and the United States Men’s National Team has improved, although not really because of Klinsmann, but the American defense is a problem and a matter of concern.
There are two solutions to the problems with the USMNT’s Back Four: 1.) Start a more proven Back Four such as Jonathan Spector, Michael Orozco, John Anthony Brooks, and Eric Lichaj; or 2) Start a Back Four made up of DeAndre Yedlin, Andrew Farrell, Shane O’Neill, and Chris Klute.
Of course, the obvious third solution is some combination of the more-proven defenders with the newer MLS defenders.
Plenty of people will contend that the young MLS defenders are unproven and inexperienced, but at least they are defenders that are both skilled and athletic. Their youth or their lack of international inexperience doesn’t change the fact that they have the skill and the athleticism to compete at the international level, and their youth and inexperienced shouldn’t be used against them.
How long until the U.S lets the better defenders play?
The real question is not which players Klinsmann prefers, but rather who are the best American players at each position?
Given the amount of teams in the 2014 World Cup that are frankly much better than the current preferred Klinsmann starting line-up, the United States would be wise to start the Front Six advocated in this article and use a new Back Four that has the ability to compete with the types of players who will be in this World Cup.
The United States won’t be a Giant Killer in this World Cup if Klinsmann’s makeshift defenses are used or if no playmaker is used.
These two things need to change because starting Cameron, Bradley, Donovan, Feilhaber, Dempsey, and Altidore as the Front Six at the very least makes for a competitive group of players with the skill and the athleticism to do well in the 2014 World Cup.
No one will know how good the United States Men’s National Team really is until Klinsmann fields the best American players at the same time in a balanced formation that tactically makes sense.
Brad Evans, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, DaMarcus Beasley, Graham Zusi, and Brad Davis are solid MLS players, but they are not Giant Killers.
They really aren’t as good as other American options such as DeAndre Yedlin, Andrew Farrell, Shane O’Neill, Chris Klute, Joe Corona, and Mix Diskerud.
Many of Jürgen Klinsmann’s first-choice starters hold players like Cameron, Bradley, Dempsey, Feilhaber, Donovan, and Altidore back, and this needs to change.
While the American defense has been a problem for the United States Men’s National Team, the midfield has also been an enormous problem because the U.S. hasn’t showcased quality passing and combination play at a level that’s good enough for a deep World Cup run.
Setting the defense to the side for the moment, the American midfield is something that can be examined with some basic math.
Normally, a World Cup roster would have eight or perhaps nine midfielders, with three or four of those players being defensive midfielders. If one accepts that Bradley, Jones, Donovan, Diskerud, and Dempsey should all be on the USMNT roster, then three midfield spots are open.
Any honest evaluation of the United States Men’s National Team’s player pool in the midfield reveals Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Landon Donovan, and Clint Dempsey to be players that are probably just too talented and way too capable of playing well against strong competition to leave off the roster.
Therefore, if one looks to add another defensive midfielder to that list, a player like Kyle Beckerman is too big of a liability from an athletic standpoint to put on a World Cup roster.
Beckerman isn’t just a player who isn’t quite quick enough or fast enough to put on a World Cup roster, but he is a player that is totally overmatched in terms of speed, quickness, and agility to really compete outside of MLS and CONCACAF.
Given this reality, the United States needs an additional defensive midfielder on the roster, and the only options are Maurice Edu, Amobi Okugo, Ricardo Clark, Perry Kitchen, Jared Jeffrey, Will Trapp, or Jeremy Hall.
Of course, Geoff Cameron, who has been listed as a defender, can play the midfield destroyer probably better than any American except Bradley, and Cameron has the defensive skills, the technical ability, and the athleticism to perform at the World Cup.
Additionally, another option would be to list Shane O’Neill as a midfielder, in which case he could play as a defensive midfielder, as a center back, or as an outside back.
O’Neill is probably a better defensive midfielder than all of the options listed above with the exception of Cameron, but selecting Beckerman to represent the United States in a World Cup would be a very unrealistic expectation of his ability to really keep up with the speed of international play.
With this information in mind, selecting Shane O’Neill to be the third defensive midfielder along with Bradley and Jones would likely be the wisest course of action, even if many people view it as a risky or crazy selection. O’Neill proved his worth not only in MLS but also for Tab Ramos’s U-20 side.
Turning to the attacking midfielders, by selecting Dempsey and Donovan, the United States is left with two to three roster spots for attacking midfielders, and Mix Diskerud, Joe Corona, and Benny Feilhaber stand out as players who have clearly shown that they have the tools to play at the international level with players like Bradley, Dempsey, and Donovan.
Whether one looks at Brad Davis, Graham Zusi, or Alejandro Bedoya, any realistic examination of the touch, vision, passing ability, and general playing style and technical ability reveals them to be quite a few levels below Diskerud, Corona, and Feilhaber in terms of their ability to receive and release the ball quickly enough to not be overrun by better national teams.
Based on the number of roster spots in the midfield, by selecting Bradley, Jones, O’Neill, Dempsey, Donovan, Feilhaber, Corona, and Diskerud, the USMNT has eight players who fulfill needed roles.
Players like Bradley, Jones, and O’Neill provide defensive coverage in the midfield and serve as passing outlets for the defenders, and they also are key elements to the midfielders’ ability to pass well and keep possession.
With these players providing quality defending and excellent technical ability directly in front of the defense, the need is then to have attacking midfielders who can foster quality passing that leads to possession and the creation of goal-scoring opportunities.
Dempsey, Donovan, and Corona are all attacking midfielders who can play centrally, out right, or out left, but Donovan and Dempsey are really better suited to line up out wide with lots of freedom to roam or as second strikers with the same freedom.
On the other hand, Corona is also a true playmaker like Diskerud and Feilhaber, and the inclusion of Dempsey, Donovan, Corona, Diskerud, and Feilhaber on the roster gives the USMNT many line-up options in the midfield in front of the defensive midfielders.
Even Feilhaber and Diskerud are capable of playing on the right or on the left because their style of play is predicated on showing for the ball and moving into space wherever they are needed.
Any brand of soccer based on confining attacking midfielders to a specific side of the attacking half or the attacking third eliminates any fluidity or quality to the passing play of the team.
Diskerud, Corona, and Feilhaber are players who allow the United States to field a Front Six where players with excellent technical ability, creativity, and agility can play in front of defensive midfielders like Jones and Bradley who provide a combination of defensive ability, running endurance, and passing ability that the attacking midfielders don’t have.
When it comes time to select midfielders for the USMNT’s World Cup roster, players like O’Neill, Diskerud, Corona, and Feilhaber are needed both as support and as substitutes for players like Bradley, Jones, Dempsey, and Donovan.
Diskerud’s international play in recent months seems to have convinced the American soccer media and the American fan base of his importance as a playmaker, and the play of Feilhaber and Corona for club and country greatly overshadows anything Brad Davis, Graham Zusi, or Alejandro Bedoya have ever done.
Stuart Holden showed just how important a complete midfielder can be for the United States, and young or not, Benji Joya is the only other midfielder in the American player pool who brings Holden’s combination of attacking and defending to the midfield.
While Michael Bradley is often described as a box-to-box midfielder, his attacking ability and creativity aren’t on par with Holden’s or Joya’s, and this is why Joya would be an inspired and needed selection for the 2014 World Cup.
Like it or not, there’s no room for Zusi, Davis, Bedoya, or Kljestan on the USMNT’s World Cup roster because they can’t outplay Diskerud, Corona, Feilhaber, Joya, and O’Neill.
Jozy Altidore, Aron Jóhannsson, and Juan Agudelo will need attacking midfielders and playmakers who can provide them with the service they need to score in the World Cup, and the likes of Davis, Zusi, and Bedoya just don’t match up to the U.S.’ better attacking midfielders that have proven that they can perform at a higher level.
To explain this gap in skill more clearly for the purpose of avoiding any misunderstanding, consider the following:
If Bradley, Dempsey, or Donovan are injured or suspended, the United States will need players like Shane O’Neill, Joe Corona, Mix Diskerud, Benny Feilhaber, and Benji Joya to compete against quality opposition.
On the off chance that Bradley, Dempsey, and Donovan couldn’t play, the U.S. could field a Front Six made up of O’Neill, Joya, Corona, Diskerud, Feilhaber, and Altidore and still be competitive, but the same thing couldn’t be said of fielding Jones, Kljestan, Bedoya, Zusi, Davis, and Altidore.
The collective thinking of the American soccer media and the American fan base is largely a parroting of Jürgen Klinsmann’s own opinions, and the reason that this is so is because many people feel that Klinsmann’s playing resume makes his coaching decisions infallible.
This refusal to question Klinsmann’s selections or to evaluate players based on their physical gifts and skills is probably the root of the problem of the United States’ tendency to underperform as far as the quality of the soccer goes.
Many people use Klinsmann’s win/loss record as evidence of the success of his methods and of his player selections, but consistent winning against better national teams requires improving the United States’ quality of play, and the steady improvement of Bradley, Dempsey, and Altidore has nothing to do with Klinsmann.
The collective skill-level of the players on the national team is directly related to the ability of the United States to begin to consistently challenge and beat better national teams.
If you were to ask a cross section of American soccer journalists who they thought should be the midfielders on the roster, you would likely find that the responses were consistent with whichever players Klinsmann had most recently called up to the national team.
Therefore, the collective thinking is probably that Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Graham Zusi, Mix Diskerud, and Fabian Johnson should be the USMNT’s midfielders, but Beckerman and Zusi can be immediately removed from the roster in favor of Corona and O’Neill, Okugo, Kitchen, or Edu.
The problem with the collective thinking is that if Bradley, Donovan, or Dempsey is unavailable for a game, then the national team is without viable substitutes.
By putting Feilhaber, Corona, and Diskerud on the roster, you ensure that those three players are available to allow the United States to pass well and create scoring chances.
While the collective thinking is that Bradley, Jones, Beckerman, Dempsey, Donovan, Zusi, Diskerud, and F. Johnson should be the USMNT’s midfielders, World Soccer Source believes that Bradley, Jones, O’Neill, Joya, Dempsey, Donovan, Corona, Feilhaber, and Diskerud represent a group of players who have the tools necessary to compete in the World Cup.
The decision is yours, but there isn’t any real evidence that Zusi and Beckerman can outperform talented and proven players like Corona, Feilhaber, Joya, or O’Neill against higher-level competition.
Then, there’s always Freddy Adu who has shown the ability to open up games and create scoring chances against top competition. Not a bad option to put on the roster given the lack of technical ability and creativity on the United States Men’s National Team.
Can Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya really outplay Freddy Adu? The evidence says they can’t.
The good thing about Adu is that he can be listed as a forward in place of Terrence Boyd, which gives the USMNT four forwards: Jozy Altidore, Juan Agudelo, Aron Jóhannsson, and Freddy Adu.
This group of players leaves 10 rosters spots open for seven defenders and three goalkeepers, and O’Neill and Cameron triple as center backs, as defensive midfielders, and as outside backs.
Michael Bradley may not be an elite box-to-box midfielder, but he is an elite defensive midfielder because of his combination of excellent defending, refined passing, and athleticism.
One of the keys to the United States Men’s National Team’s success in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil will be Michael Bradley’s technical skill, defending, and athleticism as a defensive midfielder, but the USMNT also needs a viable substitute with his skill, athleticism, and defending because, should he ever be injured or suspended, the United States will be in trouble.
Michael Bradley’s smooth one-to-two touch passing and his excellent technical ability with both feet cause many Americans to view him as an elite box-to-box midfielder like Arturo Vidal, Paulinho, Ramires, or Kevin-Prince Boateng, but Bradley is really a prototypical defensive midfielder only because he lacks the higher-level of technical-artistry and scoring-ability that the other midfielders listed bring.
Bradley is a fantastic midfielder, even by international standards, but using him as the same type of box-to-box midfielder as those listed above weakens the ability of the United States to defend the attacks of top national teams.
The United States Men’s National Team isn’t at the point yet where it has a player who can play the role of the defensive midfielder like Bradley can, and using another player there leaves the American center backs vulnerable.
To beat the best national teams, the USMNT needs Bradley playing as a defensive midfielder because this is an important position that maximizes his talents and gifts.
Delivering final balls and scoring goals needs to be primarily left to midfielders like Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Mix Diskerud, Joe Corona, and Benny Feilhaber because Bradley cannot attack like they can and they can’t defend like he can. This sort of division of labor and combination of players of different skill-sets allows the United States to compete when it faces top national teams.
Players like Neymar, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Mario Balotelli need to not only be defended by a strong defensive back four but they also need to be defended by someone like Bradley because no other defensive midfielder in the American player pool, when used alone, stands a chance at somewhat containing their path from the midfield through the center of the American defense.
That is the real reason that Bradley needs to be utilized as a true defensive midfielder.
Calmness on the ball and elegant passing create the illusion that Bradley should be used in a more advanced role or given more freedom to make many attacking forays, but he should be started in a deeper role where he can maximize his tireless running, his defending, and his passing.
As a defensive midfielder right in front of the defensive back four, Bradley has more touches on the ball and plays a bigger role in games, and playing deep allows Bradley to pick and chose when to go forward and when to stay back to provide defensive coverage.
Skilled passing isn’t just needed in the final third, but it’s also needed deep in the midfield where Bradley can help to control the passing in the United States’ defensive third and where he can serve as a passing outlet for the defense.
Without Bradley roaming in front of the American Back Four, the United States cannot establish quality possession and develop a good passing rhythm because the top national teams will merely hound the American defenders and force them into giving away possession.
Winning back possession, supporting the defense, and orchestrating the passing of the USMNT from the back of the midfield is one of the most important roles in the starting line-up, and these skills complement the attacking skills of Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.
Starting Bradley as a midfield destroyer isn’t a misuse of Bradley’s skills, but rather it maximizes his combination of technical skill, defending, and tireless running.
A technically-skilled defensive midfielder is a true weapon for any national team, and Bradley is a technically-skilled defensive midfielder who also brings an imposing combination of size, athleticism, endurance, and intensity.
The United States Men’s National Team needs Michael Bradley starting right in front of the American Back Four, even if he has a defensive midfield partner like Geoff Cameron, but Bradley shouldn’t be used as the player who connects the defensive midfielders to Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, and Jozy Altidore; a playmaker is needed to connect Bradley to those three attackers.
Jürgen Klinsmann seems to think that Bradley, Dempsey, and Donovan negate the need for a playmaker, but the United States needs to start a playmaker, so that Bradley, Dempsey, and Donovan can play their natural positions, as none of these players are true playmakers.
A true playmaker is one of the keys to beating the top national teams, and no team ever wins the World Cup or the Champions League without a playmaker.
Providing excellent defending and quality passing as a defensive midfielder is an art form, and being classified as a defensive midfielder doesn’t mean that Bradley isn’t a smooth passer who is skilled on the ball.
For the United States Men’s National Team to close the gap with top national teams, it will need technically-skilled players at every position instead of thinking that any skilled player like Dempsey, Donovan, or Bradley is some sort of playmaker.
Michael Bradley is a defensive midfielder, and many Americans need to stop considering that position as one that is beneath a player with excellent technical ability because, in fact, the defensive midfielder touches the ball the most.