KYLE SCHNITZER - Sunday, June 5, 2016
Michael Bradley was bad - but maybe that isn't his fault.
For much of his career, Bradley's been behind an invisible wall shielding him from criticism. Perhaps it's because we can't shake off what he accomplished in Italy - and how the once bright promise seemingly has failed to evolve as we have envisioned.
The US relies on Bradley for basically everything: balls through the middle of the park, balls coming toward the flanks, lofted ball, streaking passes. He touches the ball nearly every possession. He's the player teammates pass to when they need to calm things down.
However, when a team presses your central figure and you don't have anyone else who can nearly possess the ball as well, trouble is going to happen.
That's exactly what Colombia did in their 2-0 win against the United States on Friday to open the Copa América. Their goals didn't come from Bradley miscues - a headed goal from Cristian Zapata was in part because Geoff Cameron was caught flat-footed, and a debatable handball called against DeAndre Yedlin resulted in a penalty kick goal from James Rodríguez.
Yet this is exactly the outcome of Colombia's game plan; what they like to do is press, causing their opponents to make a mistake, and then run on the attack. This sets up a problematic scenario for a player like Michael Bradley.
Anytime the United States had momentum moving forward, Colombia closed in on Bradley, resulting in the ugly Michael Bradley we've seen too much as of late when games matter. Friday night consisted of the same errant passes, the lost possession in the middle of the field and the back-and-forth passing without much else going on.
What can Jürgen Klinsmann do to alleviate this problem?
The US coach might need to find another player to lean on, or at least give Bradley someone else who can retain possession and see the field the way he has in the past.
Parts of Bradley's struggles against Colombia are to blame on his teammates. Fabian Johnson and Yedlin regularly ran up the flanks, which exposed the backline when the ball was dispossessed. It's what they need to do because the US refuses to ever attack the middle of the field. However, this team isn't good enough to rely on John Brooks and Geoff Cameron as lone backs to hold the backline when those situations happen.
John Brooks showed a lot of positives against Colombia and he did well to subsidize the explosion from Carlos Bacca and Juan Cuardrado. Still, since Colombia seemingly had everyone go forward on any missed possession by the US, Bradley by design had to drop back into a defensive midfield role to act as support.
Maybe it's time to start thinking about bringing someone else into the starting eleven that can help reduce some of the weight on Bradley's shoulders. One option could be starting Darlington Nagbe in the middle of the field. Another alternative is move Bradley more forward and slot in Kyle Beckerman to alleviate some of the field general duties.
There were moments in the match where it seemed the US was starting to find itself. The patience preached by Klinsmann looked real at times. There were tactical runs made by Bobby Wood and Gyasi Zardes But there has to be more from the players around Bradley to create other opportunities that don't always come his way.
Whatever the remedy is, Jurgen Klinsmann needs to find it, and has little time to do so. He takes most of the (deserved) blame for his team's performance. Was there a better starting eleven to pick tonight? No, I think Klinsmann got that right.
Fans want and rightfully expect to see the Michael Bradley that came with the hype earlier in his career. Perhaps that's the root of the problem; fans overhype every positive signal when they become too desperate for success. Michael Bradley is a good player - just not as good as we all want him to be.