July 02, 2014

Michael Bradley Covered Most Ground in World Cup: Michael Bradley covered 54.7 kilometers during the four U.S. games, the highest total of any player in the World Cup. Headlines such as What Happened to Michael Bradley? suggest the 26-year-old underperformed, but nobody outworked him. "His positioning has been flawless and his work ethic is quite literally unmatched," wrote Beck Barnes before Monday's match.

posted by rcade to soccer at 07:37 PM - 12 comments

He seemed to turn the ball over a lot (particularly in the Belgium game), but I suspect in proportion to his time of possession it wasn't as bad as it seemed.

He didn't seem to get a lot of help, in terms of his teammates' positioning and getting opportunities to feed productive passes, so occasionally he'd end up carrying the ball 2/3 of the pitch before running into a wall of defenders.

posted by dfleming at 08:06 PM on July 02, 2014

First touch in midfield. I'm not going to make excuses for Bradley losing possession, but if you're not confident that balls to feet will be controlled well, or passes to players ahead of you will be reached or given good first touches, there's not much you can do there unless the aim is to play Route One, hope to win balls in the air and then have support.

posted by etagloh at 11:33 PM on July 02, 2014

He turned the ball over because he had no support on the squad. Bradley and Jones were the only players to consistently pressure offensively all tournament. Add the fact that the US employed an 11 back defensive strategy that gave him less room to operate and had him covering much more ground than opponents.

Bradley is a world class player on a developing team.

posted by cixelsyd at 11:44 PM on July 02, 2014

Without wishing to denigrate Bradley, who I think played about as well as anyone could have with the limited support the system in which he was playing afforded him, is there a chance that he ran further than anyone else because he was constantly out of position? Messi, for example, spends a lot of the game walking rather than running, but is so acutely aware of where the space is, that he "pops up" in the right place at the right time a lot. Zidane was similar in his day.

I'm reminded of the answer former Liverpool player Michael Robinson gave when asked by the Guardian who was better, Hansen or Lawrenson?

Mark used to fly into slide tackles, everyone would applaud and he'd be a hero. But Hansen would have seen it long before. Lawrensen was never on his feet; Hansen never needed to be on his bum. Lawrensen was brilliant but Hansen was a genius.

Bradley is being (rightly) lauded for his work rate, but there's part of me wants to point out that if he were a little better at football, he wouldn't need to do so much running.

posted by JJ at 05:31 AM on July 03, 2014

"Teams that are ready to suffer are going to do well. And we want to be the team that can suffer the most." — Michael Bradley. At least he stuck to his word.

posted by yerfatma at 08:34 AM on July 03, 2014

It's a bit of a depressing thing. Part of me wants to say that what the US team should do is get a bit more cynical. They should go down more often when someone swipes a leg or an arm at them. They should roll around on the floor a bit to try and entice the referee into booking their assailant and to give their team mates a breather for a few seconds. They should learn how to hold onto the ball in the middle of the park and slow everything down a bit when they have a lead.

But most of me wants to stand up, applaud and yell at all the other teams that this is how they should all play; this is how they DID play when they were children and before it became a job. And that for a neutral watching a game, it makes for a much more entertaining spectacle. That 0-0 with Belgium is one of the most entertaining games (never mind being THE most entertaining 0-0) I've ever seen. I saw in that the bones of the meaningless weekly games I play with my friends, but with lots of very talented flesh on top. I hardly ever see that when Spain play, or when Barca play, or when Bayern play (since Pep ruined them).

If the US want to win things, they will have to subdue some of that natural ebullience; but it would be a much better footballing world to live in if they just kept it up and everyone else followed suit.

posted by JJ at 09:42 AM on July 03, 2014

But most of me wants to stand up, applaud and yell at all the other teams that this is how they should all play

I think the reason it was so entertaining was because the US couldn't keep the ball and Howard was outstanding. I wish the US could bottle their effort and team spirit and sell it to England, but I don't see too many teams aspiring to have a technically limited midfield playing in front of a miraculous goalkeeper.

posted by Mr Bismarck at 10:50 AM on July 03, 2014

Klinsmann's onto a good thing for the future of USA soccer by bringing in young Germany-based players. As they progress in their club careers and find themselves playing in Italy or England, when they get homesick for their Mutti or when their families would rather live in the place they grew up, that place will be near where they're playing and they won't be lured away from the highest level training and competition by the promise of big secure MLS contracts and the inevitable big-fish-in-a-small-pond slide to mediocrity that playing and practicing among slower, lower-skilled players has encouraged in Bradley, Dempsey, and Donovan, among others.

Now of course, Bradley looked awesome at Roma because he had an awesome group of players to deliver the ball to, and of course he now has to do a lot more running all over the park to fill the gaps that his old club side would always have kept sealed, but you can tell by his clumsy first touches and his relatively slow decision-making (relative to when he was at the top of his game in Europe) that playing in the MLS has hurt his game. He can afford to be lazy now, which he never could do in the Eternal City.

Ditto Dempsey on his return from England. The USA's two best players will never be what they once were. They took themselves out of the highest levels of competition, which would have helped their national team the most, in exchange for job security, money, and the comfort of taking it easy playing at home.

I'm not gainsaying this decision. These guys have good reasons for taking the contracts they did, even setting aside questions of comfort and family. With those thoughts in the mix, with families who may have been tired of living in Europe and with players wondering about the natural instability of playing for top teams who might exercise transfer options at any time or bench them when someone better or more expensive comes along, I'm sure these guys made good, solid, calculated personal choices.

Those choices hurt their quality of play, though, right when they were in top form. That's why Klinsi's concentration on guys who really are based in Europe, or young guys with strong ties to European club systems, makes sense to me. Our national team will improve the longer we can keep our top players in Europe, away from the MLS.

posted by Hugh Janus at 11:57 AM on July 03, 2014

I think the rising success of the MLS in fan support and expansion may be closing the window on the era when our best players were all going overseas and staying there. When the money's so much better here and the quality of play is improving, it's easier for players like Dempsey and Bradley to settle for it.

Maybe Klinsmann can discourage that by making it clear the path to the USMNT goes through Europe.

posted by rcade at 12:07 PM on July 03, 2014

I disagree with encouraging a German the path to anywhere goes through Europe.

posted by yerfatma at 01:39 PM on July 03, 2014

Our national team will improve the longer we can keep our top players in Europe, away from the MLS.

But that can't go on for an extended period of time, with a disjunction between kids who grow up in the US and ones who have US citizenship but grow up elsewhere. It has to be transitional, to provide sufficient breathing room to change the development model underneath it.

Having your best players abroad is hardly a unique state of affairs: footballers from all over the world get scouted into European club systems, but their home countries still have the base level infrastructure for the scouts to know where to look.

The US federation isn't going to change the dominance of the NCAA and the lure of a scholarship, but it needs to sell the idea that there is a route to being scouted and playing professionally and not getting stuck in rec-league stagnation. Liga MX clubs are scouting 14-year-olds in the US, especially kids with Mexican heritage, and perhaps doing so more aggressively than MLS.

posted by etagloh at 09:15 PM on July 03, 2014

Bradley is being (rightly) lauded for his work rate, but there's part of me wants to point out that if he were a little better at football, he wouldn't need to do so much running.

I sort of agree with that, then I don't.

Bradley is no Messi, but then neither are Xabi Alonso, Busquets or Mascherano. Every team needs what Eric Cantona dismissed as "water carriers" or as the Brazilians say "someone has to carry the piano". Usually these sorts of players are the first ones on the manager's team sheet.


A former defensive midfielder

posted by owlhouse at 09:45 PM on July 03, 2014

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