In Defense of Michael Bradley

We all know the United States was eliminated from the World Cup yesterday with a disappointing loss to a very strong Belgium squad. It took an absolute historic effort from the Secretary of Defense Tim Howard to keep the score as close as it was. The game itself actually resembled the U.S. games from the group stage, highlighted by strong defense and goalkeeping, gritty resolve, and very few attacking opportunities compared to the opponent. One thing was also constant throughout the USMNT’s World Cup performance; criticism of Michael Bradley.

Other than Tim Howard, Michael Bradley is the most vital player on the U.S. team. His status as the team’s leader rightfully puts more pressure on his performance than say, Alejandro Bedoya. The microscope is definitely placed on his play, and here’s the reason why some of the criticism and calls for benching Bradley from the past few weeks are unwarranted.

Bradley’s natural position is a “holding,” or defensive central midfielder. But when Jozy Altidore went down in the first half of the first match against Ghana, Klinsmann had no other choice but to play Bradley as a more attacking midfielder. And Bradley responded by having a poor first touch and lazy passes on numerous occasions. But once criticism started to pile on (some of which was well-deserved), it seems fans perception of Michael Bradley began to change.

That perception was masking the fact the Bradley was doing work all over the field. Over the first four games, Bradley covered over 1.5 more miles than any other player in the tournament. Bradley covered a total of 54.7 km (34.0 m), or 8.5 miles a game. The table below shows the top players for distance covered in the World Cup. Bradley’s midfield teammate Jermaine Jones covered the third highest distance.

PLAYERS MATCHES PLAYED MINUTES PLAYED DISTANCE COVERED DISTANCE COVERED IN POSSESSION DISTANCE COVERED NOT IN POSSESSION TOP SPEED
Michael BRADLEY 4 390 54.7km (34.0 m) 19.0km (11.8 m) 21.2km (13.2 m) 30.9km/h (19.2 mph)
Marcelo DIAZ 4 390 52.2km (32.4 m) 20.2km (12.6 m) 17.7km (11.0 m) 28.0km/h (17.4 mph)
Jermaine JONES 4 390 47.6km (29.6 m) 15.1km (9.4 m) 18.9km (11.7 m) 31.6km/h (19.6 mph)
Gokhan INLER 4 390 47.1km (29.3 m) 15.9km (9.9 m) 18.1km (11.2 m) 28.5km/h (17.7 mph)
Charles ARANGUIZ 4 364 47.0km (29.2 m) 17.9km (11.1 m) 15.9km (9.9 m) 29.1km/h (18.1 mph)
Philipp LAHM 4 390 47.0km (29.2 m) 20.8km (12.9 m) 14.7km (9.1 m) 28.7km/h (17.8 mph)
Toni KROOS 4 390 46.4km (28.8 m) 20.2km (12.6 m) 14.6km (9.1 m) 29.8km/h (18.5 mph)
Thomas MUELLER 4 382 46.4km (28.8 m) 19.8km (12.3 m) 13.6km (8.5 m) 29.2km/h (18.1 mph)
Celso BORGES 4 378 46.3km (28.8 m) 13.8km (8.6 m) 17.9km (11.1 m) 28.5km/h (17.7 mph)
Stephan LICHTSTEINER 4 390 46.1km (28.6 m) 16.0km (9.9 m) 17.7km (11.0 m) 29.8km/h (18.5 mph)
LUIZ GUSTAVO 4 390 46.1km (28.6 m) 16.3km (10.1 m) 16.0km (9.9 m) 31.4km/h (19.5 mph)
Eugenio MENA 4 390 45.9km (28.5 m) 16.7km (10.4 m) 16.0km (9.9 m) 30.6km/h (19.0 mph)
Xherdan SHAQIRI 4 387 45.8km (28.5 m) 15.8km (9.8 m) 16.4km (10.2 m) 28.9km/h (18.0 mph)
Clint DEMPSEY 4 387 45.4km (28.2 m) 15.3km (9.5 m) 16.1km (10.0 m) 28.8km/h (17.9 mph)
Sofiane FEGHOULI 4 390 45.3km (28.1 m) 13.4km (8.3 m) 18.3km (11.4 m) 31.1km/h (19.3 mph)

Bradley covered almost two miles more than any other non-American player in the World Cup when not in possession of the ball. Bradley was at his best doing the things that are the least noticeable; tracking back in support of the defense. His fitness level is higher than any other USMNT player, and he excels with the two-side challenge that is central midfield. During the World Cup, he also happened to play poorly in the most visible part of the game in the offensive, attacking side.

As you can see, Jermaine Jones* traveled nearly as far as Bradley, but went forward much less frequently. Jones 9.4 miles covered in possession was less than Bradley’s 11.8 miles in possession, but also accounted for an even smaller percentage of total distance covered. Of Jones total distance, 31% was in possession, while 35% of Bradley’s total distance was attacking. Bradley spent more time and distance on the offensive side than Jones, while still being able to cover ground when not in possession.

*Who by the way, played very well most of the tournament.

Bradley’s skills are best utilized when he has multiple forward options in front of him for him to carve defenses with his passing ability. With Clint Dempsey the lone player in front of Bradley, Klinsmann was unable to fully utilize Bradley’s skills. Bradley didn’t play his best, but his value was absolutely earned by covering the entire field in support of the defense. The U.S performance in the World Cup should be remembered by Tim Howard’s heroics, strong defense, and Bradley proving to be very valuable even out of his natural position.

 

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