First of all, I’d like to thank Grant Wahl for being the first mainstream soccer media guy to say what needed to be said about Bob Bradley’s tactics over the last two qualifiers.
If U.S. coach Bob Bradley is going to continue leaving young attacking options like Kenny Cooper, Jozy Altidore and Freddy Adu off his rosters, the players who do get picked need to show they can be offensive threats. Continuing to use two holding midfielders (Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu, in this case) seems overly conservative, especially against a lineup of amateurs on a bottom-feeding Cuba side. Edu, in particular, had a poor game against Cuba, causing several give-aways with misguided passes, some of them coming without any defensive pressure on him.
I think everyone’s been afraid to say this because, in the end, he has been getting results. But, the kind of overly defensive play will cost this team in the long run, whether it be in the final round of qualifying or even in South Africa.
Quite simply, his use of two defensive midfielders in the form of Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu is strangling the life out of the US attack. From a tactical perspective, this arrangement causes a number of problems including:
- It clogs up that section of midfield, that while making it harder for our opponents to live in there, also stretches the abilities of Bradley and Edu to operate in such tight space and leads to more giveaways – though giveaways that happen in a less dangerous part of the field
- It has left Landon Donovan chronically out of position, whether by getting shoved out right or by playing in the center of midfield far withdrawn from the forward(s) or his traditional attacking partner DaMarcus Beasley… this then has left Beasley without a dance partner down the left and affected his play negatively
- It has forced whoever is in the unfortunate position of being the lone forward of playing the Peter Crouch role of going after high balls without any support and having to hope for a scramble in order to get any dangerous opportunities.
- It seems to have come with coach’s orders to not pass forwards unless you are absolutely positive you can complete the pass. This has led to endless noodling from flank-to-flank and across the backline as nobody wants be the one to take the risk and get the attack moving. It’s one thing to do that against a team like Mexico, where losing possession might mean you don’t get the ball until five minutes later. But against Guatemala and Cuba – why not get out there and impose your will on them.
- The US is relying almost entirely on set pieces and opposition screwups to score. Against even decent opposition, that won’t be enough
From a psychological point-of-view, what happens when someone scores an early goal against the US and actually forces them to attack? Who will lead that push? Right now, the answer would be no one, because Bradley appears to have sent them out with orders not to give away the ball under any circumstances. The irony is, the two guys who he has jammed into our midfield to maintain possession (Edu and Bradley) seem to be good at little other than giving the ball away in the perennially congested midfield. By getting one of those guys out of that mess, and inserting a withdrawn forward you decongest the midfield and allow our skill players like Beasley and Donovan more room to operate and to create. Here is my ideal USA XI, with a few options thrown in for injuries, suspensions, et al.
Beasley Adu/Donovan Dempsey
Bradley OR Edu
Cherundolo Gooch Bocanegra Hejduk
Yes, that is Freddy Adu you see in midfield. He’s a skillful attacker, he attacks the goal, he can make dangerous passes. He needs to be on the field sooner than later. So does Jozy Altidore. We cannot afford for this to become a Graham Taylor/Barnes, Lineker, Beardsley situation, where the petrified manager dooms his team’s chances by refusing to take advantage of skilled players in favor of safer “grinder” kinds of guys. I think Kenny Cooper’s situation is slightly different because Ching can clearly get it done as a target forward for the US.
That being said, those three young guns need to be in the squad for the Cuba match at RFK. They don’t have to start. They don’t even necessarily have see a lot of minutes. But they need to be in the squad. If they’re not, people who have the sources need to find out why. A game against an inferior opponent at home with a safe points situation is precisely the one to get those guys out there on this stage.
Finally on a more “cosmic” note, Bradley needs to let this team play because a national soccer team subconsciously represents how a country feels about itself. Bradley’s USA feels just like our country right now – trying to do the right thing, but weighted down by a leadership always willing to sacrifice long-term greatness for short-term good. One that’s heart is in the right place, but whose methods to achieve those goals make the process almost intolerable. Bradley and Edu playing together is to soccer what DHS is to our government; a good idea in general and one with good motives, but one that is too big, too bloated and executed so badly as to potentially undercut all those good ideas and motives.
American soccer fans rightly feel that we are in ascendancy in terms of talent. With the development of players like Jozy and Freddy and Guzan, that is unassailable.
The question remains, why if we see all this talent rising up, is our team still playing like it’s the late-90s, terrified of seeing its inferior talent exposed on a big stage? Is the future arriving faster than Bradley can tolerate? It will be up to him to prove that is not the case.