Bob Bradley’s tactics are working but doing everyone a disservice

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Donovan chronically out of position, whether by getting shoved out right or by playing in the center of midfield far withdrawn from the forward(s) or his traditional attacking partner DaMarcus Beasley… this then has left Beasley without a dance partner down the left and affected his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.

Ching/Cooper

Donovan/Altidore

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.

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5 thoughts on “Bob Bradley’s tactics are working but doing everyone a disservice

  1. While I think the Guatemala game was ugly due to the Guatemalan side, I was surprised (and disappointed) to see Bradley’s team struggle against Cuba. The only reason they maintained possession well in the second half was because the Cuban’s got tired.

    I liked that Bradley gave Edu and Kljestan some quality minutes on the road in qualifying, but it would be nice to see Cooper get some shot at the National Team.

    As for Altidore and Adu, I really believe that they’ll get better experience staying in Spain and France right now. Come October, that may change, but not calling Cooper up is a disservice to MLS.

    The silver lining (and the reason some may not question Bradley) is that we’re winning while playing poorly. That’s the sign of a strong team.

  2. This was a bad performance by the US. I was watching in the first half, biting my nails, and then I realized- we’re playing freaking Cuba. I shouldn’t be biting my nails. It should be at least 3-0, home or away. If we had played that way against Mexico, we would have lost by at least 6 goals. Hell, even Canada, who couldn’t hang on against Honduras at home, would have beaten us on our soil last night.

    What Bradley needs to do is stop giving shots to Ching and Johnson. I love Ching, I think he’s a great MLS player, but simply not National Team-caliber. I would like to see Altidore up top with Cooper, with Adu, Beasley and Donovan playing attacking mid. That would be enough offense to let guys like Marvell Wynne and Maurice Edu hang back but get the occasional streaking run that ends in a quality chance. I would also like to see Sacha incorporated a little more. After all, these young guys are going to be playing in South Africa in 21 months. Guys like Hejduk, Johnson, Wolff, and Ching will not (hopefully; Bradley has chosen a few stinkers in his career).

  3. I admit there are some good points being made here and some valid criticisms of Bradley – though I am still a fan of his. He has let new talent emerge over the past two years and we are gradually coalescing a team with some depth; though I admit I thought we would be further along at tis point. We are deep in goal, in central defenders and defensive mid. We have some good right backs and some experienced older ones that can be pressed into service if need be. The left back position is a work in progress but there are possibilities.

    The defnsive mids are good but need to evolve. I thought the 2007 tandem of Bradley and Feilhaber demonstrated the potential of what a good combination could do with Bradley essentially playing the destroyer role and Feilhaber showing some effectiveness in the link role. With the downturn in Feilhaber’s career, Bradley seems to have resorted to two destroyers though both have demonstrated an ability to play end to end. I don’t know why he does not unleash them more in these types of games, but hopefully their ability to become true linkmen as well as destroyers will emerge as they get to play with better clubs in Europe and expand their knowledge and abilities.

    That said, I like the idea of playing Donovan at the top of a diamond with Edu or Bradley behind him and Beasley and Dempsey on the flanks. It would open up the withdrawn forward role for Adu with Altidore as the target man and Cooper as the backup or alternative. Donovan is willing to track back more than Adu seems to be but both are essentially interchangeable.

  4. Pingback: Wow, there are actually some good matches today « Fighting Talker

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