Don’t Blame Michael Bradley

The U.S.’s star midfielder is still the same player—it’s his position that has changed

Just before halftime of the U.S. national team’s game against Germany, Michael Bradley received a ball at the top of the box and mis-controlled his first touch. The entire country let out a yell of frustration. The relatively poor play of Michael Bradley has been a big topic after every game thus far, especially in comparison to Jermaine Jones, who is playing better than any of us thought possible. So what could be going on with Bradley?

He is playing a different role than he usually does for club or country. He normally sits deeper and connects passes, linking the defense with the rest of the team, and then picks his moments to make dangerous runs forward. In this tournament, coach Jurgen Klinsmann has asked him to play higher up the field and make more dangerous passes. Instead of sitting back and dictating the game, he is shuttling up and down the field trying to make killer plays. It’s a new and possibly uncomfortable position.

Some of his bad touches might be a sign of a lack of conviction. When he plays deeper, he is always sure of the pass to make. He knows what he is supposed to do and what he wants to do. He can make little play after little play, and executing them builds his confidence. He creates a rhythm.

When he plays higher up the field, though, he doesn’t have that luxury. He has to think a little more quickly because the other team’s defenders are much more attentive to a player in a more advanced position. He can’t build on what he knows and does well. It’s tougher to get comfortable and confident, resulting in more bad touches.

We should remember that Bradley is fulfilling a job for the team, sacrificing what he is best at for the sake of the squad. And he is working extremely hard in the process; no player covered more ground—23.6 miles over three matches—than any other player in the tournament. His advanced position also seems to have created more space for Jermaine Jones to operate. Klinsmann’s two indispensable midfielders are no longer getting in each other’s way, and Bradley’s new position is a big reason why.

Yes, Michael will need to be sharper if the U.S. is going to have a chance of making it deeper in the tournament. But before we hate on the guy, we need to remember that the team as a whole is playing well in large part because of the role that Bradley has adopted.