061013_bradleymichael_isi_usmntjd060413115 John Dorton/isiphotos.com
Direct from Seattle

Life with Bradley: Musings on Michael's Importance

The United States national team is a different squad when a certain central midfielder lines up in the Starting XI. How different? Jon Arnold investigates after Bradley turned in another excellent performance
BY Jon Arnold Posted
June 12, 2013
2:21 AM
SEATTLE—Not two weeks ago the United States was dismantled in a friendly against Belgium. 13 days and three wins later the team is playing the best soccer it’s played under Jurgen Klinsmann after a 2-0 defeat of Panama. The difference? Start with Michael Bradley.

The Roma man was absent for the Belgian beat-down because of the Italian Cup final match. The spark when he returned was noticeable, with strong performances against Germany and Jamaica building to a master class in midfield Tuesday. There have been more changes that have aided the U.S. transition since the loss to Belgium, but Bradley truly can make the difference between a win and a loss.

“He's a mature player, accepts responsibility for bad performances, bad passes. It comes so few and far between that you come to lean on Michael,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said after the match “If he's there you feel like you have every chance of winning the game, and rightfully so. You put him right up there with the best midfielders in CONCACAF, if not the best. Playing at Roma, it's starting to really come together. He's a magnificent player, he's young, and he'll have 850 caps by the time he's finished playing. We love having him.”

Part of Bradley’s success stems from his ability to see the game. Few players on the pitch at CenturyLink seemed to be able to visualize what was developing like Bradley, and if others were able to anticipate the play the execution did not follow. Meanwhile, he’s contorting his body to shield off a defender and making a successful pass—something he did 78 times while only missing nine times according to Opta data.

“As a midfielder, you’re constantly trying to read the game, you’re constantly trying to find space, you’re trying to find the spots on the field where you can make an impact,” Bradley said. “At times that’s going to be defensively, at times that’s going to be attacking wise. Sure, obviously if you’re playing with Geoff, the situations that you find yourself in are going to be different.

“There’s going to be the opportunity to be a little bit more mobile at times, to be a little bit more two-way, to find the opportunities to move forward into the attack. I think that understanding was good tonight. As I said, every guy who stepped onto the field tonight should be proud of what they did.”

As with most top players, he makes those around him better, and that was on display against Panama. Bradley set up the first goal by finding Fabian Johnson, who had an embarrassment of space on the left wing.

“Geoff shoved me a good early ball and I was able to turn and there was some space,” Bradley said of the goal. “Now at that point you’re trying to drive forward and see now as you move forward in the attack what the options are. You give credit to Fabian, he joined in a strong way. The ball he gave to Jozy was perfect and Jozy’s movement was exactly what you’d expect a goalscorer to do.”

It’s not just the attack that benefits from Bradley. His ball-winning ability keeps the pressure off the defense. And when the pressure does come to the back line, the defense knows they can use Bradley as a repository for balls needing a safe place away from the American goal.

“Well, he has been a staple on this team for quite some time, and I think he’s a world-class player,” said center back Omar Gonzalez. “It’s nice having him sit in front of me, and it’s easy enough to give him the ball and just let him make the game.”

The United States will hope Bradley keeps taking over games, crafting and making them in the image he sees fit. When the game looks like Bradley wants it to, it’s meant a win, three points, and another step closer to the World Cup in Brazil.

Jon Arnold (@ArnoldcommaJon) is a writer based in Arizona and is ASN's CONCACAF correspondent.

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