Michael Bradley is the United States’ best player. He’s its best midfielder. He’s also its best defensive midfielder, best box-to-box midfielder, and its best attacking midfielder. He tops a lot of spots on the depth chart.
That says a lot about Bradley, a player Jurgen Klinsmann is undoubtedly thrilled to have, but it also creates a big problem for the U.S. head coach – where the hell does he play the man? The Americans’ last week in Europe may have answered that question.
Bradley was absolutely sensational in the U.S.’s 4-3 win over the Netherlands, bossing the midfield from in front of his own penalty box all the way down to the opposing goal. He tackled, passed the ball out of trouble, made amazing 40-yard runs with the ball and racked up passes that unhinged the Dutch defense, twice leading to goals. He was the game’s best player.
That was a Netherlands side that has been poor for the better part of a year, though. Wednesday’s clash with Germany was going to be a whole other story. Even if the Germans didn’t have all of its best players, it had a potent attack and a midfield pivot of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ilkay Gundogan. Oh, and there was that whole world champions thing.
Instead, Bradley looked as good as ever. Once again, he was the best player on the pitch and ran the midfield. It didn’t matter where he was on the field. He was fantastic.
In the first half, he delivered as perfect a diagonal ball to Mix Diskerud as you could hit. The result, a goal.
That got the U.S. even. In the 87th minute, the team would score again, claiming a historic win over the No. 1 team in the world.
The U.S. went to Europe for friendlies against the Netherlands and Germany and came away with two wins. Nobody would have guessed that, not even Klinsmann. And more than that, the best player in both matches was an American – Bradley.
Bradley’s best role has never been in question. It’s been abundantly clear that Bradley was best as a box-to-box player for nearly a decade now. But the debate has been about where the U.S. needs him most.
Klinsmann wants to play with an attacking midfielder, functioning as the creator and keying the attack. Even when Bradley struggled in the role, as he did at the World Cup, he was still the Americans’ best option. He has the team’s best combination of technical quality and creativity. And that put Klinsmann in a tough spot. Should he play his best creator in a creative role even if it’s not where he’d be at his best?
That question may not be relevant anymore, though. Bradley showed against the Netherlands and Germany that he can be everything Klinsmann wants from his creative player, but he can do it from a different spot on the field.
Klinsmann wants someone who can spring the attack? Bradley did it. The team needs someone to help keep possession and dictate play? Bradley made that happen. And playing the killer ball to set up goal? That was no problem for Bradley, either.
The only thing Bradley didn’t do to fulfill the role of the No. 10 is to play in an advanced position. Luckily, that happens to be the least important facet of the job. In fact, it’s a good thing for the U.S. that Bradley was perform in a deeper spot. He could impact the match in more ways, all the while serving as that creative force.
Klinsmann took the U.S. to Europe hoping to find out a little more about his team against two of the world’s best, but he got way more than that. He got a pair of wins, some thrills, and the best revelation possible – his best player can in play his best position and still accomplish what Klinsmann tasked him with at the World Cup.
Bradley can do it all. He even fits in Klinsmann’s system now.