By John Todd/ISIPhotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
Both Jurgen Klinsmann and U.S. Men's National Team fans everywhere breathed sighs of relief this morning amid word that midfielder Michael Bradley was back in full training with AS Roma after being sidelined for the past three weeks with a thigh injury.
Bradley's return gives him two weeks to get match fit and prepares for the USMNT's remaining qualifiers in October, first against Antigua & Barbuda on Oct. 12th, then against Guatemala on Oct. 16th. His return is crucial to the U.S. team's chances of fielding as strong a team as possible for the matches that will ultimately determine if their World Cup qualifying hopes remain alive.
No, the USA shouldn't need Bradley to beat Antigua & Barbuda, or to beat Guatemala at home, but the midfield's struggles in Jamaica illustrated just what the team misses when Bradley's dominant presence is missing.
What will be interesting to see is who Klinsmann fits around Bradley for the upcoming qualifiers. Jermaine Jones has long been preferred as a midfield partner, but Danny Williams' showing against Jamaica in Columbus (and his improving form with club side Hoffenheim) has him on the rise.
Klinsmann sees Bradley in a more advanced central midfield position than the anchor No. 6 role most recently filled by Williams. Jones tried playing Bradley's role in the September qualifiers but struggled badly in Kingston before showing some improvement in the return match in Columbus.
Here is the USMNT midfield we could see start vs. Antigua & Barbuda:
Before anybody even dares say it, NO this layout does NOT mean Bradley is a playmaker. It just shows how he will be in a more advanced role than Jones. This quartet would play behind two forwards, most likely Herculez Gomez and Jozy Altidore. As we have seen in the past, when Bradley and Jones are paired centrally neither really sits deep for the majority of the time. Both players tend to surge forward when they can. I would lay out the formation to look more like this, though it will probably too reminiscent of the Bob Bradley era for Klinsmann to ever concede he was playing a 4-4-2 with deep-lying central midfielders
What we will need to see is whether Klinsmann learned any lessons about leaving forwards stranded like the USMNT did in Kingston. That might prevent him from trotting out this attack, though it should be noted that having Landon Donovan in the lineup across from Clint Dempsey in midfield would give Herculez Gomez and Jozy Altidore much more support than they saw against Jamaica.
The game on Oct. 16th vs. Guatemala will be an interesting one because what Klinsmann tries to do will likely be determined largely by the result the USMNT manages in Antigua. If we stick to the notion that the USA will attak more at home, we could see this front six:
Some might ask why not just play Bradley in the deep role and slide Dempsey into the playmaking role (like this):
Klinsmann has never really used Bradley in an anchor role (though he has shown in the past on the club level that he can certainly handle that role well). For my money, if Klinsmann is convinced Zusi can handle a starting role (and he sure did impress against Jamaica) then I would personally love to see this front six go at Antigua & Barbuda as well as
Whichever way Klinsmann goes, his options are improved exponentially by the presence of Bradley, who brings a presence to the middle of the field no other American central midfielder does. Now all Klinsmann and the national team need is for Bradley to stay healthy for the next three weeks so he can resume his role as the indispensable backbone of the U.S. midfield.