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Bradley looking to step up his World Cup form vs. Belgium

Michael Bradley

Photo by Perry McIntyre/


SAO PAULO — The majority of the U.S. Men’s National Team players were finished with practice, dressed in casual attire and greeting or sitting with family members ahead of a Brazilian BBQ at Sao Paulo FC’s practice facility on Friday afternoon.

Michael Bradley, meanwhile, was one of the few remaining players still on the field, laying down cones for an extra drill that he was apparently going to run on his own. It was Bradley putting in more work in an effort to move past the previous day’s 1-0 Group G loss to Germany and towards the Round of 16 bout with Belgium, where there is a chance for him to erase the snowballing criticism that he has faced.

A symbol of consistency for the U.S. in recent years, Bradley has not enjoyed the type of World Cup that many expected him to have going into the tournament. The veteran midfielder covered the most ground of any player in Brazil through the group stage with 23.6 miles, but other parts of his game have not been up to his usual high standards.

His passing and decision-making have not been as sharp as usual, he missed a point-blank chance on a trailing run into the penalty area against Portugal that he normally puts away and just has not left the kind of impact that U.S. fans are used to seeing. Still, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and the team are happy with what they’ve seen so far from Bradley and are confident he will be able to give more starting on Tuesday.

“I am very, very satisfied with Michael in this tournament so far,” said Klinsmann. “I know that he has another gear in him. If he already plays on this level right now – we came through this group because of his influence on the field – then if he steps it up another notch this gives us a big hope now getting ready for the knockout stage, because we know that players have not reached their highest spot yet.

“He is one of them, but overall I am very, very happy with him. He has covered so much ground, he is all over the place. The defensive work that Michael puts in is absolutely outstanding. It is one of the reasons why we barely gave away any chances for Germany in that game, Portugal the same way.”

Part of what may be playing a role in Bradley’s struggles this summer is that he is being deployed in a more advanced position, which does not play to his strengths as well as his customary box-to-box role. The fact that he is higher up the field also means that he has less time to move the ball around and the lack of a striker like the injured Jozy Altidore has left Bradley a bit isolated and without a real target to find with his patented precise long balls, which was seen when Bradley found Altidore for the U.S.’s second goal in the pre-World Cup friendly vs. Nigeria and on the promising play in the tournament opener against Ghana that was killed by Altidore’s left hamstring injury.

What Bradley has done exceptionally well is run, and run, and run. Bradley has used his near-endless motor to press centerbacks in each of the matches against Ghana, Portugal and Germany, which has helped in limiting how much time the Americans’ talented opponents have had on the ball.

“He’s been doing a lot of stuff that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet and it’s stuff that we need against these teams,” said midfielder Kyle Beckerman. “We were put in a group with some really quality teams, some teams have been together for quite a while, so we’ve needed him to cover a ton of ground, we’ve needed him to attack and we’ve needed him to do all types of things and he’s been doing it.”

The 26-year-old Bradley admitted in the aftermath of the 2-1 win vs. Ghana that he did not play up to the standards that he holds himself to. He did not repeat that against the 2-2 draw vs. Portugal – in which he received lots of criticism for losing the ball on a routine play, but one that on that occasion led to the Portuguese’s last-gasp equalizer – nor did he say it again after the 1-0 defeat to Germany.

Bradley, however, seems to know that he can do better.

“You get to this point in the tournament and you understand that to keep it going and to take it even further, every guy has to find more,” said Bradley. “Every guy has to look at himself and physically find more to give, mentally be that much sharper. That’s what we’re talking about at the moment: the ability to be excited and proud of what we’re doing, but still understand that it’s not anything yet.

“Now, if we can continue to push and if we can continue to be better and better, that now there’s still a lot more in our force.”

The microscope will be on Bradley to deliver in Tuesday’s match vs. Belgium, which boasts a bevy of skillful midfielders. It is imperative that Bradley has a good game if the Americans are to keep their World Cup dreams alive, and the U.S. believes that will be the case regardless of if he is playing high up the field or not.

“We know that he can add something extra to it going forward. He also needs to help with the team by shifting higher up,” said Klinsmann. “If we can get Michael more into that role behind Clint (Dempsey), I think we are even more dangerous then. There is more to come, but so far I am very happy with his performance.”


  1. No word on his ankle injury? Based on my experience, ankle injuries can be a niggling thing, even if it’s not physically tough on any given day, it can be a mental hurdle.

  2. Bradley needs to be less conscious of impressing his father. He needs to be more instinctive. When a ball comes at you, there is no time to think where it might go. It has to come without thinking and purely through the spinal column.

  3. I tend to agree with those who suggest Bradley needs to lighten up.

    I also think this is a dude who has absolutely maximized his natural ability through his work ethic, so I don’t think he’s going to lighten up. I’m hoping that his touch improves, but I would not be surprised if we see the same guy we’ve seen in the group stage.

    I think a decent metaphor is thinking of him as a point guard who can’t shoot all that well but is a great leader that influences every one else on the court to do what they are supposed to do to the maximum of their ability.

    If you think about it, if you select the same 11 players, Bradley is most likely to perform similarly. I think Klinsmann should start Yedlin and give Bradley another rabbit from minute 1, and he should roll the dice on Altidore.

    Lastly, I think at least some of the criticism of Bradley is coming from an unconscious desire to see beautiful game/tiki-taka football, and the US never plays that way. The US is always willing to strategically risk possession and attempt the ball or combination that has only a 60% chance of success if a positive outcome gains a big advantage or a chance. This philosophy is dependent on the teams ability to recover defensively, and the US is generally very good at this,

    Bradley is often the quarterback of these type of plays, and he’s completely willing to endure “incompletions”.

    So my team is

    FJ Cameron (yes) Besler Beasley
    Yedlin Bradley Jones
    Dempsey Altidore

    Actual formation may vary, of course. I’m also open to starting Cameron at RB if Fabian is not fresh and use Gonzalez at CB. Or put FJ at LB and sit Beasley. Just keep Chandler off the field.

    • So far, Yedlin off the bench has looked pretty good. I’m not sure if that means he should start or if we should stick with what has been working. I lean toward the latter.

      • Yedlin is a talent
        He HAS looked great off the bench.

        BUT being a role player is a lot different story than being THE man, like Bradley is right now. The sub Bradley performance shows that.

        Yedlin will start for MNT someday.

    • Don’t think JK starts Yedlin.
      He’s needed as a sub, especially if Altidore goes down again.
      Bedoya will start at Rmid.
      The other two subs: Wondo, Johannsson, whatever the score.

  4. It’s odd that for months I was trying to choose between Beckerman and Jones, saying that their strengths put together equal Bradley. Now, Beckerman is having a killer tournament, Jones is on fire, and it’s Bradley who needs to be more like the other two!

    • You pretend you are knowledgeable of the jogo bonite, but you are an imposter. The week link in that midfield is Kyle. He slows the team in the counterattack transition and is slow to track back and in both instances it is Bradley and Jones who have to pick up after him. He, Becky seems to be playong well because he is dull and takes little risk, but in the end bottom line is he slows this team down. You don’t know jack. You just have an opinion.

      • It’s “jogo bonito,” you poser—the adjective and noun agree. “Bonite” is French slang for “mackerel.”

        I’ll take the rest of your comment as rising from the same intellect.

  5. Most will think this trivial or a joke…but if Bradley just changes his boots and gets rid of those hightops his touch will be there when he needs it.

  6. Honestly Michael should smoke a joint and enjoy his time in Brazil. I think he is over thinking everything and trying too hard. He needs to go on auto pilot.

  7. I will be the first to say that I have complained rather harshly about MB’s performance in the group matches. I believe that if he can play the game and enjoy it he will show us his true talent. I believe also that JK is one hell of a coach that sees the big picture and uses all of his players to win the game. Go USA

  8. I re watched the Portugal game, watching MB in particular, trying to figure out what’s going on w him. A few observations:
    -his first touch is poor.
    -he may cover a lot of ground, but very little of the movement can be considered “explosive movement” beating a man, closing a man down or, jumping to win a header.
    -his decision making has also been poor.
    -he wasn’t able to “make things happen” as one would expect from the lynch pin of any team, contrast this w Jermaine Jones who has been very dynamic, making things happen.
    -after he missed the sitter, the team more or less stopped passing him the ball, as he was consistently losing it, and causing half the team to make brutal recovery runs in the tropical steam bath.
    -I noted his running, he looks to be laboring or even limping a bit,a bit stiff in his gait.

    Did a bit of research, seems that he had a “minor procedure” on his foot back in April to address a “nerve issue.” Which foot? Not indicated, my guess, the right, the one that has such a poor first touch at the World Cup.

    Theory: he is injured, getting shot up to deal w the pain

    • Decent theory, but I prefer your other observations without the causal link. Might be injured, might be overpsyched, might be out of position. Hard to believe we’ve gone this far with him being mediocre.

    • I really only agree with your observation that his first touch has been poor. That seems to be the one factor plaguing him.

      I’d guess it’s a combination of being wound too tight/stressed, heavy legs from running endlessly, and the ever-mystical “form” we always talk about. But mostly it’s the stress—and that from being played higher than he’s used to.

      Bring back Jozy (via miracle), drop Dempsey in behind Jozy (instead of Bradley behind Dempsey), and let Bradley ply the outside right opposite Jones. Bradley will have the breathing room to become deadly again.

  9. I think it’s a bit off-base to say he’s being played out of position. We’ve seen JJ and a host of other players in a more attacking role. Bradley has been the best (excluding Mix Dixerud in a super-sub role). Yeah, maybe MB will never make anyone forget Juan Roman Riquelme. But he’s what we’ve got. As good as JJ has played, he has never shown he’s an A-mid.

    We actually don’t have a very good MF. JJ has played superbly this WC but he wouldn’t start for Germany in any midfield role. Bedoya, Zusi, Davis have all had MF minutes, some pros, some cons but none that you’d say have been brilliant. Beckerman has mostly been very good in a very limited role (aided by JJ playing in a more advanced role but being a quasi-D-Mid so Beckerman’s lack of range isn’t exploited). B/c of the limitations of our midfield, that means MB doesn’t have a lot of support. And he’s obviously the playmaker. Every team has paid a lot more attention to him, gotten defenders on him quickly, denied him space. So he’s playing in much tougher situations. And he’s also playing poorly on the ball. He’s not making decisions quickly, the decisions he is making are often weak. And he’s still the closest thing we’ve got to an A-mid. Unless we just want to pack the middle, attack down the wings and hope to cross the ball.

    Bottom line:

    • JoeW,

      At this point it’s not about talent because it’s too late to do anything about that. You have the players you have.

      It’s about fitness,discipline, organization, tactics, etc., etc. in other words all the other things So far, JK and his staff have pushed all the right buttons and hopefully will continue to do so.

      The other thing is the Belgians will, count on it, underrate the US. They always do.because they think like you do Joe.

  10. Klinsmann isn’t shy about adjusting tactics to get the most out of his players. Jones, Beckerman, Beasley, FJ to name just a few. One has to wonder, did he make a conscious decision to trade Bradley’s traditional strengths for something he felt the team needed more? Like Bradley’s defensive engine, which is second to none? In other words, is Bradley succeeding at what Klinsmann wants even if it isn’t what we’re used to expecting from him? If MB ever puts the two together, it will be a sight to behold, but if he can’t do both at a high level, the results would seem to argue that what he is doing now may be the more valuable, leaving the distribution and creative role to Jones.

    • “Did Klinsmann make a conscious decision to trade Bradley’s traditional strengths for something he felt the team needed more? Is Bradley succeeding at what Klinsmann wants even if it isn’t what we’re used to expecting from him?”

      Excellent points/questions.

      • No, he is playing to Bradley’s only strength in going forward and counter attacking. Michael Bradley is a defensive liability and every team knows it and his coaches know it. And, of course he is not succeeding in his role at the World Cup. Aren’t you watching the games? Klinsmann never bad mouths players because he doesn’t want to hurt their confidence. Even when they are doing bad, he will tell us everything is fine.

      • “Arent you watching the games” should be banned as disrespectful. It’s an ad hominem attack that is insulting and uncalled for in here, normally.

  11. Instead of staying late to do extra drills, I wish he had been at the pool doing belly flops and triple lindies. Dude needs to loosen up not train harder.

      • Yes, probably this. Though if extra reps help him get the confidence to know “I got this” and not overthink then good. He should know by now what gets him over a slump, and this extra day of rest (“won” by finishing second in the group instead of first) is a good opportunity for him to reset. Also, I hope the team feels less pressure now since escaping the tough group was a major accomplishment. Time to _play_ hard in the next match and show the world what we can do.

    • yes, he needs to relax a bit and find his game again.

      There was some stat mentioned that he covered more miles than almost any other player in the round of 16 – that doesn’t always mean a player is making purposeful movements. It doesn’t help that he is more advanced on the field than he is used to and that we are missing our main hold-up option, but he needs to get out of his head and keep it simple.

      • He completed more passes than any other US player and recieved more passes than any other US player. All that running meant that he was the one player in good positions for his teammates.

      • Yiu should see me on FIFA player mode. I complete so many passes it would make your head spin. I also would pick me 22nd player picked on every game I have played, becaus ewhen it comes time to do something, I can’t.

        I love Bradley but throwing stats at a performance that is sub Bradley proves nothing.

    • What works for one person, doesn’t work for another.

      Bradley is a serious player, I’m guessing with introvert tendencies in his social life. Let the man deal with it and keep playing hard like he has been.

  12. But, wait…..I thought all the Bradley apologists on these boards said he was playing fine and that the rest of us just didn’t understand his brilliance!

    I applaud the young man for acknowleding the obvious and working to improve upon his sub par form thus far.

    • Right, because saying he needs to play better against better teams is the exact same thing as saying he hasn’t played well. He has been playing fine, at least fine enough to get through the group stage. He’ll have to play better for the US to advance in the knockout stages.

    • He is playing fine. If any thing he need to practice less, he’s putting to much pressure on himself and spazzing out/over thinking /forcing it/ not taking what the game give him. Instead of just fluidly playing the way he normally does he’s trying to do something brilliant every time he touches the ball. This extra practice is just another example. His quote that “this is a world cup of suffering and the team that wins will be the one that suffers the most” Compare that to James Rodríguez from Columbia or even Neymar, though Neymar is spazzing out a little as well.

      He just needs to go smoke a joint a Beckerman and Jermaine Jones and chill the fuck out for a day.

    • Some of us think he’s been between “playing fine” and “human garbage who should be benched the rest of the tournament.” We get called fanboys and apologists.

      He’s played below the level he’s capable of and he’s still been one of the most important players in getting us through the group stage.

      • Nope. Men in Blazers put it best: he’s playing like Jamie Lannister without his sword hand. If he doesn’t do anything at all in the next game, that will be a step up in his game. I just don’t want colossal errors. And, running the most? What a joke stat. That just tells me he’s playing out of position too much. He needs to have more discipline and to look around and figure out what’s going on.

    • Bradley is not one to toot his own horn. In the Ghana game his pass completion rate was just 75%, for him a bad day (Jones was 49% that day) so of course MB said he did not have a good day.

      Still, JK gets it, without Bradley’s tireless efforts winning balls, getting free for teammates to relieve pressure, completing more passes than any other US player and doing so without much in the way of targets in front of him, the US would not be where it is.

      All that chasing he did late in the Germany game helped limit german possession and led to the late chances the US had. Either of those chances would have scored if Dempsey had been able to connect on that difficult header, or if Bedoya had gone near post instead of back into traffic on his shot.

      • I think Jones is out shinning him. Jones may have a lower passing ration but he sure looks much better in midfield. Jones seems to have an extra gear that Bradley seem to miss placed. We should see how they do in this next game.

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