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The SBI View: Michael Bradley is playing just like Andrea Pirlo


Michael Bradley, at this stage in his career, is like Andrea Pirlo at the end of his.

Seriously. Bradley right now is just like Pirlo, and that is not necessarily a compliment.

Rewatch the U.S. Men’s National Team’s 3-0 victory over that feeble side Panama trotted out (you will need ESPN+, of course) this past Sunday and you will notice all of the qualities that have made Bradley such a polarizing figure to American fans. Bradley turned in a solid shift on the night and was amongst the better performers because of his accurate passing, but his efforts on the defensive end, similarly to Pirlo during the latter years of his playing days, continued to leave plenty to be desired.

Let’s be clear about this: The Panamanians did not offer a whole lot in the attack. When they tried to get forward, however, Bradley often stood in place like a traffic cone and was not able to provide much in the way of resistance — aside from one play in the second half in which he made a lung-busting run back to stop a counter.

Instead, Bradley just gingerly moved from space to space in an attempt to block passing lanes and never showed much defensive bite. There were certain plays where challenging for the ball and getting stuck in was needed, but he either stood nearby and watched as other players put out fires or he chose to parry and contain the opponent without ever really trying to take the ball away.

Two plays in a matter of minutes in the first half come to mind. The first was in the 33rd minute when he failed to react to a headed pass directed at him by Jeremy Ebobisse and then jogged towards the loose ball instead of trying to win it back, resulting in a skied shot attempt from distance by Panama. The other came two minutes later when Bradley failed to compete for an aerial ball that was in the U.S. penalty area and his nearby vicinity, leaving Daniel Lovitz to take care of it unsuccessfully before Panama won it back, moved it around, and took a shot on frame that was saved.

Mind you, this is the same type of lackadaisical defensive play that he was so widely criticized for in the aftermath of the infamous 2-1 loss to Trinidad & Tobago that cost the Americans a 2018 World Cup berth. It is the same type of play that has made him a public piñata to much of the U.S. fanbase.

While his restraint could be in part tactical, a sure reason for why Bradley may have played like that against Panama this past Sunday and in other matches for both the U.S. and his club, Toronto FC, in recent years is that Father Time has hit him early. Once a player characterized by his tenacity, range, and work rate, the 31-year-old Bradley now is seen as a cerebral player who influences the game with his experience and ability to dictate the tempo.

Just like Pirlo.

“I think the first thing to understand about Michael is that he’s a very smart soccer player,” said U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter following Sunday’s victory. “You don’t get 143 caps unless you have real quality and I think that’s what’s undervalued in him. Getting to work with him up close and see training and see his kind of game intelligence and technical ability, it’s impressive. It really is.”

Now let’s give credit where it’s due. Bradley, when playing as a deep-lying midfielder tasked with both protecting the defense and serving as the link between the back and front lines, can distribute the ball well from deeper positions.

Again, just like Pirlo.

Bradley usually needs some space and time, but give him that and he can be very effective and can dictate the tempo of a match. He reminded us of that on Sunday, demonstrating vision, an ability to pass between the lines, and the quality of finding teammates quickly and accurately.

That is all well and good and plenty of teams across the world have deep-lying players whose fortes are not necessarily on the defensive side. The question that remains is if the U.S. can afford to play that way.

If they do and Bradley continues to be the No. 6, then the team will need the players around him to pick up much more of the slack, especially against equal or superior opposition, to make up for his defensive deficiencies.

Just like Pirlo.


  1. I have always been critical of Bradley when I felt it deserved, dating back to his best years when I didn’t believe the team should be built around him, but I don’t really feel he deserves it here, and certainly not the pointless hate. Look if we want to criticize someone, criticize the other players who have not stepped up to take that spot from Bradley. Maybe Adams or McKennie are ready to start there now, though to be honest they haven’t really proven it yet at the club level. Regardless, they aren’t available. I like Trapp, but he looked a step slow there last year, though that against the best teams in the world. I would like to see Canouse given a shot, but I’m not going to raise a stink because an uncapped MLS player doesn’t impress the manager enough to be chosen over a proven international. If Bradley is the option that gives us the best chance to win, he should play.

  2. Mentioning Bradley and Pirlo in the same sentence is ludicrous. He is not just like Pirlo. Just because he is asked to do the same things it does not make him Pirlo. There’s a slow, overaged fat guy on my rec team that likes to substitute in and play center mid. He can’t move, stays more defensive, tries to boot the ball forward to connect to the forwards. When he has all the time in the world it looks like he can actually do something with the ball…..just like Bradley. See, Bradley is more like an overweight, aging, fledgling rec player than a legend of Italian Soccer. (yes, I read the article and saw the criticism but Bradley was given way too much credit)

  3. Still, he is better than the other choices in MLS. Trapp is not really any better defensively and he cannot distribute the ball. The others may be able to run a bit more, but they have yet to show they can be any better, not even a smidgen.

    The Europe based players who can play that role were not available and, while I think Adams and McKinnie will be be better in a year or so, they probably aren’t there yet, but they will be. In any case they were not available for the Panama or CR games so of course Bradley starts.

    Will that be the case in a couple years, I hope not, but meanwhile, the team that GB puts on the field should always be the best one he can find and right now that likely means MB stays for a while longer.

  4. This comparison is inapt. The Bradley hate is trite. Constantly slagging a USMNT legend who has given so much pisses me off. Maybe another option is better, but ditch the hyperbole.

    • I think theres more to it. He has given so much, but, he also has been given so much. USSF decided over adecade ago, that Bradley will be the choosen one until he cant play soccer anymore.

  5. Even if Bradley is better than this article indicates (and I don’t think he is), why play him anyway? Bradley won’t be at the next WC, if we qualify. He probably won’t even be an asset in the Hex. We need to be finding a suitable replacement, or a combination of players that can work in place of a good #6 if we can’t find a good #6. Playing Bradley serves no useful purpose. It just delays what must be done.

    • The useful purpose is that it helps the US win the specific friendly, if he is the best option at that position, in that system, at this moment in time. So basically it just helps makes GB look good to get a win.

  6. Hot takes here. I expected this to be something I totally disagreed with from the title (I imagine that was intentional ;)). But, I do agree with the comparison. I remember a play from Pirlo when he was at NYCFC: he was on the front post for a corner and literally didn’t move. He stood and watched as the play occurred right around him and they were scored on. (If this isn’t common to everyone’s memory, my apologies.) While that’s not exactly relevant to most of the run-of-play movements listed in the piece, it is relevant in the laziness that they both seem to have adopted. I personally don’t want him to come back in the next game or the next camp or the next tournament, etc. The USMNT is not like NYCFC in that selling Bradley jerseys and his ticket office draw makes up for his on-the-field deficiencies. If it’s time to move on, move on. Most of the players who deserved their “walk-off” game are now retired (Dempsey, Donovan), essentially retired (Howard, DMB), or irrelevant (Jozy, and Baldy Bradley). He shouldn’t receive this pass and pressure should be laid on the team and the federation until that’s changed.

  7. Surprising article but a good read. Im amazed that so many see that Bradley is not the answer going forward…. except maybe GB. Greg has painted himself into a corner on this topic. Seeing what GB does next game with Bradley will be key to seeing where were going. If he were to give the majority of the minutes to another player against CR, I would be happy. It would appear to be fair response. If he comes back with Bradley for 80 minutes again, I think he will be close to losing me. Ill also be watching to see if he sits “the skunk” After stinking the place up, he should not start again. If he and MB both start…… we’re in trouble with this coach

    • Not the argument or point I’m making with this piece. I’m saying Bradley is a defensive liability with deficiencies that are glaring for someone deployed in the No. 6 role. I think it’s a net negative having him out on the field for the reasons listed in the story, but Berhalter seems inclined to use him nonetheless.

  8. Role of the NUMBER 6
    The no. 6 has vitally important functions. When in possession he must link the defensive line with the midfield and know when to transfer the ball from back to front and side to side.

    He can manage the pace of game, speeding it up by playing forward or slowing it down by going sideways. If his positioning, movement, decision making and passing are not all of high quality this becomes extremely difficult.

    The player also has to be accomplished defensively; it’s typically the The no. 6 who has the crucial role of anticipating and pushing up at the right moment to stop an opponent’s vertical pass. If he misses the opponent can attack freely through the middle.

    The number 6 has to be completely focused when his team is in attack, reacting to every situation and covering holes left by players who’ve pushed forward.

    Every other position in football has a specific role, but the The no. 6 is so varied and vital, he has to be the best thinker on the pitch.

    Now from the write up above, lets look at MICHAEL BRADLEY:
    Lacks the speed to close down players or cover holes of players moving forward
    Makes no Offensive contribution (goals, Assist, set pieces)
    Has no Aerial ability what so ever during corners, set pieces or clearances
    Has not physical strength or stamina
    Lacks as a player defensively
    Lacks the “reactive quickness” to the ball

    Klinsman failed with Bradley on the pitch, Arena’s career went up in flames with Bradley on the pitch and now Berhalter’s career IS GOING TO GO to $hit$ if he is compelled to use Bradley as his number 6 (as a team is only as strong as the weakness link, in this case, IN THE MIDDLE!!!!!).

    Yes he might be the best thinker on the team, yes he knows how to position himself on the field, Yes he has a lot of experience but he lacks the attributes of a GOOD number 6….and once beaten he is worthless and relies on other people to correct his mistakes in the most vulnerable area of the field. I WISH HE STARTS AGAINST COSTA RICA ?

  9. “If Bradley? continues to be the No. 6, then the team will need the players around him to pick up much more of the slack, especially against equal or superior opposition, to make up for his defensive deficiencies.”…….WHAT? so they know he lacks on defense and doesn’t contribute on offense in goals and assists (and the USMNT OBVIOUSLY doesn’t maintain possession of the ball against average opposition when he is on the pitch) yet he is taking up space on the team? So in other words, have other players need to step up and SUPPORT HIS DISABILITY and work twice as hard to keep him on the team? ? hahahahaha ??….how about we get rid of him JUST LIKE PIRLO at NYCFC ?

    • That’s the whole argument I’m making. Bradley does not cut it defensively and should not be starting, but Berhalter seems inclined to go with him.

  10. SBI- trying to troll us much??? He looked good against a sh*t Panama team that was sitting back defending and he had fresh legs after a long period of rest. Regardless- let the Philosopher Jogger hang around for awhile if he can put in these performances against better teams. But let’s not build around him or decide to play other, better players out of position to accommodate him (cough, cough Tyler Adams at RB). One good sign is that Berhalter didn’t make him captain. A better one would be if Will Trapp get’s at least as many minutes as Bradley in the next game.


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