When asked about facing veteran U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Michael Bradley, the Canadian National Team’s responses have been respectful and filled with praise, but there has also been an undercurrent of eagerness.
The sense you get is the Canadians see Bradley as a target, a player to exploit with their pressing and athleticism. The 32-year-old USMNT star will be right at home in BMO Field on Tuesday night, in the stadium he has called home for the past six years, but the Canadian team will do its part to try and neutralize the American standout.
“He’s a legend here, and quite rightly so,” Canadian midfielder Scott Arfield said of Bradley. “I’ve been watching him from afar for many years, following his career. I’ve got teammates there that know him well, that play with him every day and every weekend. I feel I know his strengths, and quite rightly so he’s an icon in America, and an icon at TFC, so he’s fully deserving of every plaudit that comes his way, but on the other hand in the game we need to take him into deep water and hopefully make it as tough a night as possible on his home ground.”
Canada has a plethora of midfield options to try and make things difficult for Bradley, including his TFC teammate Jonathan Osorio, as well as star attacker Jonathan David, who can line up as a striker, or as an attacking midfielder. Arfield will also do his part to put pressure on Bradley and force him to defend while also trying to limit his touches.
Neutralizing Bradley is a tactic we have seen USMNT opponents employ, as evidenced by Mexico’s game-plan against the Americans in the recent Gold Cup final, which saw El Tri pressure the American midfield while also keeping numbers around Bradley to limit his influence.
Canada has the dynamism in midfield to try and press the American midfield, but that approach does come with the risk of leaving the Canadians open to quick counters if the USMNT can be sharp with its passing.
“If they’re going to step out and press then certainly our ability to play behind them, and to look to put their defenders on their heels will be important,” Bradley said. “If they’re going to try to be aggressive with how their attackers move and attack space then it still means that when we win balls, if we’re good and sharp, we can move forward quickly and use the space behind them.”
If Bradley can control the flow of play, it should be a comfortable night for the Americans, but if the Canadian succeed in stifling Bradley, the home team will stand a good chance of pulling off the upset.
Here are some of the other key storylines to watch in Tuesday’s USMNT-Canada showdown:
Targeting the USMNT left back
As much as neutralizing Bradley will be a key for the Canadians, going after the USMNT left back position will be another tactic that could lead to a win for the home team. Daniel Lovitz looks likely to start for the Americans, and the Montreal Impact defender will likely be a popular target for Canadian attacks, especially with DeAndre Yedlin expected to man the other fullback position.
Junior Hoilett is likely to line up on Lovitz’s side, and the Cardiff City winger has the skill to make it a long night for Lovitz, though based on USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter’s comments about liking what Lovitz provides to the attack, we should expect to see Lovitz press forward in order to try and take advantage of space behind the Canadian wingers.
Don’t be surprised to see Alphonso Davies wind up on Lovitz’s side of the field, with the Bayern Munich speedster a potential matchup nightmare for the American fullback.
Berhalter could, and should, turn to Nick Lima at left back, which would give the Americans a better defender at the expense of having a right-footed player on the left wing, but it appears Berhalter is leaning towards Lovitz.
Christian Pulisic poised for a big night
The Canadian attack has drawn plenty of headlines heading into Tuesday’s match, but what has been a bit overlooked is the vulnerability of a Canadian defense that showed its frailty in the Concacaf Gold Cup.
Pulisic enters the match eager to have a big performance, not only just to help his USMNT win, but also to build up some personal momentum as he prepares to return to Chelsea and resume his battle for playing time.
If Pulisic is deployed on the left wing, as expected, then he is likely to match up against converted fullback Richie Laryea. The Toronto FC defender, who began his career as a central midfielder, has enjoyed a strong season since making the change to fullback, but he will be facing one of the toughest assignments of his career if he gets matched up with Pulisic.
Behalter has shown a willingness to play Pulisic in a variety of positions, so we could see him slide Pulisic intro a central role at some point in the match to try and unsettle a Canadian central midfield that will try to control the match on the strength of Mark-Anthony Kaye and Scott Arfield’s work rate.
Whether it’s Pulisic, or Weston McKennie, or both, you can expect the Americans to try and go at Canadian captain Samuel Piette, who is a rugged presence in the middle, but the most limited of Canada’s central midfielders, if he starts.
Canada coach John Herdman could go with a pairing of Kaye and Arfield behind either Jonathan Osorio or Jonathan David in a central midfield triangle, which would be better suited to deal with the type of dynamic runs the USMNT midfield could produce, especially if Berhalter chooses to deploy Pulisic next to McKennie in central midfield.
Whether wide, or in a central role, Pulisic should find plenty of room to operate against a defense which can be called Canada’s weak link.