WASHINGTON — Count Michael Bradley among the group of people that is not in favor of the creation of the Concacaf Nations League.
The U.S. Men’s National Team crushed Cuba by a 7-0 mark in a Concacaf Nations League match on Friday night. The collective and individual performances in the bloodbath were every bit as reflective as the lopsided scoreline indicated, once again raising questions as to how beneficial the confederation’s brand new competition is to growing the game in the region.
While it can certainly be argued that the tournament helps minnows like Cuba grow by giving them games against superior opposition, there is also the belief that the Nations League does very little for the top teams in the region. Former USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann recently called it “a waste of time,” and Bradley admitted that he didn’t care for the competition when he was asked about its value.
“Not a huge fan, at all,” said the experienced midfielder, who did not play in the one-sided affair. “You want to play on as many days as possible against the best teams, against the biggest teams, and the reality is for us, playing games in Concacaf, they don’t do enough to prepare us for the types of games that you see at a World Cup.
“I’ve talked about this in a lot of other moments, where the formula for qualifying and the types of games you play in qualifying is so different than the formula to do well at a World Cup or the types of games you play at a World Cup.
“That’s our reality. There’s no use complaining about it because it is what it is, but (that’s what I think) if you just ask me about how I feel about added mandatory games like this.”
USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter and most of the rest of the Americans were a bit more diplomatic when asked directly if Nations League matches like Friday’s — in which the USMNT took a lead after 31 seconds, was up 3-0 through nine minutes, and led 6-0 at halftime — help the program grow.
“We can’t control the opponents, we can’t control who is on the other half of the field so that’s not a question for me to answer,” said goalkeeper Brad Guzan. “We can control our performance and how we grow as a team and how we get better. Tonight, especially the first half, we created loads of chances.
“We were getting behind them at will and that’s a good thing for us going into the next stretch of games.”
Berhalter also tried putting the focus on the USMNT‘s approach to the encounter rather than the level of the match.
“I think for us it was more about thinking our movements, thinking about how to execute our movements, and I think the players learned a lot from it,” said Berhalter. “The timing of it, the touches necessary, the body preparation necessary. I see Jackson (Yueill), as the game went on, he was getting more comfortable in his positioning, in his body shape turning, in his playing forward.
“…But for me, it’s just about the players learning and picking up the details.”
Just how much was learned can and likely will be argued in the coming days, especially if more of the tournament’s matches end up getting decided as quickly and lopsidedly as the one in the nation’s capital. Sure, lesser teams may point to gaining valuable experience in these showdowns, just as Cuba did post-game on Friday, but whether that is a net positive for Concacaf remains to be seen.
After all, top countries in the region like the USMNT probably need more games against better, not lesser, opponents to raise their own levels.
“Look, just playing friendlies isn’t always the answer,” said Bradley. “There are certain friendlies against certain opponents, especially for a team in a certain moment, that can have real value. In other moments, the experiences I’ve had along the way, whether it’s a Copa America or it’s a Confederations Cup, these are real games, real tournaments where you’ve got a lot riding on these games.
“The level of the opponent goes up, the level of the game, everything gets put under the microscope a little bit more. As players and as a team, we’d love to have more of those but, again, there’s other people making those decisions.”