No one will deny that Michael Bradley had a dreadful game against Ghana. When the USMNT desperately needed to maintain possession upfield, Bradley gave the ball away with an alarming regularity. That’s not like him, and he’d be the first to say that he needed to be much better against Portugal. He was, but a late mistake has largely overshadowed that performance.
It is a perverse sign of progress that the US is looking for a scapegoat after a draw against Portugal, but some fans are blaming Bradley for the result. Yes, it was Bradley who lost possession in the build-up to Portugal’s stunning equalizer, but the criticism he’s facing is largely an overreaction. Calls for him to be benched are silly.
The US would not have had the lead if not for Michael Bradley’s presence. No, he didn’t have a goal or an assist. He had the bad luck of shooting right at Ricardo Costa on a great chance early in the second half. But consider where that chance came from. Graham Zusi threaded a ball through the channel that found Fabian Johnson, who proceeded to get to the end line with ease. Johnson blew by Miguel Veloso before finding Bradley in the box. Left back is not Veloso’s best position, and it showed. He was put there at halftime when Paulo Bento swapped William Carvalho for Andre Almeida. That substitution was made to stop Bradley.
In the first half, some of the US’s most dangerous play spawned from the combination of Bradley and Clint Dempsey. The two have obvious chemistry, and used it to good effect once the US found a foothold in the first half. Bradley’s long shots did not find their target, but Bento obviously viewed them as cause for concern. Jurgen Klinsmann must have seen Veloso as a weak link in the Portuguese defense, because after he moved to left back, the US found his area of the field again. William largely accomplished his job in limiting the interplay between Bradley and Dempsey, but the American attack shifted its focus to the right flank.
The US got the majority of their second-half chances by exploiting Veloso’s area of the pitch. The corner that led to Jermaine Jones’ rocket equalizer came after Dempsey received a cross from the right and tried to get by his defender. The second goal was almost a repeat of Bradley’s earlier chance: DeAndre Yedlin torched Veloso and was able to get to the touch line to fire in a cross.
This isn’t to imply that Bradley has been stellar by any stretch of the imagination. Losing the ball late is not what you expect from a coach’s son. But he stepped up his game against Portugal. And even if you feel his performance deserves a benching (it doesn’t), who do you replace him with. Much like Jozy Altidore, the US does not have a suitable replacement for Bradley’s role in the team. I love Mix Diskerud, but he is more of an outside creative player, and lacks the graft Bradley brings to his more central position. I wouldn’t mind seeing Diskerud replace Alejandro Bedoya against Germany, but that’s another story entirely.
The US will have to make do with Bradley as the link-up player, and he will have to do better. He’ll have to keep his mistakes to a minimum if Germany are as dangerous as usual. But I’d rather see him against the German midfield than just about anyone else.