Anatomy of a Midfielder

The case could be made that Michael Bradley is currently the best American soccer player. At 27, he has played in two World Cups, and seemingly half the countries of NATO. US, Netherlands, Germany, England, Italy, Canada. That last stop was a stunner; an announcement that Toronto FC means business, and that Major League Soccer can provide a home for American talent even in their prime.

Wil Trapp is six years younger, but his future is bright. He played in last summer’s U20 World Cup, and with the age of Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones, he might find a spot in the senior team before too long. For now, he can be found patrolling the midfield for the Columbus Crew.

On Saturday night, Bradley’s Toronto FC traveled to Columbus to take on Trapp and the Crew. I thought it would be interesting to see how some of America’s best midfield talent did.

Both Bradley and Trapp think of themselves as deep-lying, defensive midfielders. Early on that both players dropped deep, almost as a third centerback, when their team had possession. Only Trapp would continue this regularly as the game progressed.

TBCB2Bradley typically kept things simple in this role, with short passes, while Trapp was apt to use the deep post as a launching pad for long diagonal balls. Here he is completing one in the first half:

TBCB3And this in the second:


But the passer of the two is definitely Bradley. In a three minute span in the first half, he showed exactly why. He began in the 21st minute, by finding Dominic Oduro out on the wing.


For his next trick, less than a minute later, he played a beautiful long ball over the top, finding Gilberto in behind the Columbus back line.

Just a simple 40 yard pass, nbd.

Just a simple 40 yard pass, nbd.

Last but not least,  he kept it on the ground to find Dominic Oduro in space.

Credit to Gilberto, whose run opened up the space for Oduro to sprint into.

Credit to Gilberto, whose run opened up the space for Oduro to sprint into.

Those three passes came within a 140 second span, in case you had doubts about Bradley’s ability. Toronto’s attack very clearly goes through Bradley, and the same can’t yet be said for Trapp. The creative force for Columbus is Frederico Higuain, and Trapp’s job is to provide stability in the midfield. The youngster shows skill in distributing his long balls, but Bradley’s long balls create chances.

Where Trapp excels, and especially for his age, is the defensive part of the game. Here, he takes the ball cleanly with a great sliding tackle, sending a Toronto player spilling to the turf.



Late in the game, he still had the energy to chase down Jackson, a substitute, to force a throw in.



And when he wins the ball, Trapp shows an instinct for the counter. Here he pickpockets Collen Warner, and has his head up to play the pass forward:


But the counter, too, is Bradley’s domain. He seems to be a legitimate threat every time he wins a ball. Here he pounces on a loose touch, uses his momentum to get by Trapp, and finds Gilberto speeding down the wing.


The thing I’ve noticed about Bradley is how he always seems to be facing and moving forward, so that he can instantaneously turn defense into attack. This is just part of why he thrives in that deep-lying midfield role, In Brazil, Klinsmann and the nature of the USMNT squad forced Bradley to play higher up. He has the creative talent for this, but it is not his preferred role, and that showed in at the World Cup.

On Saturday, Toronto defeated Columbus 3-2, and as luck would have it, none of the five goals particularly featured Bradley or Trapp. Bradley, though, had a stellar game, and could have had two assists on another night. He showcased why he is the core of the United States midfield.

As for Trapp, he is too young to declare him the future of the USMNT midfield, but he shows a great deal of promise. His style of play is less ambitious than Bradley, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He was reliable on the night and made few glaring mistakes. If he stays in the U.S., the Crew will be glad to have him as he develops.

All screencaps from Sportsnet360 and MLS Live


One thought on “Anatomy of a Midfielder

  1. Pingback: Gyasi Zardes: The Right Place at the Right Time | Clever Through Balls

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