Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Deconstructing Bradley

A few days have passed since the whole of the United States stood up collectively and pretended that they gave a monkey's right nut about the events of last Sunday. That they could tell their offside from their backside and their Bocanegra from their Bosa Nova. The country took note for all of 90 mins and then sighed before briefly trying to show interest towards the footy community. The glory chasers have gone back to fantasy baseball and normality has resumed. So, over here at UF central we have shared many, many emails dissecting the US national team's performance at the Confederations Cup. There have been some disagreements and plenty of positive love.

It's been a crazy couple of weeks for the US gaffer. First Bradley was an inept doofus and then a genius. All in the space of a week. Which is it? Why are the US national team so Jekyll and Hyde? And what needs to be done to ensure that the USMNT, along with those natty blue shell suits, has a good showing back in South Africa next summer? This Englishman has an idea. My bags are packed, don't shoot the messenger.

No depth and the man in charge.

First of all the US team lacks quality. Whoooa, Bigus, whoooooa. No, not in the starting 11, but beyond it. Depth, you ain't got any. Look at the bench and Swindon Town comes to mind. This, for me, is the root cause of the inconsistency that faces the USA. When the team picks itself, the US are capable of a good showing and performances like Egypt and Brazil (episode 2). Take away one or two key players and the whole team falls apart, the confidence disappears and the side look as if they have as much cohesion as a Suni/Shiite mixed 11.

The lack of depth is most evident in midfield and this is where the Bradley factor or lack of it is weighing heavy on the US hopes for glory. Take away Bradley Jnr or Ricardo Clark and decisions need to be made. No obvious replacements jump up from the bench and strip off. No obvious options present themselves. If the team does not pick itself, the shit and fan meet head on. This is now Bradley's 'oh fuck what do I do moment'. The moment when International mangers are required to prove their worth to their country and show a little tactical saavy. I'm not sure Bradley has any.

His substitutions during this tournament have, at times, been baffling. Not to mention his decision to start against Brazil (episode 1) with a 5 man midfield. No one knew where they were supposed to play and the result was mass confusion and a Brazil walkover.

In the previous game, versus Italy, I thought the US played very well. Even with the impressive Clark heading for an early bath after a high slide/kick on Gatusso. The result wasn't flattering but did not reflect the performance. Once down to ten men, the ability to close down players around the box headed down the tunnel right behind Ricardo Clark.

I cannot comment on Egypt as I was live blogging the Italy meltdown being played at the same time.

Spain was a great effort, even if against a tired Spain, still a great effort against the best side in the World. Bradley and Clark both featured and Bocanegra was available for the first time during the tournament, adding strength and experience to the backline, replacing the inexperienced Bornstein.

The US really needs to find some depth in midfield if Bradley is to have any success with this team, lose Bradley Jr or Ricardo Clark and old Bob mutters to himself before taking a gamble. Where will you find these players? Maybe they are around now and scouting is the key. Maybe they ain't. One thing is clear. A bench of Marvell Wynn, DaMarcus Beasley, Freddy Adu, Connor Casey and Heath Pearce just won't do it.

Decide that 'you have what you have' and that's it? Then Bradley needs to be swapped out for a manager who is capable of smart, adaptive, in-game decisions and of developing alternative tactics on the training ground that don't involve a gung ho attack leaving the break away a viable option for better teams to exploit.

All of Bradley's management experience has come in the MLS or USA under 23 team. The equivalent of appointing Brentford manager Andy Scott as England gaffer. Ok, then maybe Bristol City boss, Gary Johnson. You get the point, it's a little absurd. The world's most talented teams select their managers from the best available. Hiddink, Capello, Scolari and the like. Managers whose vast experience allows them to make adjustments to the team during a crucial game. A talent Bob Bradley will never possess unfortunately. Am I being harsh?

The players available.

I have to say, I have had to eat my words during the Confederation Cup. As a Landon Donovan critic, I was very impressed. It seems he has finally matured. The player who disappeared in games and used to show a complete lack of interest and commitment has developed into a terrier with an eye for space.

Donovan drinks from the famous 'coming of age' fountain.

Donovan is currently entering his prime at 27 years old. Often, players can develop into very good ones as they enter this stage of their career and mature in the game. Heard of Andrei Arshavin before 2008? He had been hiding in Russia for his whole career, yet once he hit his prime at 27, he attracted the attention of top teams across Europe. What about Dimitar Berbatov? He was 26 when he was plucked from German Football and made a household name. Gareth Barry? He was a good player but once he hit 27, he became a very good player.

I like the look of the US starting 11. It really could be a very good team. Dempsey is class, Onyewu and DeMerit are strong at the back and Bradley Jr will become a super player. Just pray that no one of importance gets injured ahead of the World Cup, especially in midfield. That happens and all the prayers in the world will be futile. Well...While old Bob is charge anyway.


dallen said...

Your points are all valid. We really can't afford any injuries if we want any depth at all. That said, Mo Edu, Cherundolo and Ching are vastly higher class than Kljestan, Wynne and Casey.

Add Jermaine Jones and Edgar Castillo into the mix and every little bit helps.

The NY Kid said...

Swindon Town?

More like Havlant and Waterlooville!

The Fan's Attic said...

All valid criticisms. But, how in the hell was Spain a tired team? They waltzed through the group stage and were able to rotate players. The US on the other hand had 3 tough matches and played 90 minutes in the group stage a man down.

If there was a tired team, it was the US and not Spain.

Bigus Dickus said...

Go look at the Spain starting team and compare the amount of games those players have played over the season before the confed cup. Do the same for the usa guys. How many of your guys playing in the CL? Not to mention the WC qualifiers and cup competitions. The MLS guys had a nice break and are raring to go. Spain looked tired against your lot. Some of those guys have played 60 games without a break.

The Fan's Attic said...

So, did Brazil and Italy look tired as well?

Looking tired and being lackadaisacal probably resemble each other but are entirely different.

Goat said...

I imagine that's the face that Bradley constantly wears. He may as well be taking a dump. I think that pretty much sums up his tenure.

Uncle Joey said...

Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Francisco Torres, Freddy Adu...I'd say central midfield is our deepest position. (Feilhaber is still shaky and Adu isn't there yet, but either is capable of filling in.) Not to mention, after Jermaine Jones joins the team, Rico Clark will fall to #4 on the depth chart. Of course it would hurt to lose Michael Bradley, but I think it'd hurt far worse to lose Donovan, Dempsey, or Onyewu. You are right that depth is an issue, but I think the other problem you point out--Bradley's inability to manage effectively--is far more troubling going into 2010.

Anonymous said...

Maybe they are a tad less than deep, but who doesn't Torres come on instead of Conor Casey (who has no business putting on a USA shirt, by the way)? That is down to the manager.

Bigus Dickus said...

@Uncle Joey,

Bradley and Clark are the key to your midfield, beyond them? Maurice Edu and Freddy Adu? Torres, a 23 year old kid who plays in the Mexican league? Come on fella, we are talking about being succesful at a World Cup here, those 3 couldn't make the Blackpool starting 11, let alone impact a World Cup. Adu is close to useless. An overhyped failure who promised as a kid and never delivered. Beyond Bradley and Clark, the midfield options are weaker than my knees after watching a dvd of Huckerby's greatest goals.

Uncle Joey said...

@Bigus Dickus

Your argument against Torres is that he plays in the Mexican League? I think most would agree that playing in Mexico is more impressive than MLS, where Clark plays (albeit a minor upgrade). Torres starts for one of the best teams in our confederation and is drawing interest from Deportivo la Coruna. Maurice Edu starts for Rangers and was one of their best players down the stretch. Jermaine Jones starts for Shalke and has made friendly appearances for Germany. Freddy Adu is a failure? He's 20 years old! Next Pele? Obviously not. But if he can find the field in the next year, he'll be a solid player.

I'm not arguing that our midfield is world class, but it's really the least of my concerns going into 2010--we have five players (Feilhaber not mentioned above) after Bradley and Clark who have all proven that they can step in and perform well. (It's not our fault that Bob Bradley thinks Sacha Kljestan, a right winger, is our third-best holding mid.) And like I said in my first post, after the arrival of Jermaine Jones, Rico Clark falls to #4 on our depth chart.

What happens if Onyewu gets hurt? We either start Danny Califf at centerback or Jonathan Bornstein at left back. What happens if Donovan or Dempsey gets hurt? We're fucked. Assuming Bradley and Jones are are first-choice duo in midfield, what happens if one of them gets hurt? We slot in Edu or Clark. Am I crazy to think this problem is far less severe than others mentioned?

Precious Roy said...

...and the side look as if they have as much cohesion as a Suni/Shiite mixed 11.

Actually the Iraqi team that won the AFC Championship was a mix of Shia, Sunni, and Kurd. They had enough cohesion to win their federation.

rke said...

I'm hoping to see some revelations from the Gold Cup team. Certainly there's some better depth there than we've seen from the likes of Kljestan.

(Btw, your attitude in the opening paragraph won't win us any new fans -- I'd suggest we welcome those who don't know their offsides from their backsides and bring them into the fold!)

Bigus Dickus said...

@Uncle Joey. I don't rate the Mexican league one little bit and of the MLS USMNT players, Clark could play in Europe. For a team like Wolves, Palace, Burnley, Hull. Give me a shout when Torres joins Deportivo. My point was that at 21 years old, what are the chances you are getting to a final with him in the middle. A little perspective is required here. The US has no depth to rely on.

Maurice Edu has played a whopping 12 games for Rangers. He didn't even make the bench for the Cup final. He was in and out of the team like a yoyo. Also, Rangers and Celtic are at the standard of the Colaship in England, certainly no better. I wrote this a while back...

@Precious Roy. Damn you and your correctness. They still hate each other, football aside that is. Half-point made.

@Rke. No attitude intended, but I was referring to people who will never, ever learn to like soccer. In fact they spend a lifetime hating it, then pay attention when the US makes a final so they can pretend they were on board when the big win comes, before saying, there, that's why I don't like it, followed by, we suck, girls sport.

Uncle Joey said...

@Bigus Dickus

Like a yoyo? It took some time, but Edu won a starting spot for Rangers. He started every game between April 8th and May 24th (9 of his 11 starts) and he performed very well during this time. This string of starts ended, as you observed, when he didn't make the cup final roster. The reason for this? The same reason he hasn't seen the field this summer for the Nats--he suffered a serious injury. I think most people would take a healthy Edu over Ricardo Clark. And everyone would take Jermaine Jones over either.

Once again, I'm not arguing that we have a world class midfield with unparalleled depth. But, based on the performances for club and country by Bradley, Clark, Edu, and Jones (feel free to leave out Torres, Adu, and Feilhaber if you like), central midfield is arguably the deepest position we have. And as I pointed out in previous posts, the loss of one of our starting central mids (assuming all others in the pool were healthy) would be far less devastating than Onyewu, Donovan, or Dempsey. Say what you will about Torres. I'd take him as a starter--and keep in mind he'll probably be our 5th or 6th best central midfielder by 2010--over Danny Califf, Jonathan Bornstein, Robbie Rogers, or Sacha Kljestan (the players we'd likely be forced to rely on if we lost one of the aforementioned players).

Not arguing that depth is a non-issue. I just think the central midfield is probably the worst example of the problem.

Bigus Dickus said...

@Uncle Joey.

Isn't Bornstein a left back for club and country? Califf? He is a central defender and Robbie Rogers plays on the wing for the Crew. How these players adress a lack of depth in the center of midfield I don't know. If they are there out of posirion then my point stands. No depth.

No one is sayig Tores is poop or won't become a good player, but at 22 with no international experience, how can he be expected to solidify the US midfield against some of the Worlds best teams at a WC? He would be embarrassed.

As for Edu, You are correct, I apologize, he had a run at the end there. But he spent most of the season (sept-april) in the reserves and then only made the team when Barry Fergusson was dropped(well publicized Scotland booze-up) and Lee McCulloch was injured. So he is third choice there. When Fergusson was brought back and McCulloch fit, both went back into the team and Edu missed out,including being dropped for the cup final. Not even on the bench. Look, point is, Edu is not Bradley and I think Clark is a better holding player, a key role. Back to no depth whatsoever in CM.

Thanks for commenting. Good debate.

Uncle Joey said...

@Bigus Dickus

Sorry--I see my point about Califf/Bornstein/Rogers/Kljestan was a little less than clear. What I was trying to say:

Imagine 2010 rolls around and Bradley + Jones are our first-choice tandem in the center of midfield. Freak accident--of them gets injured. Who fills in? Well, we have Maurice Edu and Ricardo Clark, take your pick.

Now imagine if Onyewu were to get hurt. We'd either be forced to move Bocanegra back to center and put Bornstein at left back or put Danny Califf in at center back. Some people (Ives Galarcep) have been all about Bornstein lately, but I don't think he or Danny Califf has any business playing in a World Cup. What if Landon Donovan gets injured, who plays left wing? Robbie Rogers? DaMarcus Beasley? Bobby Convey? And if Dempsey gets injured--do we start Kljestan? I think one could even make a valid argument that Freddy Adu and JF Torres--probably #s 6 and 7 on our central midfield depth chart--would be the best options to fill in on the wings (and as you point out, that'd be a problem).

Sorry--I'm getting wordy again. Here's the summary: We can certainly agree that the US team lacks depth. I just feel the central midfield is not the best place to prove this point. We could potentially lose both Bradley and Jones and still field a decent central duo. Elsewhere on the field, however...well, I think we could both agree that it'd be about as pretty as Califf's goatee.

Sorry to drag this Edu/Rangers argument on, but I have to make a couple more points:

-I think Edu showed good progress during his year at Rangers. He arrived at the club, quickly fell to the reserves, then slowly worked his way up. Although he didn't make many appearances, he sat on the bench for a good portion of the season before earning his starting role. I think implying that he was useless for the majority of the season is a mischaracterization. He clawed his way up the ranks just as Clint Dempsey did at Fulham--Freddy Adu would do well to take a lesson from this.

-I'm almost certain that he was injured before the cup final. It should also be noted that Barry Ferguson served as a substitute for two matches before the cup final. McCulloch was available (and even made a start alongside Edu) during the entire month of May. While it is true that their absense was the reason Edu got his shot at the first team, to suggest that Edu only maintained his starting spot because those two were unavailable is factually incorrect. I would argue that given his form and the manager's decision to keep McCulloch and Ferguson on the bench while all three were available, there is a very, very good chance that Edu would have started the cup final if he'd been healthy.

Thanks for the debate--I appreciate it.

Bigus Dickus said...

I disagree on Edu, Fergusson was on the bench as punishment and Lee M was injured.

By the By, I think my original point in the blog is being missed. They key to success or lack of, is depth in CM. I'm not concerned with left wing, right wing, center back. Just midfield. I said that if Bradley or Clark are injured they are in trouble. Jones hasn't played yet, how do you now he is better? He may not? Either way the CM lack of depth is what my initial point was with.

Adu in CM would be a disaster of epic proportions. Even upfront he is lightweight. Against Gatusso? Alonso? Silva? Lampard? He might as well just stay in the changing room. He falls over with slight contact when up top.

Uncle Joey said...

I realize you were talking about depth in CM. My point was that in comparison to other parts of the pitch, CM depth is pretty good for us. In your original post, you made it sound as if the loss of Bradley or Clark would be a deal-breaker. My point: It would totally suck, but we've got 4 pretty good options at CM.

I don't understand why McCulloch would start one match and sit the bench four times in the month of May if he were injured (note: these were the five matches leading up to the Cup Final)...if I were a manager, I'd probably keep my injured players off the field. Ferguson was being punished by being kept out of the squad, but he was made available again two matches before the cup final. That means that McCulloch was available for 5 matches and Edu continued to start. Both McCulloch and Ferguson were available for two matches, Edu continued to start. The only reason Edu missed the cup final was because he suffered a serious injury (the same reason he missed this summer's qualifiers/confederatiosn cup).

Uncle Joey said...


we're obviously getting nowhere here. I have a solution:

-Let's take a year to get some looks at Jones and Edu. We'll come back and re-evaluate the situation before the next WC.

-If Edu is healthy, we'll see who's starting for Rangers next season.

Thanks for the debate. Keep up the good posts.

Bigus Dickus said...

Sounds perfect. Nice one!