WASHINGTON, May 17:
Michael Bradley, the United States midfield maestro, could be just the spark the Americans need to escape a formidable first-round group at the World Cup.
The 26-year-old Bradley, who departed AS Roma for Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC in a US$10 million transfer in January, scored one goal and set up another in a 2-2 draw against Mexico in April as the US team tried a new attack formation with great success.
“Bradley looked as if he was the best player in the world,” Mexico coach Miguel Herrera said.
Bradley is the son of former US coach Bob Bradley, whose firing opened the door for the arrival of Jurgen Klinsmann in 2011.
But the younger Bradley, whose European stops include Germany’s Borussia Moenchengladbach and a three-game loan to England’s Aston Villa in 2011, says there was no problem in putting the needs of the team ahead of any personal animosity.
“It’s all about representing the United States,” he said.
Klinsmann ditched his long-used 4-2-3-1 alignment for a more conventional 4-4-2 setup that allowed Bradley greater flexibility in dictating pace and more decision making at the forward tip of a midfield group.
“It means that I’m able to have a little more freedom, have the ability to be a little more two-way and be more up-and-down,” Bradley said. “It’s certainly something I enjoy.”
Klinsmann, directing the Americans at a World Cup for the first time in Brazil, enjoyed it too.
“Michael has tremendous strength, finding ways, getting in the box and joining the attack. So purposely we moved him,” Klinsmann said. “The hope was that he gets into the box. The hope was that he is actually also dangerous to score.”
As more of a playmaker, Bradley can make dangerous runs and showcase his passing skills to ease the pressure upon American forwards such as Jozy Altidore of English Premier League side Sunderland.
“Often we had situations where we didn’t give enough support to our forwards. When you especially look at Jozy, often we had kind of him disconnected,” Klinsmann said.
“But if we have two guys to play into up front and Michael joins, it is going to be more difficult for opponents to read us.”
That figures to be a plus going against Ghana, Portugal and Germany in the first round while enduring the longest travel schedule of any team during the group stage in Brazil.
“One of our strengths is we have the ability to play it a lot of different ways,” Bradley said. “It gives me more freedom to be mobile, to get forward.”
Bradley’s repositioning also provides greater freedom for Clint Dempsey and Chris Wondolowski to press the attack with defensive-minded Kyle Beckerman as a safeguard.