The USMNT may have struggled against Brazil (falling 4-1 in Landover), but those hardships were not evenly shared throughout the team. Fabian Johnson continues to make national team fans forget his short-lived predecessor, while a familiar face continues to show he deeserves to be considered amongst the team’s “Big Two.”
For some time, that Big Two has been Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, but after an eye opening year in Serie A and consistently stellar performances since his re-integration into the national team, Michael Bradley’s begged the question: Who is Jurgen Klinsmann’s best player?
The question’s not as silly as it sounds. Dempsey deserves credit for everything he’s done for both club and country, but on Saturday against Scotland, Bradley showed he can drive a team in the absence of the USMNT’s biggest weapon. And even though Landon Donovan put in great performance in Jacksonville, he was off his game on Wednesday. Under Klinsmann (particularly during the strong run the team put in ahead of Brazil), the U.S. showed there’s some semblance of a life without Landon.
You can’t say the same about Bradley. In fact, it’s been the opposite, wit the U.S.’s recent success coming after Bradley settled in at Chievo. Club stability coincided with a return to the national team, when Bradley immediately reclaimed his spot in the midfield pecking order. It was only after the (still only) 24-year-old was integrated into Klinsmann’s plans that the U.S. started to resemble the hard working, pressing, possessing side the coach advertises.
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Against Brazil, there wasn’t much pressing, and when the U.S. was possessing, it wasn’t for long. But Bradley’s quality still stood out. Along with Johnson, Bradley was one of the few States’ players competing at the same level as their counterparts. His confidence on the ball was evident as he tested Brazil’s defense with 30-yard probes, trying to find Herculez Gomez running behind Juan and Thiago Silva.
And Bradley had more than the long ball in this repertoire. On the U.S.’s only goal, he made the right read to get forward, play the ball to the line and utilize Johnson’s speed in the buildup to Gomez’s goal. It may have looked like an obvious play, but there are a lot of midfielders who could have unloaded (and probably put the ball into the stands). Given the goal Bradley scored against Scotland, he would have been forgiven for doing the same.
There weren’t many highlights on Wednesday, but the few times we saw fire from the U.S., Michael Bradley provided the spark. If he’s not the U.S.’s best player, the conversation at least needs to expand. The conversation’s no longer about “Big Two.” The U.S. has a “Big Three.”