SEATTLE, Wash. — When the United States’ midfield struggled against Belgium on May 29, we got another glimpse of the importance of Michael Bradley. The 25-year-old U.S. veteran was held out of the team in Cleveland – 90 minutes in which a talented Belgian squad saw little resistance en route to a 4-2 victory.
Tuesday, however, is shaping up to be another exhibition of the Roma man’s importance, with Bradley set to miss his central midfield partner.
“It hurts, for sure,” Bradley said of the loss of Jermaine Jones. The Schalke midfielder, ruled out of Tuesday’s match after suffering a concussion in Jamaica, has joined Bradley as first choice in a two-man midfield. Against Panama, however, Bradley will need another co-pilot.
“We’ve all always said that this team has always been about having guys who are ready on any day to step in and make sure this team doesn’t miss a beat,” Bradley said about the the team’s adjustments. “Whether it’s the last four, five, six years; on a lot of big days, there’s been guys missing and the next guy steps in, does a job, and makes sure the team gets a win no matter what.”
While that player could be a Geoff Cameron, somebody who can slide into Jones’s spot next, it may be Bradley who has to make up the difference, particularly in a home game where the States will be expected to play for three points. Whereas Jones, for all his reputed ruggedness, could distribute the occasional piece of inventiveness, it’s been some time since Cameron’s provided that kind of contribution in midfield – and never at this level.
In that vein, Sacha Kljestan may get the call in the middle. Regardless, no player is going to bring the experience of Jones, somebody who has not only become first choice for the U.S. but has also played Champions League soccer for Schalke.
And when you hear Bradley talk about Panama, discussing Tuesday’s opponent with the perspective of a man who’s been capped 76 times, you’re again reminded of the midfielder’s incredible importance:
By now there are a bunch of us who have a good idea of what Panama are all about. We’ve played them a few times in Gold Cup in recent years. Good team; team that’s been together for a lot of years now. Athletic, strong. It will a hard game.
When you look in their midfield, Gabriel Gomez is an important player for them and kind of helps keep things together. More than anything, it’s a group of guys who have played together over the course of a lot of years, played a lot of games together. I think they recognize this is their chance to qualify for a World Cup. We have to understand their mentality and know what the game is going to be.
Bradley will be among the players stressing these concerns to teammates, but when the whistle blows against Panama, he’ll be the only man in midfield who we’ve carry his team. Without Jones, he may have to do so once more.