It was on the lips of many US fans minutes before kickoff, but if it wasn’t clear then, it is now – Michael Bradley is without a doubt the most important player on, or not on, the pitch for the United States.
The 26-year-old midfielder went down with a severly sprained ankle just minutes before kickoff against Costa Rica, and the US never recovered, losing 3-1. And with a player like Bradley, you don’t fully appreciate his contributions until they disappear.
Without their anchor, the first 20 minutes for the USMNT were frantic, panicky, and out of control.
The Costa Ricans were able to freely play through their wing backs from the midfield out wide, and they in turn fed their attackers flooding the box. They tossed men forward with pace, and yet there was no midfield disconnect because of the US disorganization.
Geoff Cameron stepped in, but without Bradley to feed his teammates, it was like a football team trying to play without a quarterback. You can snap it to the running back, but it won’t have close to the same effect.
So where do the United States go from here? Bradley was reportedly on crutches for most of the match, although he apparently could put some weight on his foot. It’s a mystery that Jurgen Klinsmann will have exactly three days to solve – a little more time than the 10 minutes he had to resolve the issue before the Costa Rican tie.
To compound the issue, Cameron will also be unavailable for selection against Mexico on Tuesday due to yellow card accumulation.
So does Mix Diskerud get a start? His lack of experience will prove a major miss in a huge match against a hated rival. Will Kyle Beckerman slide into a defensive role? He can certainly hold down the fort but doesn’t have nearly the passing ability Bradley brings.
There in lies problem. Bradley is the whole package; any combination of replacements will bring you some parts but not the entire deal.
So who do you have to replace Bradley, along with the suspended Cameron, Jozy Altidore, and Matt Besler?