JACKSONVILLE, FL - JUNE 07: Midfielder Michael Bradley #4 of the United States dribbles during the international friendly match against Nigeria at EverBank Field on June 7, 2014 in Jacksonville, Florida.

Chasing the narrative: What the numbers tell us (if anything) about Michael Bradley’s World Cup


After the U.S.’s third group game, the counter-narrative hit full steam, with Major League Soccer’s official website putting its weight behind the rosy view of Michael Bradley’s play. According to FIFA, the United States central midfielder covered more ground in group stage than anybody in the tournament, a factoid that got a full writeup as the league lauded one of its biggest stars. It’d be nice if Bradley’s other numbers got the same attention, but it’s understandable why MLS is trying to promote Bradley’s cause.

So why don’t we do that? Why don’t we give the full statistical record some attention? If the “Bradley’s been awful” narrative is already out there and the counter-narrative’s gaining steam, why don’t we try to take a broader look at Bradley’s production? Let’s collect the numbers, provide some context, and see if there really is anything that confirms the general assessment. Is there anything in the broader statistical record that says Bradley’s been bad?

The subtext of that assessment is more complicated, though. It’s not that Bradley has been bad in the absolute sense (some people are saying this, though). It’s that he hasn’t come close to meeting expectations. This is a player around whom head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has built his formation. It’s not only fair to judge him against a normal player’s expectations but against the performance his coach wants from his most important player. Klinsmann and the U.S. have incurred a type of opportunity cost by setting up as they do.

For his part, Klinsmann has weighed in on the issue, but that’s not the point, here. The point is to see if the statistics, as flawed and limited as they are, offer any support to either claim. What numbers say Bradley’s failed to meet expectations? Or, what statistics support the opposing view, that Bradley’s been fine and has become a scapegoat?

Some numbers we won’t discuss here: Goals (Bradley doesn’t have any, though he should); assists (again, none); distance covered (it speaks to effort, not efficacy). Those numbers are pretty self-evident. We don’t need to dig deeper.

Instead, we’ll look at some of the secondary statistics, though these numbers don’t mean much independent of their context. So we’ve done our best to give that to you. Not only do you get the raw number, but you see where Bradley ranked within the team and within the game.

Of course, that’s only part of the context. The team’s style of play has also been a big factor in Bradley’s numbers. It’s hard to lead a game in passing when your team’s willing to play without the ball. For the most part, that’s what the U.S. has done.

There’s also Bradley’s role within the team to consider, one which establishes some expectations for his performance. As the highest man in the U.S.’s central midfield, we should expect Bradley to be among the team’s leaders in key passes, touches, and passes every game.  As a focal point for the U.S. in transition, Bradley should see more contested time on the ball than his teammates, meaning he’ll likely lead the U.S. in times dispossessed and turnovers, even on good days.

What we’re really looking for here are outlying numbers – something that supports the notion Bradley has been particularly poor:

(All numbers are available via WhoScored.com.)

Opponent Key Passes Touches Dispossessed Passes Turnovers
Ghana (W, 2-1)  0  52  3  43  2
Ranks (Team/Game)  T6/T16  4th/11th  1st/T1  1st/T6  2nd/T4
Portugal (D, 2-2)  1  82  1  69  0
Ranks (Team/Game)  T4/T8  1st/3rd  T1/T3  1st/2nd  T7/T11
Germany (L, 0-1)  1  61  2  49  2
Ranks (Team/Game)  T1/T3  1st/9th  T2/T3  1st/9th  T3/T3


There are other numbers we can look at, like passes completed, through balls, and dribbles. I chose these because they require the fewest caveats, whether those caveats be based on the nature of the data, context dependence, or other, more philosophical issues.

The numbers that stand out: The lack of chances creates (key passes – passes that lead to shots), and two games where the overall pass numbers are low. That Bradley had three ‘dispossessions’ and two turnovers against Ghana (when his passes and touches were both low) supports the idea he was far below his standards in the opener. The larger body of data only supports one other claim: Bradley hasn’t been creating changes. The degree to wish you can separate that from the U.S.’s tactics is up to you.

The defensive numbers, where, given the U.S.’s deficits in possession, you’d expect Bradley to be among his team’s as well as the game’s leaders:

Opponent Tackles Interceptions Fouls
Ghana (W, 2-1)  1  1  2
Ranks (Team/Game)  T7/T13  T3/T5  T3/T4
Portugal (D, 2-2)  1  2  2
Ranks (Team/Game)  T4/T9  T4/T8  T1/T3
Germany (L, 0-1)  4  0  3
Ranks (Team/Game)  1st/1st  T8/T13  2nd/2nd


Again, what’s our goal here: To find something that clearly highlights Bradley’s struggles. Among the defensive numbers, there’s nothing convincing in either direction. Bradley had a good night in tackles against Germany, but he only generated one more turnover than he did against Portugal.

All of the in-team and in-game ranks look decent enough, considering players like Kyle Beckerman are better positioned to rack up tackles, while Matt Besler would be the best bet to lead the team in interceptions.

Even in the fouls number, there’s nothing eye-catchingly bad. While there’s little here that tells us how Bradley actually played, the description the numbers offer doesn’t support many conclusions.

source: Getty Images
Michael Bradley speaks to the media during training at Sao Paulo FC in Brazil. Through three games at the World Cup, the U.S. central midfielder has no goals and no assists while leading the tournament in distance covered. (Source: Getty Images)

So we’re left back where we started: Relying on our eyes, our analysis, and the more obvious numbers. The extent to which any of that’s reliable is unclear. He missed an easy goal against Portugal and has failed to generate many chances for his teammates, but it’s reasonable to assume the absence of Jozy Altidore and the U.S.’s tactics are heavily skewing those results (at least, the chance creation). People may be seeing what they want, judging Bradley against what they hope will happen instead of a more equitable benchmark.

Me? I tend to agree with the broader opinion. This is as bad as I’ve seen Bradley play in a long time. I think Bradley’s been below average compared to other midfielders in the tournament, and I think it’s completely fair to judge him against a higher standard, given his coach has made decisions to put him in advantageous positions. Though I think, given his track record, it’s highly unlikely Bradley’s poor performances will continue, I think his first 270 minutes in Brazil speak for themselves.

How do I back that up, though? Persuasive language, mostly. I can also highlight particularly poor touches, appeal to my own self-inflated authority, or rely on the wisdom of crowds, however “wise” that may be. Sometimes, I actually manage a complete, cogent argument, though it’s pretty rare.

What I can’t do is rely on the numbers. I can’t lean on distance covered. I can’t build a case on chances created. In context, there’s little in the statistical record that tells us anything about Bradley’s World Cup, whether I’m trying to trumpet the counter-narrative or pile on.

Portland players Ridgewell, Gleeson arrested on DUI charges

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 6: Adam Larsen Kwarasey #12 of Portland Timbers knocks the ball away from Kei Kamara #23 of Columbus Crew as Liam Ridgewell #24 and Nat Borchers #7 of Portland Timbers look on during the second half of the game at Providence Park on March 6, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. The Timbers won the match 2-1. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. (AP) Portland Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson and defender Liam Ridgewell face charges of driving under the influence after an accident in Lake Oswego, Oregon, on Monday night.

Gleeson and Ridgewell were booked into Clackamas County Jail and posted bond. Both are scheduled to appear in Lake Oswego Municipal Court on Nov. 16.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Police said Gleeson rear-ended another vehicle and called Ridgewell, who arrived later to help. Neither Gleeson nor the driver of the vehicle he hit was injured in the accident.

Gleeson, who is from New Zealand, faces charges of driving under the influence of intoxicants, reckless driving and reckless endangerment while Ridgewell, who is British, faces a DUII charge.

The team issued a statement Tuesday that said it has been in “close contact with the players, local law enforcement and the league office” and will not comment further until additional information is known.

The case for (and against) every Western Conference MLS playoff team

FC Dallas, 2016 Supporters Shield winners (Photo credit: FC Dallas / Facebook)
Photo credit: FC Dallas / Facebook
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On Monday, PST’s Nicholas Mendola made the case for (and against) the six sides vying for the Eastern Conference’s place in MLS Cup 2016. Today, I’ll do the same for the Western Conference.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Real Salt Lake (6)

Why they could win it: Yura Movsisyan, Joao Plata and Juan Manuel “El Burrito” Martinez combine to form one of the league’s most terrifying attacking trios (25 goals, 17 assists combined) … when they’re at their best (more on that in the section below).

Why they won’t: Momentum. They have none. Seven games without a win to finish the regular season (three draws, four losses). Scored all of two goals in their final six games. Five straight losses on the road (last win: July 31), which is where they’ll be playing the LA Galaxy on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET) in the knockout round. They never actually figured what to do at center back alongside Justen Glad — you simply can’t count on Jamison Olave or Chris Schuler to be healthy and stay on the field.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Going to the playoffs edition ]

Sporting Kansas City (5)

Why they could win it: They’ll outwork just about anyone in the midfield, which is a trait that typically translates to success in the playoffs. The core of the team — Benny Feilhaber, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Dom Dwyer and a few others — have been there and won it all before. Realistically, they needed to win four points from their last two games to get into the playoffs, and that’s exactly what they did. There’s something to be said for that.

Why they won’t: Though they faced the fewest number of total shots during the regular season, they gave up way too many big chances due to catastrophic mistakes at the back and deep in midfield. The lack of a consistent scoring option beyond Dwyer (16 goals) makes them extremely one-dimensional as it’s too easy to cut off service to the lone man up top. A deep playoff run would have to look something like this: 1-0 win; 1-0 win in the first leg, 0-0 draw in the second leg; 1-0 win in the first leg, 0-0 draw in the second leg. Margin for error: extremely thin.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Seattle Sounders (4)

Why they’ll win it: Momentum. They have all of it. Since Brian Schmetzer took over as interim head coach on July 26, they’ve suffered just two defeats (eight wins, four draws). Nicolas Lodeiro was the best no. 10 in the league the day he arrived, and he’s been worth his weight in gold thus far (four goals, eight assists in 13 games). Jordan Morris gets stronger and stronger with each passing game, and that’s never the case with rookies. Cristian Roldan solved their problem deep in midfield, perhaps extending the career of Osvaldo Alonso by two or three years if they roll with the same setup in 2017.

Why they won’t: Have you ever seen what the Sounders do in the playoffs? I also still worry about Tyrone Mears and Joevin Jones at the two fullback spots. If teams can transition following a turnover quickly enough, they’ll find a ton of joy down either flank.

Alvaro Fernandez; Jordan Morris, Nicolas Lodeiro, Seattle Sounders (Photo credit: Seattle Sounders / Facebook)
(Photo credit: Seattle Sounders / Facebook)

[ MORE: The case for (and against) every team in the East ]

LA Galaxy (3)

Why could win it: They’re the Galaxy, and Bruce Arena is still their head coach. Giovani dos Santos enjoyed an otherworldly end to the summer (seven goals, seven assists from late-July to early-September). With Robbie Keane out injured for extended periods, this is now his team. Lost just once at home all season — combined with RSL’s road struggles, the Galaxy are a solid bet to get out of the knockout round. Oh, and Landon Donovan lives for the playoffs.

Why they won’t: What’s up with the midfield? Is it Baggio Husidic and no one else? Is Steven Gerrard going to be healthy? Is Jeff Larentowicz the answer? You do know Sebastian Lletget isn’t a defensive midfielder, right? They’re fine at the back, and still pretty scary on the attack (despite injuries — Gyasi Zardes), but you can’t overlook the total absence of a midfield.

[ MORE: Biggest 2016 disappointment — Portland or Columbus? ]

Colorado Rapids (2)

Why they’ll win it: 32 goals conceded during the regular season (fewest in MLS). No one has perfected the art of the 1-0 victory quite like Pablo Mastroeni’s Rapids. 60 minutes will go by, and you’ll have taken all of two shots, both from 35 yards out. One can’t begin to imagine how frustrating it must be to play against team. Home losses in 2016: zero.

Why they won’t: 39 goals scored during the regular season (second-fewest in MLS). If/when they go a goal down, they won’t be able to get back into the game against a Cup-contending side. Their margin of error in this regard is practically nonexistent. Jermaine Jones returned to action after nearly four months on the sideline (knee injury) over the weekend, but there’s no way he can be expected to contribute in a meaningful way on that kind of a turnaround, right? Right? Don’t count this team — or him — out. Seriously, don’t do it.

Pablo Mastroeni, Colorado Rapids (Photo credit: Colorado Rapids / Facebook)
(Photo credit: Colorado Rapids / Facebook)

[ MORE: Decision Day madness in the West | And in the East ]

FC Dallas (1)

Why they’ll win it: Here are two inarguable statements about FCD: they’re the most talented team in MLS; they’re the deepest team in MLS. Fabian Castillo was transferred two-thirds of the way through the season, and they didn’t skip a beat. They can play with pace; they can grind it out in ugly affairs; they can pummel you with set pieces. However you choose to force them to beat you, they’re happy to oblige. No one maximizes each and ever facet of the game quite like Oscar Pareja’s Hoops. Matt Hedges was far and away the best defender in MLS this year, and Walker Zimmerman, his center back partner, was top-five (-three?) himself. Maxi Urruti, Michael Barrios and Tesho Akindele complement each other wonderfully and give Pareja an infinite number of tactical tweaks to apply.

Why they won’t: Mauro Diaz is out for the season (torn achilles). That’s a massive blow for any team, even FCD. No one has a better feel for the tempo of the game — when to push it; when to ease off the gas — than Diaz, and FCD will inevitably play themselves into trouble a haldful of times each game without their guiding light. That’s it, though. On paper, priod to Diaz’s injury, it would have been nigh impossible to make a case against FCD completing the first treble in MLS history.

LIVE – EFL Cup: Liverpool vs. Tottenham headlines five ties

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur in action during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at White Hart Lane on August 27, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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It is a big night in the EFL Cup on Tuesday with five Premier League involved across the five games.

[ LIVE: Follow EFL Cup scores ]

There’s no doubting that the game of the night is at Anfield as Premier League title contenders Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur collide. Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino will both make changes but are expected to field very strong teams.

Elsewhere Arsenal host Championship side Reading with Arsene Wenger set to give plenty of youngsters a chance (Gedion Zelalem klaxon) plus there are two all-Championship ties with Newcastle United hosting Preston North End and Leeds United welcoming Norwich City to Elland Road. Premier League side Hull City, who haven’t won any of their last seven league games, head to Bristol City as the second-tier side will fancy their chances of an upset at Ashton Gate.

Below is the schedule for the five games, with all of them kicking off at 2:45 p.m. ET. If you click on the link above, you can follow the games live while we will have reaction on all five games here on ProSoccerTalk.

EFL Cup fourth round, Tuesday games

Liverpool vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Newcastle United vs. Preston North End
Arsenal vs. Reading
Bristol City vs. Hull City
Leeds United vs. Norwich City.

Who needs victory more in EFL Cup: Man United or Man City?

FILE PHOTO - (EDITORS NOTE: COMPOSITE OF TWO IMAGES - Image numbers (L) 592215668 and 596883044) In this composite image a comparision has been made between Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho (L) and Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City.  Josep Guardiola brings his Manchester City team to Old Trafford to face Jose Mourinho's Manchester United in their first Manchester derby in the Premier League on September 10, 2016.   ***LEFT IMAGE*** MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19: Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United celebrates after the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on August 19, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images) ***RIGHT IMAGE*** MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City encourages his players during the Premier League match between Manchester City and West Ham United at Etihad Stadium on August 28, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Manchester’s two teams aren’t quite in turmoil, but they are in a tricky patch.

[ MORE: Rooney to leave?

Perhaps the last thing both Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola would’ve wanted is another massive derby game so early on in their respective careers at United and City but they will clash again in an EFL Cup last 16 tie on Wednesday. 

But they’ve got it.

In September the two teams met at Old Trafford with Kevin De Bruyne the star of the show as he scored and grabbed an assist in City’s 2-1 win.

Since then City have stumbled in recent weeks and Guardiola is without a win in his last five games in all competitions. That’s only happened to him once before in his managerial career and after the 1-1 draw against Southampton on Sunday he kept his side locked in the dressing room for 50 minutes after the game.

For Mourinho, he will still be seething from the 4-0 defeat at his former club Chelsea on Sunday as the Portuguese coach suffered his worst-ever defeat in a Premier League game and also lashed out at Antonio Conte with a bizarre post-match embrace.

Ahead of the game at Old Trafford, Guardiola played up the special atmosphere of derby day in Manchester.

“I always expect the best from United,” Guardiola said. “They are strong team with quality. They are six points behind – just two games. Derbies are always special. We are going to try to play seriously and try to win the game.”

That said, Guardiola revealed that he will rotate his squad and that De Bruyne is out injured for the clash. So, that will be a boost for Mourinho and United.

With both the Red Devils and the Citizens having a heck of a week following big Premier League games and European action, it is likely both teams will rest plenty of players but can either really afford to do so?

So early on in their careers at the two hugely expectant clubs, both are experiencing wobbles. You can argue that perhaps Mourinho needs a win here more than Guardiola.

The latter already has City playing his way and in his style. Even if silly defensive errors from Claudio Bravo and John Stones in recent games have cost them results, there is a clear direction City is heading in. They’re on their way and are top of the Premier League on 20 points.

For United, where do we start?

The Wayne Rooney situation has taken center stage once again as questions continue to crop up about his future at Old Trafford under Mourinho, while dressing room unrest is also being reported with some players “surprised by how hands off he’s been” on the training ground. It is never good when things like that start to leak out. Add to that 14 points from their first nine games of the PL season with Mourinho has the same record as David Moyes did in his first nine league games in charge, plus Paul Pogba struggling and Zlatan Ibrahimovic ice-cold and things are stacking up against the Red Devils.

Yeah, Mourinho and United need this EFL Cup win more, especially after losing the derby at home last month. A victory will build confidence and give Mourinho extra games to use all of his squad and try and get his message across.

In the past Mourinho has had great success in the EFL Cup, winning it three times in his five full seasons as a manager in the Premier League. He values its importance and although his rivalry with Guardiola goes way back, he may want to (and perhaps needs to) win this game much more than City’s manager does.