We bang the drum in soccer for the Man of the Match, and we marvel in wider time frames over the Man of the Moment.
Today let’s celebrate a less clichéd term, the “Most Missed Man.”
And let’s all agree that for the United States national team, it’s Michael Bradley.
How much did Jurgen Klinsmann’s team, aimless in attack and too frequently shapeless in midfield while getting conked on the head by Belgium, miss that fellow on Wednesday? Defensive pressure in midfield suffered, but not as much as possession and ideas on attack.
Bradley certainly isn’t a classic playmaker, one of those wizards so adept with the ball that he can move defenders out of position with his body shape, while willing teammates into the right spots with pinpoint passing. Rather, he creates through movement that’s smart and sharp.
He finds the spots that carve easier outlets for defenders, sees the passing lanes that tend to keep the attack moving and then recognizes the instant to insert himself further into the attacking movement.
How much could the United States have used some of that Wednesday, as the attack bogged down amid two predictable, overused bits: the hopeful ball aimed toward Jozy Altidore or Clint Dempsey attempting to create individually through the middle.
Bradley is easily the top American connector and two-way midfielder. Sacha Kljestan filled Bradley’s role Wednesday but just wasn’t the same dynamic do-all. It was a big ask for Kljestan, whose first U.S. start in a big-time match found him up against one of Europe’s top young midfields.
Defensively, it wasn’t easy for Bradley and Jermaine Jones to synch up, to understand which one needed to step forward, to apply the kind of timely midfield pressure that is so essential to the way the United States wants to play its back line, high and tight. At this time last year, we were talking about Bradley and Jones needing to get it sorted already.
So, it really isn’t a big surprise that Kljestan and Jones had some of the same issues; one of them led to a Belgian goal.
Overall, the Americans just miss their midfield brain. That’s Bradley.
There has always been a powerful, guiding figure like this, though not necessarily in the midfield. Tab Ramos was once this figure, a rare creator in a generation of U.S. players blessed with so few of them. Later, U.S. teams looked so might-and-day different if Claudio Reyna wasn’t there to slow the game for everyone around him.
Later still, the attack suffered mightily when Landon Donovan’s speed and wits weren’t around to rescue a stalled offense.
Wednesday was more evidence that Bradley is the Most Missed Man, the one indispensable figure Klinsmann’s team simply cannot be without.
He’ll be around Sunday agaisnt Germany, and not one moment too soon.