Comparing Bradley to Källström may be flattering, but it doesn’t reflect reality for U.S. stars

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Should Michael Bradley have gotten a look from Arsenal in January? Implicitly, that’s what his father, Stabæk head coach and former U.S. national team boss Bob Bradley, is saying when he compares his son to Arsenal loanee Kim Källström.

The argument, recently articulated to Slate, seems to be this: The Swedish international, who arrived at Arsenal in January from Spartak Moscow, is not as good as the now-Toronto FC midfielder. Therefore Bradley, who would have entertained a move to London in January, should have garnered more of Arsène Wenger’s attention.

From Slate’s post:

… the coach says that Michael had hoped to join a prominent European club and felt like Arsenal would have been a good fit. Michael, though, didn’t get the consideration from manager Arsène Wenger that he felt he merited.

“I think American players and coaches have to fight really hard for respect,” Bob Bradley said. “In January, Arsenal [was] looking to add a midfielder, and they chose Kim Källström. Kim Källström’s not a bad player, but I think Michael feels pretty strongly that he’s better, and so Arsène Wenger must not feel that way, and [Arsenal chief executive] Ivan Gazidis must not feel that way. So sometimes, no matter what you do, you don’t get the respect you think you deserve.”

Perhaps Bradley truly has been slighted, but this is a poor way of illustrating it. Essentially, Bob Bradley is saying that if a midfielder is better than Arsenal’s worst player at the position, he should feel slighted if he’s not on the team’s payroll. So if you accept the Källström is not the player that Michael Bradley is (a safe but perhaps disputable claim), then Arsène Wenger was wrong to let the U.S. international slip through those professorial digits.

source: Getty Images
31-year-old Swedish international Kim Källström failed to make an impact during his loan at Arsenal, making four appearances in six months. (Source: Getty Images)

This is a fallacy that’s used time and time again, one that assumes a favorable comparison to the worst part of a population means you belong in the pool. In sports, we most often here this with Major League Baseball Hall of Fame candidates, but the logic behind it is just as flawed in other circumstances. Somebody from outside a group being better may not be an argument for inclusion. It may be an argument for excluding a flaw from the group.

The Källström case is a good example. When he was acquired by Arsenal, few thought he would help the Gunners’ pursuit of a title. Those doubters were proved correct.  Between injury problems, ineffectiveness, and the mere depth of midfielders Arsenal already had in its squad, Källström was a non-factor. While Bradley may be a better player, he also may have just been a slightly more talented non-factor. The argument here isn’t Wenger should have acquired Bradley. It’s Wenger shouldn’t have acquired Källström.

Then, of course, there’s the matter of Källström only being on loan, not permanently transferred to Arsenal. Perhaps Bradley could have also been loaned, but given how the price Roma was able to get from Major League Soccer for its midfielder (around $10 million), it’s easy to believe the club when its says moving Bradley was not necessarily part of its plan. In the face of an unexpected, eight-figure offer for him? Sure, change the plan. But a loan deal to Arsenal? Might as well just keep Bradley as depth for its title pursuit.

Then there’s the idea that being better than Källström makes Bradley the most qualified candidate to fill that spot. That’s clearly not the case, a status that becomes only slightly less clear if you narrow the field to just the available candidates. For a club like Arsenal, though, it is instructive to ask: Among all the available midfielders in the world, was Michael Bradley the best option? That seems unlikely. Just because Arsenal made a poor choice in Källström doesn’t mean in a perfect decision would have landed Bradley in London.

The premise to this whole line of thought seems to be Americans have it harder than other players. That may be true, but let’s remember where Bradley was when this Arsenal rejection occurred? He was at AS Roma, one of the bigger teams in one of the world’s most storied leagues. True, there is now a heavy American influence at Roma, but doesn’t that represent a paved road instead of a bumpy one?

Clint Dempsey was recently at Tottenham. Tim Howard played for Manchester United. Landon Donovan has played for Bayern Munich, and Oguchi Onyewu was once under contract with AC Milan. How do those opportunities jive with the idea of an anti-American bias? Can we really say that any of those players deserved better opportunities than they’ve seen? No.

Some suspicion in this area is justified, but right now, suspicion is all we have. There is no evidence that there’s an established mechanism depriving Americans of opportunities. A far more reasonable explanation: At this point, there isn’t a player whose talents justify that kind of attention.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Halted World Cup flip-throw heard around the world

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Milad Mohammadi knew the time was right for something special, but special isn’t always good.

And good is a subjective term. Cause to us this is very good, Milad.

The Iranian national team defender failed with a flip-throw bid in the final moments of a 1-0 loss to Spain on Wednesday at the World Cup in Russia.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

And this wasn’t like he illegally flipped or broke some other rule. No, like a kid trying an audacious jump into the deep end, Akhmat Grozny star Mohammadi just bailed and climbed in from the side (so to speak).

The kiss, the look skyward, the headbutt… all integral parts of a wonderful World Cup moment.

Renard, Morocco ‘very proud’ of unlucky national team

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If you would’ve told Morocco fans or their manager, Herve Renard, that they’d outshoot and outpossess both Iran and Portugal at World Cup, their next question would probably be, “So do we need to do against Spain to win Group B?”

Alas, Morocco lost a pair of 1-0 decisions to become the first team knocked out of the 2018 World Cup.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The Lions of Atlas fell to Iran in their opener on a stoppage time own goal after carrying 64 percent possession and a 13-8 advantage in shot attempts, then lost to a Cristiano Ronaldo fourth minute goal on Wednesday despite a 16-10 shot advantage and 53 percent of the ball.

“I’m very proud of the performance and I am very proud of my players, I’m very proud of this country,” Renard said.

With no hope of advancing to the next round, the manager is finding the experience bittersweet. From RTE:

“What I am sure of at this moment is that the entire Moroccan people is proud of this team. Of course it’s easier to play with a player who has one chance and he puts it away. But we are in Morocco.

“We have quality players. Despite the ups and downs of the game, we should have been more effective. Because, like in the first game, we had plenty of chances. I won’t blame anyone. That’s football. It’s always those who know how to be present in the box, the most gifted players, who make the difference. We took a lot of risks and we didn’t get our reward.”

It’s unlikely Morocco will hold either of those statistical advantages against Spain, especially a Spanish side yet to qualify, but there is plenty to like from the tournament aside from poor finishing quality.

But the performances of 19-year-olds Amine Harit (Schalke) and Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid) — not to mention Hakim Ziyech (25, Ajax) — seem to hint at a promise for 2022. And Renard’s men can still play spoiler for Spain, which is no small shockwave.