Michael Bradley’s future is among keys to Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT legacy

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Jurgen Klinsmann’s tinkering with the United States lineup has gone far beyond who’s playing where, and the USMNT manager made waves earlier this week when he commented that mainstay Michael Bradley has “something to prove” when it comes to how his move to MLS has affected his international play.

Calling Toronto FC’s nearing failure to make the playoffs “a huge disappointment”, Klinsmann was openly-critical of how Bradley’s move to Canada and Clint Dempsey’s transfer to Seattle have affected their games. Eric Adelson’s Yahoo Sports report shows that MLS stars like Chris Wondolowski and Graham Zusi bristle when asked about the drop-off in leagues.

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Yet Wondo and Zusi have not not played club ball outside MLS, and there’s little debate as to whether Toronto and Seattle are currently stacking up with AS Roma and Tottenham Hotspur (Bradley and Dempsey’s previous full-time clubs). And the Bradley issue is far more important to Klinsmann’s cause, as the manager has to move the nation forward in international play without disparaging its domestic league.

Bradley seems to understand the challenge in front of him.

From Yahoo Sports:

“I have broad shoulders and thick skin,” Bradley told Yahoo Sports after the U.S.’s 1-1 draw with Honduras at FAU Stadium on Tuesday. “I’m not ever going to change who I am.”

Bradley, one of the few faces of U.S. Soccer, isn’t loud or effusive – stoic is more like it – but his answer to Klinsmann’s comments was uttered with precision and some understated force.

“I’m proud of everything I do,” he said, “to become better on the team I’m on.”

Klinsmann called Bradley’s performance on Tuesday “totally fine” and expressed happiness to have his center midfielder back in the fold. We wouldn’t expect a team-first Bradley to say anything different than what he said above, but he knew the challenges that would come with moving back to North America.

[ GAME STORY: USMNT 1-1 Honduras ]

Many have wondered why Klinsmann keeps using Bradley as a more offensive force rather than the box-to-box maniac that endeared so many USMNT fans to his cause. Adelson points out that Klinsmann wants to push the pace a bit more and challenge back lines, and that putting a more aggressive player like Mix Diskerud in Bradley’s preferred spot could accomplish his pace goals.

The issue here becomes one of player acceptance, and home 1-1 draws can’t keep happening if Klinsmann is to keep the locker room on his side. It’s one thing to draw a strong South American side like Ecuador on US soil, but a sleepy and sloppy home tie against Honduras? No thanks. This is where the States are supposed to surge ahead of the pack.

It’s well-worth monitoring moving forward: Will Klinsmann’s tinkering continue to be accepted if Robbie Keane helps Ireland to a point next month? Will Bradley speak up and request a move back to his preferred role? And if both Bradley and Landon Donovan both wind up critical of tactics, will Klinsmann be able to avoid further backlash?

It’s clear that USMNT fans are worried and skeptical about Bradley’s promise being drained and form being off. How long before the public blame for that centers more on Klinsmann’s shoulders than the broad ones of Bradley? It’s clearer by the game that, considering his talent and promise, Bradley’s success or failure will dictate a lot of how we view Klinsmann come the conclusion of the 2018 World Cup.