What did we learn from the U.S. men’s national team’s uninspiring victory over Curacao in the quarterfinals of the 2019 Gold Cup on Sunday?
Quite a lot, very little of which was actually positive…
Bradley is a wonder on the ball, but a liability without it
Each of the following is true, no matter which side of the “Michael Bradley is amazing/Michael Bradley is a waste of a roster spot” debate you fall on:
- Bradley’s range of passing and vision to thread through balls to all parts of the field remains an absolute joy to watch and tends to be the only time the USMNT attacks in a non-vanilla manner
- Bradley’s defensive discipline rating is a 0 on a scale of any number, and his ability to recover once out of position — which, again, is just about always — is a negative integer
Bradley picked out passes that split three or four opposing players on at least two occasions Sunday night — one of which even found its intended target — and remains the only
midfielder player on the field who consistently looks to raise the tempo of attacking play and try anything even remotely aggressive.
It’s not all Bradley’s fault that the midfield is a gigantic mess out of possession, but he’s supposed to be the one who can see issues like this and fix them. If anyone else would apply pressure in an organized manner, he wouldn’t feel the need to go on heroic runs up the field to chase the ball 1-on-10, but they don’t, and he does.
[ HIGHLIGHTS: USWNT holds off France in riveting quarterfinal ]
The system and striker are at odds with one another
Without quicker transition from defending to the counter-attack — due in large part to the aforementioned lack of pressing — opponents have plenty of time to transition themselves back into defensive shape before the Americans even enter the final third of the field. This means lots of possession and passes all around the penalty area, but very little penetration into the box.
For this reason, the center forward has to drop into the midfield to 1) pull defenders out of position, 2) create space for others to run into, and 3) serve as the primary playmaker. None of those things are the strengths of Gyasi Zardes, who Gregg Berhalter insists on starting at center forward. Zardes is great at exactly one thing: getting on the end of crosses and finishing with his first touch. The problem with that is: chances like that are only ever created on the counter, otherwise there are two and three and four defenders in the box to contend with. If the USMNT isn’t going to play quickly — to Zardes’ greatest ability — he shouldn’t be on the field.
If only there was a player on the roster who excels at play-making when he drops between the lines. If only…
At least the defense looks pretty good
Fact: the USMNT is yet to concede a single goal at this Gold Cup.
Also fact: the first goal the USMNT concedes at this Gold Cup will probably be the one that knocks them out.
Also fact, sadly: Curacao was the most impressive team the USMNT has faced at this Gold Cup, and they were in complete control of the entire second half of this game.
That doesn’t bode well as the Yanks head to next week, where they’ll face Jamaica and (likely) Mexico, should they advance to the final.