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Bob Bradley’s Tactics: Inconsistent and Inexplicable (UPDATED WITH NEW CONTENT)

bradley533 300x233 Bob Bradleys Tactics: Inconsistent and Inexplicable (UPDATED WITH NEW CONTENT)

Two week ago I authored an article about the evolution of US tactics since Steve Sampson’s days.

Since that article, Bob Bradley has switched his tactical setup for two consecutive matches while continuing his incredibly consistent and predictable squad selection.

Bradley went from the empty bucket 4-4-2 against Honduras to a 4-5-1 with essentially three holding midfielders against Italy. The former formation allowed Honduras, without its two best midfielders to dominate the early play and exploit huge gaps in the American midfield early in the match. The latter formation allowed the US to dictate much of the early play against Italy, but the Azzuri are notoriously slow starters in international matches often times absorbing pressure for 20-25 minutes before really starting to take chances going forward.

When your manager continues to make tactical changes between matches (but rarely during matches something that will be addressed later), players have to rediscover what their role in a particular setup is. Bruce Arena famously in 2002 changed formations, tactics and the squad in every World Cup match using all but one eligible field player in the tournament. But Arena had previously tested each of the tactical alignments in friendlies- in fact the US’ sluggish form entering the 2002 World Cup could have been easily attributed to experimentation with lineups in friendly tune ups.

But Bradley unlike Arena has not tested his changes except perhaps in training and has left many players wondering what their role is. Beyond this, some players are made a scapegoat for mistakes like Jose Francisco Torres was for the first Costa Rican goals two weeks ago, while others like DaMarcus Beasley and Carlos Bocanegra can make fatal mistakes and continue to be selected. In fact it can be strongly argued that Torres was out of position because Beasley playing left back was thought to be releasing a through ball up the left flank to Torres, not playing a clumsy clearance that was intercepted which left Torres and the rest of the US team woefully out of position.

It’s no small irony that Torres came from completely outside the USSF youth development system while Beasley and Bocanegra have been within the system for ten plus years and both played for Bradley at the club level.

As inconsistent as Bradley’s tactics have been from match to match in recent weeks, his inability to make the proper tactical changes during a match have been exposed both against Costa Rica and Italy.

Even the much maligned Steve Sampson made quick tactical and formation changes after a devastating red card on the road years ago. In 1997, Sampson absorbed an early red card to left back Jeff Agoos and tucked his midfield into a compact shape that allowed the US to get its first ever point at Azteca Stadium.

Monday, with a one goal lead at halftime despite being a man down, Bradley attacked from the start of the second half, looking for a second goal which wasn’t going to come. In keeping his players in roughly the same position but playing without a defensive midfielder that was sent off, Bradley allowed Marcello Lippi to make two critical substitutions and give Andreas Pirlo a freer role to exploit the incredible amount of space that had opened up in the American midfield.

The American team played with an incredible amount of heart and spunk even after falling down a man. But the side was completely spent after expending a ridiculous amount of energy trying to chase a second goal while leading the world champions. Given the smallish and narrow pitch, it was easier to defend with ten men than under normal circumstances, and could have been easily achieved with the right tactical changes.

As Jamie Trecker pointed out on monday’s MLS Talk Postgame show, the US players did not know whether they were to try and hold the ball or fling the ball forward. Different players had different interpretations of what to do and the confusion led countless giveaways and subsequent Italian goal scoring chances.

Bob Bradley’s squad selections have been questionable now for years, but as time goes on, his tactics are becoming even more mind boggling and inconsistent. From defending deep against a Honduran team without its two best players at home; to attacking the world champions away from home down a man and up a goal, nothing can explain Bradley’s tactical thinking other than that it changes from game to game with very little in game changes that are dictated by the developing scenarios of a match.

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UPDATE (A suggestion for Bob Bradley)

Since the US needs to develop more possession play and attack down the flanks here is a tactical formation that should be tried not just against Brazil but long term heading into a World Cup.

4-1-2-2-1 (not a countdown but a tactical setup)

For the Brazil game the setup would look like this:

Howard

Spector-DeMerit-Onyewu-Bornstein

…………..Bradley………………

Dempsey…………………Torres

………..Donovan…..Adu………..

…………….Altidore…………….

UPDATE (A suggestion for Bob Bradley)

Since the US needs to develop more possession play and attack down the flanks here is a tactical formation that should be tried not just against Brazil but long term heading into a World Cup.

4-1-2-2-1 (not a countdown but a tactical setup)

For the Brazil game the setup would look like this:

Howard

Spector-DeMerit-Onyewu-Bornstein

…………..Bradley………………

Dempsey…………………Torres

………..Donovan…..Adu………..

…………….Altidore…………….

For the later qualifiers the setup would look like this:

Howard

Hejduk-Spector-Onyewu-Bornstein

……………..Jones………………..

Feilhaber…………………Torres…

………Dempsey….Donovan……..

……………..Ching……………….

Key subs: Bradley, Adu, Cooper, Cherundolo, Edu, Altidore

For the World Cup the setup could look like this:

Howard

Hejduk-Spector-Onyewu-Bornstein*

………………Jones………………

Dempsey…………………..Torres..

………Donovan……..Adu……….

…………….Altidore………………

Key subs: Bradley, Cooper, Cherdundolo, Ching, Edu, Feilhaber

(*unless E. Castillo decides to file with FIFA to switch to USA)

I’m not necessarily married to this formation but feel the US have to develop more consistent possession play and take advantage of our speed outside to have any remote chance to advance from the group stage in next year’s World Cup. So now is the time to implement the change, not in April as Steve Sampson did in 1998.


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About Kartik Krishnaiyer

A lifelong lover of soccer, the beautiful game, he served from January 2010 until May 2013 as the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the North American Soccer League (NASL). Raised on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the old NASL, Krishnaiyer previously hosted the American Soccer Show on the Champions Soccer Radio Network, the Major League Soccer Talk podcast and the EPL Talk Podcast. His soccer writing has been featured by several media outlets including The Guardian and The Telegraph. He is the author of the book Blue With Envy about Manchester City FC.
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