Bob Bradley is a strategic thinker. He has to be. He coaches a mid-level national soccer team whose first game is against one the top ranked teams in the world – England. Bradley knows that the US does not have enough talent to win on talent alone. If the Founding Fathers had failed and America had remained an English colony, there are probably only three Americans – Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard – who would be in contention to be among Fabio Capello’s 23.
Yet, in Bradley’s team selection that was announced today, he clearly has a theory on how his team can top England, get out of the group, and be in contention to ruin anyone’s day in the knock-out stages of the World Cup – SPEED. In forgoing a seasoned veteran poacher like Brian Ching and a young versatile dribbler like Alejandro Bedoya, Bradley opted for the quicker Robbie Findley and DaMarcus Beasley. Combined with Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, Coach Bradley is convinced that he can break down England by getting behind them.
For Bob Bradley, an instructive insight into his team’s potential must have come when Everton played Chelsea earlier this year. In that game, Landon Donovan was going up against John Terry and Ashley Cole. Cole is a quick player, but Donovan’s speed forced his to stay back until he got injured and went off. Terry has to shade on Donovan’s side to contain his speed, and that space allowed Louis Saha to get the game winner. Donovan also had an assist, drew a penalty, and was named man of the match. His surging runs unbalanced the Chelsea back line and created space and chances for Everton.
Bradley also knows that John Terry has looked poor the past several months. Perhaps it is just a coincidence that this drop in form corresponds with his personal scandal, but during the last few months Terry’s normal physical play has become more violent. He was tossed out of the Tottenham game for collecting yellow cards and Bradley knows that when he starts chasing a player, Terry can be very aggressive. Tackles that get a stern lecture from the referee in England will often get a yellow or red card in international play.
If Bradley can stretch England down the sides and through the middle, force their left and right backs to stay closer to home and get Terry and Rio Ferdinand to have to turn and chase, the US can create some chances and win the game. Moreover, if Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu can pressure Steven Gerrard into turning the ball over, which he has been doing lately, the US will have the sprinters to launch counter-attacks at a backpedaling English line. Bradley is counting on a younger, quicker and fitter team to overcome England’s skill and, hopefully, over-confidence.
In short, Bradley wants to play the same type of game that the Mexicans played against the English on Monday. Ignore the 3-1 score line which flattered the English team. The truth is that Mexican speedsters like Carlos Vela and Guillermo Franco battered the back line, Mexico chased down everything, pressured the midfield and out-possessed England. It was a stirring performance and Mexico was unlucky to have missed out on a win or a draw.
Bradley is wagering that if the US can let speed infect their game, they will cause a lot of problems for the English team. He has decided to fashion a team with that strategy in the forefront.