This World Cup was supposed to be Michael Bradley’s coming out party. It was supposed to be his chance to show the soccer world how just good he is, to show teams like Roma why they should have kept him, and to show teams like Arsenal why should have placed bids for him.
Some MLS fans feared a good World Cup would lure him back overseas. Instead, he has vastly underperformed and shown the world what they already thought of him: that he is a good American player, capable of doing what American always players do well – run hard and hustle, but lacking that extra amount of class in their game. You can hear the collective cries of the USMNT fans to the rest of the soccer world, “But he really is good!” And the truth is that he is. No doubt Michael Bradley is a thousand times more disappointed in his performances than the fans. And let’s be fair, the work that Bradley has done has been crucial to the US advancing to the round of 16; but he hasn’t pushed himself to a higher level. I believe a change in tactics will help Bradley elevate his game.
Bradley has been playing at the top of the diamond formation, something that has looked good at times in qualifying and in the World Cup sendoff series. But this presents the US with two problems. First, with Jozy Altidore out injured, it has allowed defenses to target Bradley and his only forward outlet Clint Dempsey, limiting his options going forward. The other midfield outlets, in particular Jermaine Jones, have spent most of their time helping out on the flanks against the speedy wingers from the Group of Death. Either they are a little late in coming to relieve Bradley or they are too deep in their own half when they receive the ball. Because of this, we come to our second problem. Bradley is doing too much, concentrating too much on the offensive side, instead of what he is best at and that is a deep lying playmaker. So how do we solve this?
The key is to relieve pressure off Bradley. I believe the formation below would do this.
Jones F. Johnson
Beasley Besler Cameron Chandler
In this formation, Bradley lines up next to Beckerman, and going forward he would be stationed right in front of him. Bringing Fabian Johnson up to midfield gives the US another viable attacking option that defenses have to worry about. Also, having Dempsey play right under Wondolowski lets him wander and gives a chance for the US to build up play rather that going with route-one soccer.
If the US really wants to play the diamond formation, they should look to the last team that played it perfectly, AC Milan. At first, people may think that Pirlo played at the top of their diamond, but Pirlo was actually in the position where Beckerman is now, as the deep-lying playmaker. Gattuso was deployed to the left, the same as Jermaine Jones. Keep Beckerman where he is (where he has shined) and have Bradley line up just in front of him when going forward. Bradley can be that deep-lying playmaker with all the options in front of him. That way, if a defense wants to drop deep to focus on him, it will create space for Dempsey and Johnson. If the defense chooses not close him down, he will space to operate.
Essentially the US needs more options going forward. They are making it too easy for oppositions to defend against. Getting Jozy Altidore back would also go far in solving that problem. I know that some will have their doubts about Chandler, but he is a quality Bundesliga defender who may excel in Salvador where the weather will be substantially milder than what the US has had to deal with so far.
Bradley performing at his peak is the only way the US can go deep in this World Cup. How Klinsmann does it may be the most important piece of coaching he does.