Bradley would be better in a pure, central midfielder’s role, if not a more attacking position (like he played at Heerenveen). His father’s system has forced him to be shoehorned into a role to which he is not suited.
Michael Bradley is not the only player without a natural spot in the 4-2-2-2. Kyle Beckerman, Jose Francisco Torres and Freddy Adu are also players who may need to change their games. And where do younger players like Chris Pontius – or even Stuart Holden – fit?
Perhaps they don’t, but in lieu of a deep talent pool like Brazil’s – where a player like Anderson could come in and replace Felipe Melo, even if a player like Diego doesn’t have a role – the United States faces a troubling choice when people get hurt:
Stay with a 4-2-2-2 that would exclude that match’s best options, or develop a back-up plan?
Alternative: Of Pyramids and Christmas Trees
The United States’ success with a 4-2-2-2 makes it difficult to abandon it, but Bradley should have at least one other option to fall back upon in case of injury or bad match-ups. Given the United States’ depth in central midfield, its swallow pool at forward, that fall-back should be a 4-3-2-1.
Ironic because of Bradley’s Italy deference, his choice club – AC Milan – exclusively employed a 4-3-2-1 at the end of Carlo Ancellotti’s tenure.
Like the U.S. Men’s National team, Milan had a lot of depth at the 3-level (Andrea Prilo, Gennaro Gattuso, captain Massimo Ambrosini, Mathieu Flamini and players who could occasionally play at that level: Clarence Seedorf, David Beckham).
Like the USMNT, there was a thinning crop of forwards, where an aging Filippo Inzaghi continued to top the pyramid (or, Christmas tree) before this year’s switch to a 4-4-2 (and then a 4-3-3).
As would be the case with Bob Bradley’s team, AC Milan has had creative presences at the 2-level that were able to express themselves with the relatively free roles afforded by this system. Most famously, Kaká exploited this, but Seedorf, Alexandre Pato and Ronaldinho also saw benefits from this set-up.
For the United States, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey would be perfect fits at the 2-level, where Charlie Davies could also play there. This could also be a better fit for players like Torres, Adu, and Holden.