The United States went for it in their Copa America Centenario opener. They threw numbers forward, were ultra aggressive in the attack and in defense, and did everything they could to pressure Colombia. But to do it, the Americans had to put the weight of the world on Michael Bradley, and their captain wasn’t up to the task.
Bradley struggled all match long. His passing wasn’t as crisp as usual and he failed to hit the big diagonal balls that spring the counterattack. He wasn’t able to cut out the rare Colombian counter early and it was he who had the giveaway and foul that led to the penalty for Colombia’s second goal.
Bradley simply wasn’t good, and the U.S. don’t have enough talent to beat a team like Colombia when their best player struggles.
To lay the blame simply at Bradley’s feet wouldn’t be entirely fair, though. While he undoubtedly struggled, what the U.S. asked him to do was almost unfair.
Whenever the U.S. had the ball, both DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Johnson flew up the pitch. They were regularly among the Americans furthest up the pitch.
Those runs cut down on the space for Bradley to play the early balls he excels at. He became a circulator, which he is perfectly fine at, but that hardly takes advantage of the varied passing that makes him the Americans’ best passing midfielder.
More than that, though, the fullbacks’ forays up the pitch meant Bradley had to drop into the back line, essentially splitting centerbacks John Brooks and Geoff Cameron.
That made him part defender and part defensive midfielder, having to play both roles and be the primary resistance to a Colombia counterattack that can be deadly. It also left him nearly zero room for error.
Bradley had to dominate the center of the park. He had to be responsible with the ball and dangerous with it as well. He had to defend and he had to be the midfielder to cut things out before a Colombian threat really demanded defending from the back line. It all came down to him.
The only reason the Americans’ tactics could work were because of Bradley. Someone has to take on all that responsibility and it made sense it would be Bradley â the team’s most well-rounded and best player.
Unfortunately, simply being the best U.S. player doesn’t make Bradley one of the world’s best. And it would have taken a player of that caliber to do what the U.S. asked Bradley to do.
It’s nothing new for Bradley. He has been asked to do it all before. Sometimes he’s the Americans’ No. 10, tasked with being the creative force. Other times he’s part of a two-man midfield with a mandate to be as good defensively as he is going forward. He has been the defensive midfielder and even the man charged with dominating possession. Bradley is so much the team’s best midfielder that he fits in wherever there happens to be a hole, and that can be anywhere. But usually he only has to do one or two of those things and on this day, the Americans demanded he do nearly all of it, plus a little more.
— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) June 4, 2016
The good news is that Colombia will present the U.S. with their toughest test of the group stage. Nobody will ask as much of the team, and as a result of Bradley, as Los Cafeteros did. Bradley won’t have to do as much in the rest of the tournament and, odds are, he’ll be better regardless. He’s still the team’s best player and despite the loss, the U.S. are in fine shape with their two easier matches of the round still to come.
Bradley is a good player, but he’s not Mr. Everything like the U.S. asked him to be. And when you combine a task too tall, which this was, and a bad match, you get a goat. Unfair as it may be.