Bradley, Brooks Allow USMNT Attack to Flourish

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by Deny Gallagher

In the aftermath of the beat down in Chicago, fans of the Stars and Stripes are left with a simple question: to drink or not to drink the USMNT Kool-Aid?

All signs are pointing toward the side coming into form ahead of their final matchup in Group A, but skeptics believe they need to see more before proclaiming that Klinsmann has made the United States Men’s National Team great again.

From all accounts, even the most optimistic fans would not have predicted that the Americans would hang four on Costa Rica. To make matters even better, neither Costa Rica nor Paraguay was able to make the hosts pay for their early mistake by splitting points in their opening fixture. A lot has been made about the U.S. getting breaks in big tournaments recently, and the Copa America Centenario is proving to be no exception.

Keeping all of that in mind, a quarterfinal matchup with Brazil at Metlife Stadium could be imminent if results remain the same. Turning things around against Costa Rica was significant, but it is only the first step in the long journey that is the Copa America Centenario.

It’s All About The Pairings

The pairing of Geoff Cameron and John Brooks is working. According to ESPN Stats and Information, John Brooks has 14 clearances through two games, the most of any player at the Copa America Centenario. More important than a gaudy stat line is the fact that for the first time in a long time, the Americans have good chemistry on the backline. What we have seen early on between Brooks and Brad Guzan is an effective communication and understanding of defensive spacing. With the defense in front of goal solidified, the outside backs in Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin can get forward in attack. The ability for these two to get forward was the difference against Costa Rica, and will continue to be an X-factor throughout the tournament. Make no mistake about it, Johnson and Yedlin’s ability to get forward starts and ends with Brooks, Cameron, and Guzan all being on the same page.

Michael Bradley: The 6 God

No player is more influential and important to a good run of form by the United States than Michael Bradley. The midfielder, who ironically plies his trade in the 6, is incredibly dynamic when he is in good to great form. Against Costa Rica, Bradley lived up to the hype surrounding his return to his natural position.

A lot of times writers and fans a like use buzz words such “playmaker” and “General of the Midfield” to describe the number six position in soccer. While these sentiments are accurate, they don’t quite do justice to the complexity of the position. For instance, what sets Michael Bradley apart when he is at his best is his ability to read the game and find passing lanes. During the Costa Rica game, Bradley had a hand in the build up that allowed the likes of Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, and Fabian Johnson to advance the ball into the final third.

While Bradley plays a significant role in the offense, none of that is possible if he doesn’t hang back at times and play a few feet in front of the defense. Not only does this add a fifth defender when necessary, but it gives Johnson and Yedlin the freedom to go forward on the attack.

The biggest difference between the Colombia and Costa Rica match was the Bradley’s positioning, which goes hand in hand with his comfort level. Prior to last Friday, it had been some time since the New Jersey native played at the six on the international level. This was evident when Bradley only dropped back as far as the edge of the final third, instead of just in front of the defense when the Americans played it out from the back. It is hard to describe without pictures, but the difference in spacing changes the passing lanes, as a Jermaine Jones or Alejandro Bedoya are forced more central and away from the flanks when Bradley stays up.

It is fitting that Michael Bradley flourishes in a more complex role than he did in the attacking midfield position. But for the son of one of the most intelligent coaches to ever grace the sideline for the USMNT, that shouldn’t be a big surprise.