It seems strange to have arrived at this point but the question needs to be asked, should the USMNT move on from Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones? I want to start by saying I love both these players. Bradley has been a favorite of mine since the 2010 World Cup, and Jones has brought an unmatched energy that I think every USMNT fan should truly appreciate.
Jones is 35, and will be 36 by the time the World Cup rolls around next summer, he hasn't shown a ton of signs of aging but the fact is younger, more promising players are waiting in the wings. Bruce Arena is a notoriously loyal guy, some of his call-ups for these past qualifiers are proof of that. Jones was more of a Klinsmann guy, but Arena has shown good faith by including him in these past qualifiers and giving him the start against Panama. He’s also praised Jones heavily for his work ethic in training sessions.
Bradley is 29 with a birthday coming in late July so for sake of argument he will be 31 during the World Cup next summer. Unfortunately for us and for Bradley he has shown many signs of aging. He cant get box-to-box the way he used to, his first step is slowing, and obviously his top speed has taken a hit as well. The truly concerning part is his inability to handle pressure, the amount of square balls he plays across the middle of the defensive third is mind boggling. These are not mistakes a veteran such as Bradley should be making.
If you truly watch him closely its easy to see how often he plays a ball to one of his own players that immediately puts them under pressure. If it seems as though I'm against Bradley continuing to be in the starting XI, it’s true I am. However it wouldn't be fair to Bradley to not mention some of the things he still does well.
For one, he’s captain for a reason. He’s a veteran of two World Cups and played vital roles in both. He’s experienced and a good leader, something that shouldn't be over looked. Another thing he does well that nobody in this current player pool can do is hit a long ball and drop it on a dime. Given space and time Bradley can drop a ball in tight spaces all over the field. The only problem being needing the space and the time...not exactly something opponents are obliged to be giving him at the international level.
Moving on to Jones, I don't have a lot to say about Jones that I haven't said about Bradley, Jones is another player that suffers from a poor first touch, or any touch in general. Sure he flashes moments of brilliance as his talent is undeniable. But the inconsistent play, along with deteriorating athletic ability, has turned Jones into a liability.
Now the question is, who replaces these guys? Excellent question. I have 4 players in mind. The rising star Kellyn Acosta or underrated veteran Dax McCarty are both extremely capable replacements for Bradley at the defensive mid position. Both players offer a change of pace stylistically than what we’ve seen over and over again for the past six years.
Both will hopefully get a chance to show their worth in this summer’s Gold Cup, and if they thrive there it will be hard for Arena to ignore them. As for Jones’ replacements, Emerson Hyndman and Benny Feilhaber are my top picks. As Jones is not a true number 10, a different playing style would have to be implemented to accommodate both Hyndman and Feilhaber.
Both players are true playmakers, and a more attacking style of play would suit their game. Hyndman is a newcomer at 20 years old, and he’s been playing extremely well for Rangers in Scotland. I believe he can add another big attacking threat to this team and create a deadly partnership with Christian Pulisic for years to come.
Feilhaber doesn't exactly fall into the youthful category but would be a fresh face after he was exiled for almost the entire Klinsmann era. Feilhaber was part of the January Camp and played well in the opportunities provided in those friendlies. Feilhaber is fantastic playmaker and even at his advancing age would be a big asset to this current squad.
I consider him the best, and probably only true number 10 this player pool has. Feilhaber’s creativity, and crisp passes are what separates him from the rest of the pack. During the 2010 World Cup, Feilhaber played in three of the four games, then Klinsmann was brought aboard and Feilhaber was out. Klinsmann wasted most of Feilhaber’s prime years, but at the ripe age of 32 I still think he has plenty left to offer. Lets hope Arena feels the same way.
Now I know what you might be thinking, Feilhaber over Pulisic in the middle? I must be outside my mind, unless I'm not. Can Pulisic play the 10 role? Absolutely he can. Can he play it at a high level? Probably, but is he a true number 10? No, but he is the USMNT’s best player currently, and it makes sense to play him in his best position on the wing, where he can do what he does best and take on defenders 1v1 and use his speed to streak down the sideline.
That is exactly where Feilhaber comes into play, I can envision it now, a quick creative give and go to send Pulisic down the wing, or a clever ball played by Feilhaber that slides in an open channel to put Pulisic in on goal. That is a combination I’d love to see in the near future, and I'm holding out hope we will get it very soon.
However when summer 2018 does roll around I would predict only one of Bradley and Jones will be on that final roster. And that player is Bradley, no matter how much we plea, I think Bradley is here to stay until after the World Cup is over.