Michael Bradley Can Still Be A Difference-Maker
But you have to use him correctly. Michael Bradley might have been the best U.S. player on the field against Mexico if not for some heroics from Geoff Cameron in the second half. He buzzed around the midfield, switching on and off with Kellyn Acosta and taking turns stepping to the ball and dropping back into the hole. He got forward well, scoring the lone U.S. goal with an audacious chip and nearly topping himself in the second half with a long-range volley that slammed off the post. This Michael Bradley was worlds better than the forays as a lone 6 and empty bucket partnerships with Jermaine Jones that have formed the bulk of his U.S. time over the last couple years. Paired with Kellyn Acosta he looked more organized, more composed, and better on both sides of the ball.
This might be as much in praise of Bradley and Bruce Arena’s use of him in this game as it is an indictment of Jermaine Jones and his current place on the team. Even just a year ago, Jones was one of the most important members of the USMNT. Now, with Kellyn Acosta putting in a largely mature performance in his first time at the Azteca and Michael Bradley shining next to him, it’s hard to see how Jones gets onto the field.
Bruce Knows What He’s Doing
There was much wringing of hands in the U.S. soccer fandom when the starting XI was released. We started a game in the Azteca with Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream, Brad Guzan, and the reanimated corpse of DaMarcus Beasley.
And we got a point.
Bruce has now coached the U.S. through 6 games in about as many months and has yet to lose a match, including World Cup qualifying games on the road against Panama and Mexico. Those are tough, tough places to get results in, and Bruce did it on Sunday with a team that could charitably be called B+ from a U.S. perspective. The short rest and long travel necessitated the switch, and so faced with such a tall order, Bruce switched up his tactics as well. Mexico has more talent, top to bottom, than the U.S. does. When Mexico has an injury problem, they’re still starting Chicharito, Hector Herrera, Jonathan Dos Santos, Marco Fabian, and Chucky Lozano. When the U.S. has to rotate, we start Tim Ream and Brad Guzan and 74 year old DaMarcus Beasley. But the U.S. played the percentages, stuck to a gameplan of absorbing pressure and hitting on the counterattack when they could, and they got a point because of it.
Was it pretty soccer? No. But if we tried to play pretty soccer with this squad against this Mexican team, we would’ve lost by 4. Even Arena’s goalkeeper rotation, which I publicly questioned before the game, was stunningly logical.
Arena on Guzan: "Tim needs more time to recover at his age. Had offseason surgery that affects his kicking. We wanted to be safe."— Neil W. Blackmon (@nwblackmon) June 12, 2017
So no, this wasn’t a Jurgen Klinsmann move on Arena’s part, changing out players and throwing out new formations on a whim. This was a carefully and successfully executed plan to give the U.S. a shot at points. And it worked.
Raise a Glass to DaMarcus Beasley and the Ghost of His Shattered Musculature
Seriously, this guy. DaMarcus Beasley is so old he still wears his hats sideways. He might’ve been a bit culpable on Mexico’s equalizer, and plenty of U.S. players had better games than Beasley did, but he turned in a performance that would make Alexi Lalas and fictional high school football coaches everywhere weep tears of solid gold. Beasley was probably kicked and tossed to the turf more than any other player on the field, got up more times than Rocky, and continued to throw himself into challenge after challenge against attackers like Hirving Lozano and Carlos Vela. I like to make fun of people whose criteria for rating players are subjective and nebulous words like “grit” and “heart,” but Beasley out-hearted everyone else on the field on Sunday, and I don’t care if he didn’t have the best game. When I’m 35 I hope I can still jog for five minutes without stopping. DaMarcus Beasley is 35 and went 90 minutes at Azteca. All hail.