Monday, June 8, 2015

Insight and Eurocentricity

So much to catch up on in the world of soccer. FIFA scandal (or, more accurately, scandal finally exposed), Sepp Blatter, Hope Solo, the Women's World Cup, the Women's World Cup being played on an inferior surface.
But, for just a moment, a post about the game itself. Particularly, one player and how one coach can seemingly be completely insightful and completely wrong at the same time.
The player is Michael Bradley. While he didn't score (and frankly should have), he lead the U.S. Men's National Team to an improbable comeback win against The Netherlands last Friday in Amsterdam.
Bradley against Holland (photo courtesy of
Before you say it, I know. Where do I stand on the "friendlies mean nothing" versus "friendlies tell us a lot" scale because I've been all over the place on it? But this isn't an evaluation of the entire men's team and its performance in Holland (which, frankly, was disastrous defensively) but of one player and his standout play and what it tells us about him and about Jurgen Klinsmann as a coach and as technical director of the Men's National Team.

First, the good news. Bradley was clearly the standout player on the pitch, for either team, and that includes Robin Van Persie, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, and Memphis Depay (who was excellent going forward for the Dutch, but not so great in defense).Bradley pulled all the right strings for the U.S., including going on this mazy run that led to Bobby Wood's game winner at the death:

Bradley's excellence says much about him and his coach. Of Bradley, it tells us that he's willing to adjust his game, to bow to his coach's will for the good of the team (he is, after all, a coach's son). Since well before the 2014 World Cup Klinsmann has insisted that Bradley's role should be that of the attacking midfielder. And, for a long-time, many insisted that it wasn't working. With his great work rate and apparent defensive proclivity, Bradley continued to drop into the defensive mid role with which he seemed more comfortable.
The fruits of Klinsmann's insistence, and Bradley's compliance, were on display against Holland. Perhaps because Bradley knows that with Kyle Beckerman in the holding midfielder spot he can be more comfortable moving forward. perhaps out of desperation because, down 3-1 on the road there was no reason to play it safe. But whatever the reason, the hope is that Bradley is now comfortable with his new home.
Speaking of new homes, Bradley's performance again calls into question Klinsmann's mantra that the best American players need to play in Europe against the best competition to reach their competitive peaks. While admittedly the competition in the European professional leagues is still higher than that of MLS, Bradley's transformation has occurred not in Holland or Germany or Italy, which were all stops in his career, but in MLS playing for Toronto FC.
For every Bradley or Dempsey whose game has clearly benefited from playing in Europe, there are seemingly several Altidores and Sheas who sat on their benches in Europe and only played (and returned into the national team top tier) after returning to MLS. 
Is Europe still better? Yes. But only for players who play.
Hopefully Klinsmann the technical director will understand that message sometime soon.

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