An Elegant Midfielder For a More Civilized Age

June 23, 2010 - Tshwane/Pretoria, Guateng, South Africa - 23 JUN 2010: Michael Bradley (USA). The United States National Team defeated the Algeria National Team 1-0 at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Tshwane/Pretoria, South Africa in a 2010 FIFA World Cup Group C match.

In anticipation of the upcoming European club season, FFG is reflecting on the development of young USMNT members. Jozy Altidore was the first recipient of our eagle eye. Today, we turn our attention to Michael Bradley.

Describing Michael Bradley’s style of play as elegant may be a bit disingenuous, but his normal role – that of a box-to-box midfielder – does appear to be out of date. As was observed in the World Cup, three-man central midfields are all the rage, making the traditional box-to-box position obsolete. It should come as no surprise, then, that during the World Cup Bradley the Younger was most effective when Benny Feilhaber was deployed as a nominal third central midfielder.

Zonal Marking, the world’s best soccer tactics site, recently examined the modern central midfield archetypes, concluding that there are now three roles: destroyer, creator, and passer. The former two are the traditional central roles and the latter a recent invention, originating with Real Madrid’s Claude Makelele (Spain’s Xavi and Dutch hard man Nigel de Jong personify the other roles). The passer, as noted by Zonal Marking, is rarely a popular player with fans. He appears to do little other than make horizontal passes and an occasional tackle. However, his presence allows the creator to focus on offense and gives the destroyer latitude to make crunching tackles without worrying about leaving a large gap in front of the center backs..

So which archetype does Bradley fall under? Michael has considerably more talent than de Jong (unless you consider ‘soccer fu’ a talent), but his ball skills will never be confused for Xavi’s. On the other hand, his excellent vision, conditioning, and tackling ability could lead to Bradley becoming Little Makelele.

As we’ve already mentioned, whenever Benny Feilhaber was on the pitch in the World Cup, USA was essentially employing three central midfielders. In attack, Feilhaber shifted inward and became the creator (Clint Dempsey sometimes filled this role as well). His movement let Maurice Edu focus on defending and allowed Bradley to become the passer. Against Ghana, Algeria, and Slovenia, the gringos were at their best when these three operated in Zonal Marking’s midfield archetypes.

If Bradley transfers to a squad that uses some type of a three-man midfield (his current club, Borussia Mönchengladbach, uses a 4-4-2), he might just avoid the ignominy associated with outdated fictional weaponry.

Gringos, is ‘the passer’ Bradley’s ideal position in a three-man midfield, or would you like to see him in one of the other roles?

7 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Bradley's Receding Hairline says:

    I like Bradley in the passer position. He doesn’t seem quite as proficient a dribbler as Feilhaber, Holden, or Torres.

    Kudos on the Ben Kenobi reference

  2. bensten says:

    I like those designations, but it’s hard for me to see Bradley as a real clear model of any of them. When I think “Passer,” I think Sergio Busquets. As you said about Passers, he’s often criticized by fans, but he’s an extremely crucial cog in the Barcelona/Spain midfield. Bradley can do that, but it’s hard to see him as a pure Passer because he’s got some measure of hustle and grit you don’t see from other Passers like Busquet.

    He’s also been known to break up play, but he’s not as brutal as those master beasts like Mascherano who, off the field, could be arrested for mugging in some countries for similar actions.

    We’ve seen vision from him and pretty passing but, as you mention, he’d need about a year at Xavi camp to really fill that role.

    In the end I guess I’m arguing he’s a hybrid! That flexibility could be a great asset. Depending on the club he’s with, he can mutate to fill the role needed. He’s also young enough that given a few steady years at a solid club he COULD grow to be a world class example of one them.

    • Blake Owen says:

      He’s certainly a tweener, hence his success as a box-to-box guy.

      Perhaps USA’s best case scenario is to pair Bradley and Edu in a similar manner to Busquets and Alonso. Busquets is definitely the passer, but Spain’s formation is fluid enough (and both mids good enough) to allow either to fill in as the destroyer or passer.

  3. AG says:

    He seems like a creator to me, with his ability to hold the ball well, as well as move the ball down the field.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ’0 which is not a hashcash value.

  4. DB says:

    His haircut makes him look a destroyer, but I think he’s got some creator in him too.

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