What happened in center midfield against Brazil?

USA’s most talented and accomplished central midfielders – Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Maurice Edu – have started three matches together. The first, a 0-0 draw with Colombia, was an uninspiring demonstration of similar players getting in each others’ way. The second, the impressive 5-1 shellacking of Scotland, showed how far the trio has come in their familiarity with each other.  The third, Wednesday’s 4-1 defeat to Brazil, echoed the Colombia disappointment more than the Scotland triumph.

In our initial match report, we covered the intense pressing employed by Brazil, the main reason Bradley/Jones/Edu version 3.0 didn’t work quite as well. Brazil’s tackling prowess didn’t help matters either. The visitors won 16 of 22 tackles. The Scots came out on top in just 9 of 18 attempts. And, like the interceptions, Brazil’s generally came much higher, with 5 of their tackles occurring along the midfield line. Scotland won just 1 in the same area.

Outside of Brazil’s pressing, the main reason for the central midfield’s relative lack of influence was the positioning of Michael Bradley and the knock-on effect on his passing.

Take a look at his completed passes chalkboards from the two games.

To contribute to the attack, Michael Bradley had to rely on long passes against Brazil.

Against Scotland, Bradley was one of the two advanced center mids, alongside Jones. Against Brazil, he was the deepest of the trio. He therefore couldn’t move deep into Brazil’s half without abandoning his defensive responsibilities. This meant Bradley had to rely on long passes (highlighted in red) to make his influence felt in the final third. Jones and Edu did their best to contribute to the attack, but neither is as accomplished a passer as Bradley. Hence, the attack suffered even more.

Jurgen Klinsmann knew he had a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation.’ If he played Bradley higher, he risked Jones or Edu being dispossessed in USA’s half, but with Bradley so much deeper than against Scotland, the attack couldn’t be as nuanced.

Once Clint Dempsey gets back to full health, it will be fascinating to see how Klinsmann resolves this puzzle when facing top class opposition. He could keep the same formation but switch José Torres with Jones or Edu, or he could go back to the 4-2-3-1, giving Bradley a helper in deep positions while simultaneously allowing him to venture further afield.

How about it, gringos? What do you think Klinsmann should do?

Update: Whoops – I forgot to include another key point. Brazil employed 2 full-time holding mids while Scotland only had one. This meant when the US did get an opportunity to break, there were always two ready defenders sitting on the midfield line.

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