As hard as it is to believe, World Cup 2014 is only a mere two years away and the advanced qualification rounds have already begun for a number of confederations.
The USMNT started its qualifying campaign just last week with games against Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala. As the tournament slowly approaches, we can begin to think of which players are going to be vital to the USMNT at Brazil 2014.
These past few months have given us a good hint at who will be a significant contributor on the team in 2014, but the real question is this: Who will be the most important player for the USMNT at the upcoming World Cup?
For years Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey have been the go-to guys in big competitions for the USMNT. However, Donovan already looks to be past his prime on the international level and Dempsey, although the most talented, might not be the most important when the grand tournament comes around.
The one player whose play will determine how far the USMNT goes on the biggest stage is the one and only Michael Bradley. Here’s why:
At the 2010 World Cup we saw time and time again the USMNT get outplayed in the middle of the field by superior opponents. In the Ghana game it was Kevin Prince Boateng who controlled the show.
In the England game Gerrard was consistently finding pockets of space to play Rooney and the wingers. Even in the Algeria game the U.S. did not have that field general in the middle of the pitch to create opportunities against a weak defense. For years USMNT fans have been desiring a creative playmaker in the middle who can take some of the pressure off Donovan and Dempsey on the attack.
We thought we had a potential playmaker in Stuart Holden, but his frequent injury problems prevent us from ever really counting on him to fill that role. Luis Gil looks to have all the qualities to excel in that position in the future, but at just 17 it would be silly to count on his World Cup contributions two years from now.
All signs now point to Bradley, who has developed in the past year to become a far more dangerous weapon on the attack and still has the ball-winning abilities of a CDM.
These past couple of weeks we have seen the type of stuff Bradley is capable of when he pushes forward and is aggressive on offense. Where his skills are now is truly remarkable considering where he was just a year ago.
A recent report in the Sporting News said that Bradley might have some prestigious suitors looking to utilize his talent and develop him into a star. If that is the case, Bradley very well could turn into a player of Dempsey's or Donovan’s class and one that we could desperately use in a tournament such as the World Cup.
It might be hard to imagine now, but in a few years the Donovan that we have become so accustomed to will be too old to really make an impact and Dempsey will only be able to carry this team so far by himself.
In a tournament such as the World Cup, the USMNT needs a true star in the middle of the field to break up opposing attacks and create opportunities for the offense on the other end.
That star needs to be Michael Bradley.