With the CONCACAF hexagonal, the final round of 2014 World Cup qualifying on the horizon, 2013 will be an extremely important year for the United States Men’s National Team.
Between February and October, the U.S. is set up to play 10 games against its hexagonal opponents who will include Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and Jamaica.
Here are three reasons why Michael Bradley will be the key player to the United States' qualification effort.
From his play in the Italian Serie A, fans have given Michael Bradley the nickname, “The General.”
For the USMNT, Bradley is exactly that.
Bradley has become the lynchpin of the American midfield. His competitiveness, his leadership, his possession and frankly, his combativeness, make him indispensable.
Since Jurgen Klinsmann took over as coach of the USMNT, the team is 6-1-4 (following W-L-D format) with Bradley in the starting lineup and 2-4-0 when Bradley doesn’t play.
Even though Bradley is a relatively young player at 25 years of age, he is also one of the most experienced players in the USMNT lineup, earning 72 caps in his international career.
Because of his dynamic skill set, one of the great dilemmas that occurs with Michael Bradley in the team is how to use him.
When used as the No. 6, the defensive midfielder, Bradley does an excellent job breaking up opponent’s plays, providing a physical presence in the middle of the pitch and getting possession started on the attack.
When playing as a No. 6, Bradley often comes as deep as the center backs to get the ball, which can be a very important role considering that the U.S.’ center backs often struggle in possession.
Also, when Bradley plays as the No. 6, his ability as a deep-lying playmaker (the Andrea Pirlo role) is key to starting the U.S. attack. Bradley plays particularly well in the No. 6 role when the U.S. is outmatched by superior opponents.
The other role that Bradley excels at is the No. 8 role, which is that of the box-to-box midfielder.
This was particularly evident in the U.S.’ most recent games against Guatemala and Russia, in which Bradley’s ability to push forward helped him create chances both for himself and his teammates.
The problem with using Bradley as a No. 8—which suits the U.S. well against weaker CONCACAF opponents—is who picks up the No. 6 role?
In the past, Klinsmann showed a preference to Kyle Beckerman, but Beckerman responded to those opportunities with more than a few underwhelming performances.
Maurice Edu has been frozen out since moving to Stoke City and has picked up a grand total of 10 minutes for his club this season.
Jermaine Jones has a penchant for dangerous play, and Klinsmann seemingly prefers Jones in a more advanced role.
Danny Williams is a promising player and been used in the No. 6 role in each of the U.S.’ last four games, but he has put in some mixed performances.
While not a true No. 10, a role that Klinsmann has attempted to shoe-horn Bradley into in the past, Bradley’s abilities as both a No. 6 and a No. 8 make him absolutely vital to the U.S.’ ability to both generate an attack and score goals.
Finally, Bradley’s ability to score goals out of the midfield is enormously important for the U.S.
While the U.S.’ options at forward have never been brighter, there is still no clear-cut No. 9 for the team.
Clint Dempsey seems to prefer, as does Klinsmann, a role underneath the striker as a No. 10.
The other options at forward are Herculez Gomez and a cadre of untested or inconsistent youngsters in Jozy Altidore, Terrence Boyd and Juan Agudelo.
Bradley's ability to score either on long distance shots, late runs into the box or on set pieces helps the U.S. pick up some of slack.
Plus, Bradley scores when it matters most.
Out of his 11 career international goals, he scored the game-winning or game-tying goal five times.
Bradley scored both goals for the U.S. in the its 2-0 win over Mexico in 2010 World Cup qualifying, a vital goal against Egypt in the 2009 Confederations Cup which helped put the U.S. through to the semifinals, the game-tying goal against Slovenia in the 2010 World Cup and the opening goal in the 2011 Gold Cup final.
Additionally, who can forget Bradley’s absolute bombs this past year against Scotland and Russia?
Entering 2013, Michael Bradley’s abilities as the U.S.’ midfield general, his playmaking abilities and his ability to score will be crucial to a successful year for the USMNT.
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