On Tuesday, speaking to reporters before the U.S. Open Cup final, United States men’s national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann confirmed to reporters that both Michael Bradley and John Anthony Brooks will miss the October World Cup qualifiers due to injury.
While the U.S. has already qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil thanks to its performance in the September qualifiers, the injuries to Bradley and Brooks mean the U.S. will miss some important opportunities in October.
With Bradley’s absence, the U.S. will miss a chance to look at some midfield combinations that could significantly strengthen the squad.
While Jermaine Jones still remains Klinsmann’s obvious favorite to partner Bradley, he continues to put in inconsistent performances for both club and country (he was suspended after last weekend’s game with Schalke for poor play) while several other U.S. midfielders await their chance to impress.
This summer, Geoff Cameron and Bradley put on an impressive performance against Panama, but the duo has not been seen together since. Cameron did get a match at center midfield against Costa Rica last month, but he was partnered with Jones and only found out he was starting minutes before kickoff when Bradley went down with an injured ankle.
Another option as a holding midfield partner for Bradley would be Kyle Beckerman. While Beckerman still has plenty to prove on the international level, he played well in the Gold Cup and, like Cameron, would stay home, allowing Bradley to push further up the pitch. When Bradley plays with Jones, Jones tends to go forward more, limiting Bradley’s ability to push forward.
It is worth noting that in the Jurgen Klinsmann era, in a two-center midfielder system, Bradley has one goal and three assists. In those games, Bradley’s midfield partners were Sacha Kljestan, Danny Williams, Maurice Edu and Geoff Cameron. All but Kljestan are natural holding midfielders.
The final option would be to bring Mix Diskerud into the starting XI with Bradley. While Diskerud would certainly push forward more, forcing Bradley to hold more often, this combination would put the U.S.’ two most polished technical midfielders on the pitch at the same time.
There would certainly be a dramatic improvement in the U.S.’ possession, and Diskerud has proven time and again, often in very limited minutes, that he can contribute to the U.S. attack. Therefore, Bradley having to hold back while partnered with Diskerud would not be as big a loss as it is when Bradley is partnered with Jones.
Who is the best partner for Michael Bradley in the U.S. midfield?
For Brooks, there are two missed opportunities. The first is obvious. He is still eligible to play for Germany internationally, and the October qualifiers would have been an opportunity to cap-tie him to the USMNT. Now, the team will have to wait until the World Cup to have that opportunity again.
Second, Brooks is a legitimate option to start for the U.S. After helping lead Hertha Berlin to promotion from the Bundesliga 2 last season, he was playing very well early in the 2013-14 Bundesliga campaign. His recent elbow dislocation, however, has ruled him out from playing for the U.S. at a moment when its center back picture is still murky.
Matt Besler has become a consistent option for the U.S., but Omar Gonzalez still has more than his fair share of shaky moments, and Clarence Goodson is a stopgap measure at best. Geoff Cameron rarely plays center back at the club level and would be rusty there if the U.S. ever needed him in the middle.
Brooks could be the player who helps solidifies the back line and needs to get more looks with the U.S. before the team heads to Brazil next summer.
Alas, both are hurt, and USMNT fans will have to wait until at least the November friendlies to see Bradley and Brooks in action for the U.S. again.
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