With Michael Bradley Out, Who Can Step into the Middle for the US?

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With Michael Bradley Out, Who Can Step into the Middle for the US?
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Michael Bradley has been a rock in the center of the pitch for the U.S. His distribution has been top class as has been his nose for goal.  He's even shown his worth as a holding midfielder when asked. 

But after being shown a red card in the 86th minute in the Americans' 2-0 win over Spain, he'll be in the stands for Sunday's Confederations Cup final against Brazil.

Whether or not Michael Bradley's tackle was deserving of a red card is a fine debate (as is debating the merit of the other two red cards Americans have been shown in this tournament as well as the phantom foul on Brazil's Maicon that led to Brazil's opening goal against the U.S., but I digress), but at this point it's rather moot. 

The question the U.S. needs to answer is, "Who will replace Michael Bradley?"

The U.S. have a few options, but not many. Landon Donovan used to fight over the position with Claudio Reyna until Reyna retired and Michael Bradley's play pushed Donovan wide and/or high depending on coach Bob Bradley's tactics. 

Jose Francisco Torres has looked promising on occasion, Freddy Adu is a wild card, and Benny Feilhaber has shown great vision in substitute appearances in the tournament.

Donovan's speed and passing (as well as an uncanny ability to bury penalty opportunities), make him a necessary piece of Bob Bradley's starting XI.  But his attributes are far more suited to his current position on the wing, even if it takes away some width.

His deployment on the wings has raised his game considerably against stronger opposition. When Donovan inherited Reyna's No. 10 shirt, the U.S. was forced to run through Donovan's feet. Despite his positive contributions, he has a tendency to disappear in the big games. 

When you're responsible for distribution in the attacking half, you have to not only show up for the big games, but step up for them.  Donovan can't seem to do that in a more central role.

Torres is pretty green, although he has looked very sharp for Mexican side Pachuca and in the few appearances he's made for the senior squad. He failed to close down space in his own half against Costa Rica in the opening 20 minutes and that may be why it appears he's in Bob Bradley's doghouse as he has seen very little time since then. 

After settling down he looked very comfortable with the ball at his feet—something that few Americans are.

The lack of playing time in this tournament probably will make Bob Bradley hesitant to throw Torres into the deep end of a cup final against Brazil. But Bob Bradley has been hesitant to use Torres when it counts for some time for reasons I can't understand.

Freddy Adu is the wild card on the U.S. bench.  Forget the hype or what some consider the disappointment.  Adu is the most creative player the U.S. has and a central attacking midfield position would be the most natural role he's ever played in for the States. Like Torres, Adu has also not seen much time in games of any consequence. 

Bob Bradley doesn't appear to have confidence in Adu, although he can't say it, so the perpetual excuse has been a lack of playing time with his club.  Although a lack of playing time with his club has not stopped Bradley from regularly selecting Jozy Altidore.

Benny Feilhaber is the most likely option. Feilhaber was arguably the best American of the 2007 Gold Cup squad but was overlooked by Donovan's move to the top of American scorers, Tim Howard taking the reins from goal and Clint Dempsey coming off a season where he was voted American player of the year, scored the team's only World Cup goal and secured his transfer to Fulham.  

Meanwhile, Feilhaber had quietly established himself alongside Rafael Van Der Vaart at Hamburg but wanted a move to England. His move to Derby was doomed after a managerial change saw Paul Jewell come in and deem Feilhaber unnecessary and suffered a string of injuries. 

He's playing regularly at Danish side Aarhus and appears to be nearing the player he was at Hamburg.

Feilhaber doesn't have the defense or aggression that Michael Bradley does, but his vision and offensive prowess might even be enough to push Michael Bradley to a holding midfield role. Or maybe not, but he should have an audition for the part Sunday afternoon against Brazil.

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