In the United States men's national team's dramatic 2-1 victory over Ghana on Monday night, one player who was widely lambasted by fans and the media alike was U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley.
I hope whoever kidnapped Michael Bradley returns him by Sunday morning.— Maxi Rodriguez (@FutbolIntellect) June 17, 2014
Who are you and what have you done with Michael Bradley?— Seth Vertelney (@svertgoalcom) June 16, 2014
MISSING: Michael Bradley. If found, please return him to Natal ASAP.— Kayla Knapp (@KaylaKnappFOX) June 16, 2014
Following the game, the narrative that quickly developed was that Bradley had put in a shockingly poor performance, while his midfield teammates (Alejandro Bedoya, Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman) had all excelled.
Jones was given Man of the Match honors by many publications, while the comments made about Bradley's performance all over the Internet were not kind.
But a closer look at the numbers—and the circumstances surrounding Bradley's effort on Monday—tell a truly different story.
Bradley connected on 35 of his 42 passes against Ghana (some sites had 43 passes listed) for a completion rate of 83 percent—certainly not a shocking effort by any means. By contrast, Jones, who admittedly put forth a monstrous defensive effort, finished the match with a 64 percent pass-completion rate.
Overall, Bradley had the second-highest pass-completion rate of anyone on the U.S. team among the first XI, and he was only one percent behind Kyle Beckerman's 84 percent completion average.
Put further in perspective, Bradley's passing rate in his own half was nearly flawless and only dropped off when he attempted more difficult, penetrating passes going forward.
In total, Bradley missed seven pass attempts. One of the missed attempts credited to Bradley was actually a flicked header to Clint Dempsey that the American attacker managed to immediately win back after a single touch from a Ghanaian defender.
Once Dempsey had the ball, the U.S. launched a dangerous counter as Bedoya found Fabian Johnson streaking down the right wing. Johnson, deep in Ghana's end, then sent in a ball to Jozy Altidore, which Altidore nearly finished to put the U.S. 2-0 up.
Two of Bradley's other "misses" were attacking passes in which his teammates didn't go to the ball, and another was a ball to Dempsey over the top that barely missed its mark.
In fact, of Bradley's seven misses, only two were truly poor passes. The first was early in the second half when he missed Bedoya so badly that the ball went over Bedoya's head and out of play. Coincidentally, Bedoya seemed to injure his hip on the play while attempting to jump for the ball.
The worst pass of the night for Bradley came in the dying seconds of the match. With the U.S. having just recaptured the lead—and finally in possession of the ball—Bradley had a chance to kill off the game in the 95th minute. But, instead of driving to the corner flag as most experienced players would have done, he instead attempted an ambitious cross-field pass.
Possession was lost, giving Ghana one last chance at an equalizer.
The mistake was so bad that ESPN commentator Ian Darke remarked in the broadcast:
I wonder why he didn't [head to the corner flag]. You would have sworn that an experienced player like Michael Bradley would have taken that into the corner...I would have bet my life on it and I would have lost...it's given Ghana one last opportunity.
But one particularly bad ball does not make a game.
Bradley's role also changed early on in the match against Ghana. From the start, Bradley was deployed as the team's attacking midfielder, at the tip of Klinsmann's 4-4-2 diamond formation.
However, after Altidore was withdrawn in the first half due to injury, and with the U.S. holding a 1-0 lead, the team moved to a straight 4-4-2, with Bradley essentially playing parallel to Beckerman.
This limited Bradley's normally excellent attacking capabilities, which were on full display two months ago when he scored a goal and picked up the assist in a 2-2 draw with Mexico—a game that led Mexican coach Miguel Herrera to offer Bradley some high praise:
Bradley also excelled in the U.S.' last World Cup send-off game against Nigeria. It's true that he didn't look his normal remarkable self in the Americans' other send-off games against Turkey and Azerbaijan, but against Ghana, the evidence simply doesn't match the narrative of Bradley having a poor game.
He did make some mistakes, that's for sure. But the perception that he didn't have a good game against Ghana is a matter of relativity. For years, Bradley has spoiled U.S. fans with performances that have, at times, been otherworldly.
The accusations of nepotism that followed Bradley years ago when his father was the U.S. manager are long gone. Those accusations didn't go away because Bob is no longer the coach, they went away because Michael's performances have simply been that good—game after game, year after year.
Now when he puts in an average performance—by his standards—it appears to be a poor game.
In fact, the overwhelming majority of fans not only accept that Bradley is the team's midfield engine, but many have also clamored for him to take over the armband.
With the expectations for Bradley sky-high coming into this World Cup, his comparatively average performance against Ghana only appeared to be poor. But if you asked most U.S. fans if they'd take an 83 percent pass completion from their worst midfielder against Portugal on Sunday, they'd take it in a heartbeat.
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