US-Honduras Friendly: Evidence Of What Americans Can Expect From Bradley
The anonymity and negative emotions internet writing allows always make it a strong temptation to write a derisive column.
Such articles are sure to get a response and encourage debates that usually end with "I hate (insert player's name here)" or "This is who I would choose instead" followed by a full team list of said fan's favorite athletes and the formation he would employ...and they are quite popular.
Honduras' 3-1 thrashing of the U.S. Men's national team Saturday night at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., would have been the perfect opportunity to criticize without restraint.
But it's too easy to overtly criticize online.
After some reflection, I realized that the Honduras game offered up a sobering picture of what Bob Bradley's tenure has offered the United States. Some of it is good, a lot of it is bad, and a whole bundle more of it is uncertain.
Unfortunately, that is the way things will more than likely stay until he resigns or is released from his position as coach of the national team.
So, after three years of watching Bob Bradley sculpt his team, what follows is what to expect.
First, the good. The team can win games (the latest Honduras game excluded, of course). In fact, the team is capable of making a run when they're in form, even from behind. The 2007 Gold Cup and last year's Confederations Cup are two good examples of this.
Plus, Bradley seems to have a decent rapport with his players, and it appears that the players have bought into his philosophy. No matter whom he selects, they take on the appearance of a solid, cohesive unit with few distractions and squabbles. In essence, they look like professionals.
Accomplishing that much is not an easy task, and Bradley should be commended. After the dismal showing in 2006, the whole program was in disarray. Bradley's interim management righted the proverbial ship, and to the dismay of many, he was rewarded for his service.
Also, Bradley helped to reinforce a number of positive habits that Bruce Arena had established during his time in charge. He kept the focus on execution (set plays in particular), reminding the team that it only wins when it plays as more than the sum of its parts, and he implemented a whole team defense.
Overall, he has kept the United States at a respectable level, not sullying what little soccer reputation they have earned, and perhaps even improving it with his accomplishments against Concacaf opponents and the aforementioned Confederations Cup run.
Not bad, considering a truly professional and organized national team has only been around for about 20 years (I'm counting the 1990 World Cup as the beginning of the professional era for the U.S. national team. During preparation for that World Cup, national team pool players were financially supported for the first time. This enabled them to properly prepare for the tournament.).
Nevertheless, Bradley's time hasn't been all roses. Saturday's friendly reminded everyone of that.
Bradley's recent selections have had the tendency of letting in goals early. Usually this ends in a poor result. As of last night's game, Bradley is 2-6-2 when trailing after half. They don't do well when behind, and if the team's attack is stifled early, it does not adapt.
All of this could be seen on the night. Bradley's attack struggled from the onset. His forwards could not obtain or keep possession. The outside midfielders and backs did little to support the offense, and there were too many errant passes from Beckerman and Feilhaber.
It's true that Jimmy Conrad's early exit made life difficult for the Americans, but the team, specifically the back line, played better once he was ejected.
That is, until Honduras scored a second goal, and the way in which they scored was another reminder of how a Bradley team plays. The goal was a replica of Maicon's assist on the first goal of Brazil's comeback win in the Confederations Cup final.
The U.S. is way too lax on defense inside its defensive third. Players do not get out and pressure attackers. The amount of time and space opposing players are gifted has cost the United States a stream of goals.
A defense founded on the idea that deep lying defenders can play as additional goalkeepers spells doom against elite teams, and the string of goals, either off of crosses or from long distance, have not ceased.
Honduras' second goal (a product of the American defensive) is a tenet of the Bradley era.
It's also why the team went 13-8-3 in 2009; a significant drop in his win percentage from his previous two years.
Bradley has been criticized by many for his too-late substitutions and inability to adjust his in-game strategy. Bradley exhibited more of the same against Honduras.
Once again, his halftime adjustments didn't help as he took off a forward and replaced him with a defender, even though he was two goals down.
When goals are needed, changing to a more defensive unit does not produce many, which was evidenced by a full-time score of 3-1 in favor of Honduras.
For the World Cup, fans must hope that the team does not fall behind early, that its choice attack is not stifled, the team doesn't fall into a defensive shell, and Bradley is forced to make serious halftime adjustments or late substitutions.
That's a few too many variables for an American fan to absorb quietly. It's going to be a nervous summer.
And still, the uncertainties remain:
Bradley's players have a decent grasp of the basics, but they display long lapses in decision making, mental preparation, and tactics.
Bradley's team doesn't seem to cherish possession. They are willing to make low percentage gambles, giving the ball away with poor passing, or if they hold the ball, they turn it over on quick counter attacks.
During last night's game, there was an abundance of bad passes, and Bradley lamented his players' actions at his post-game press conference. They do not seem to understand that they cannot score, and the other team can, if they don't have the ball.
Constantly, any development or offensive rhythm is destroyed as a midfielder or defender makes a horrible attempt at a pass.
And yet, in the same game, they'll be four or five beautiful combinations.
There are the same inconsistencies on defense. Mentally, individual defenders lose marks, stab at the ball, make risky tackles, and are caught out of position.
Granted, this may not be Bradley's fault as a number of the January camp's players commented that they were learning an exhorbitant amount about tactics and the mentality of international play. If players are not used to marking properly, how can Bradley force them to?
Still, it is his team, and shouldn't there be some sense of responsibility for marking players in your zone?
Honduras' third goal was a result of Marvel Wynne losing his man at the top of the box, and Chad Marshall not being able to slide over fast enough to cover.
Jonathan Bornstein was beaten by his man in Slovenia and committed a stupid foul. The same happened to him against Brazil. These mental mistakes are all too common.
Finally, Bradley has proven himself to be a company man. Players that were brought up within the ranks of the USMNT are constantly and continually called up.
There are a number of people that would argue that this can't be true as he has utilized the service of 88 different players at one point or another, a U.S. record.
But who could deny that Bradley has called up a number of players, even though their usefulness to the cause has long passed?
Damarcus Beasley, Brian Ching, Eddie Gaven, Heath Pearce, Eddie Johnson, Pablo Mastroeni, and Jimmy Conrad (as he proved again last night) were getting call-ups long after they had ceased to have an impact.
When it counts, Bradley will return to the same players again and again. Maybe part of it is because the newcomers are not ready, and it would be hard to argue such a position as many of the youngsters have not come through when counted on. Last year's Gold Cup final and again, the Honduras game, could support the claim.
Still, why did it take so long to play Charlie Davies when he was producing for his club team? Why did it take so long for Stuart Holden and Jay Demerit to earn a look? Under-performing and established players were in the way.
There's also one fairly important intangible that was on display last night, but not by the United States: passion.
Too many times, Bradley's teams don't seem to want to win. They look like automatons; robots going through the motions programmed by the unemotional controller leaning against the pole of his bench cover.
The most impassioned American was Clarence Goodson. When he was subbed on, he had drive, something to prove, much like a young Clint Dempsey. But overall, such desire was muted on the team. Again, a too common trait with a Bradley team.
The Honduras friendly was a recap of what fans have seen from a Bradley team since his promotion to manager. Not much has changed.
The team is stable, professional and organized. It has the same flaws: defensive limitations, the lack of a true attacking philosophy, mental lapses, and the inability to adjust.
The coach can be expected to struggle with substitutions and team selection. Depending on the day, sometimes the team will show up to play, and other times, they may not show any emotion at all.
They will execute on set pieces, and hopefully, they will have the same luck and level of performance during a tournament that Bradley teams have exhibited in the past. American fans should pray that that much remains the same.
In the end, if Bradley's record is any indication, the rest of the year should be one crazy roller coaster ride with a number of steep inclines followed by quick and exciting drops.
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