HARRISON, N.J. – Michael Bradley might not like to admit it outright, but he’s suddenly got a battle on his hands to lead the United States midfield.
Of course Bradley has been in these kinds of scrums before, but when was the last time he wasn’t the grinder the Americans leaned on for some serious dirty work? He’s been the steadiest figure among faces like Ricardo Clark, Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu for years, but there appears to be a fresh and very real challenge for him to regain the reins under new head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Bradley came off the bench for the second consecutive game during the Americans’ 1-0 loss to Ecuador at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday night, as Klinsmann instead opted to start Edu and Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman in the central midfield.
The pairing of a reliable and hungry blue-collar MLS veteran in Beckerman with Edu seems to have dealt a new hand to Bradley, even though he was unsurprisingly coy about the pecking order after the loss.
“There’s been competition since the first day I came,” Bradley said.
Klinsmann, meanwhile, was far more vocal about the temperature of the US midfield, which will likely only get hotter once attacking mid José Francisco Torres returns to the fold from a broken foot.
“The decision not starting Michael right away is simply that Maurice Edu is doing really well in that position,” Klinsmann said. “And when you look a back now at these couple of games we’ve played, we discovered a player like Kyle Beckerman is just doing a fantastic job for his team.
“So I know it’s kind of frustrating for Michael not starting a game, but there was Maurice that did really well lately for us,” Klinsmann added. “Right now, Kyle and Maurice start to read each other because they go into battles differently. I need to have midfielders understand that they have to go into this battle risking to lose it, but when the other guys reads it he’s going to win it for you. Maurice and Kyle are doing that really well right now, and that’s why it’s also difficult for Michael breaking back in.”
Beckerman, for his part, did what he’s done well since he broke into Klinsmann’s camp last month. He once again cleaned up messes in front of the US back four and logged 90 steady minutes, drawing a simple review from Klinsmann that sounded like one coaches have long given to Bradley: “He’s just simply doing his job.”
“Whatever he asks of me, I’m going to try and do,” Beckerman said. “It’s the dirty work, a lot of the things that people don’t see. But that’s fine. That’s what the coach is asking me to do.”
Bradley came on at the half for Edu, who struggled at times going forward and wasn’t as effective as he was in the 1-0 US win over Honduras on Saturday. The Chievo Verona man drifted at times to the right side in front of Beckerman and handled the free kick duties down the stretch, but his shift was like most players who carried the load in the second half of the loss: forgettable.
“I don’t pick the team,” Bradley said. “All I can do is when I get the opportunities, whether it’s five minutes, 15 minutes or 45 minutes like tonight, just try to be sharp and try to help the team.”