World Cup: Does Kyle Beckerman have as great of a USMNT impact on Michael Bradley as we think?

Consider the following to be a lab report on the dangers of cherry-picking stats.

After Wednesday night’s 2-2 draw between the US national team and Mexico, there has been a lot of talk about the relationship between central midfielders Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman.

Beckerman is best when sitting in front of the back four and distributing from the back. This allows Bradley to push forward and show his true potential as a chance creator.

Against Mexico, the results definitely passed the eye test, with Bradley scoring one goal and assisting on another. Bradley really is more free to move forward when Beckerman is on the pitch instead of Jermaine Jones – at least on this night.

But what do the numbers say?

Below are two games Bradley has played over the past five months, one game he started with Jones, the other with Beckerman. Can you pick which one is which?

Game A 18 1 2
Game B 36 2 1

So game B definitely seems like Wednesday. The night when Bradley's influence was so great that Mexico coach Miguel Herrera said he looked like "the best player in the world" surely saw him rack up touches in the attacking third, right?

Wrong. Game B came against Austria back in November, as dire and disappointing an attacking outing as the US have had since late 2011. Bradley played 67 of his 90 minutes alongside Jones on that night.

Game A's statistics are Bradley's from last night when he played with Beckerman for 72 minutes.

So what should we take from this? The statistics say that Bradley did not get further up the pitch with Beckerman on the field as opposed to when he was playing with Jones. But that's why context is important: Austria went up 1-0 vs. the US mid-way through the first half, then sat back and played for the counter – never finding it, but making that lone goal stand.

Bradley's final third activity, then, was due to Austria's tactics more than his midfield partnership. If these numbers tell us any story, it's that one.

And remember: They never tell us the whole story. Context is king, now and forever.


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