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Why Michael Bradley at the No. 6 has been key for the US national team

There has been a ton of debate over the years regarding what Michael Bradley’s best position is.

US national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has done little to quiet that debate during his tenure, playing the captain as a box-to-box midfielder, an attacking midfielder and as a defensive midfielder at various times.

The 29-year-old bounced around all three spots prior to the run-up to the 2014 World Cup. During that time, Klinsmann decided to play Bradley as an attacking midfielder in a 4-4-2 diamond formation. The results of this were somewhat mixed.

The US escaped a tough group that included Ghana, a Portugal team that included one of the two best players in the world and Germany, who eventually lifted the trophy in Rio de Janeiro. They then went on to play Belgium into extra time, with the Europeans advancing 2-1 after goals from current Premier League stars Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku.

While the tournament was considered a success for Bradley and Co., some of the underlying numbers were a bit worrying. The US were out-shot 94-44 and out-possessed 57%-43% over the course of the four games, which is not a formula for long term success.

Over the next year, through the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico in October 2015, those issues did not dissipate. In 16 games that Bradley was not played as a defensive midfielder, the US was out-shot 10.13-14.88 and slightly out-possessed.

After the CONCACAF Cup, a shift happened. Klinsmann decided to play Bradley as a No. 6, or defensive midfielder, which he had been playing for Toronto FC since the start of the 2015 season. The numbers have seen a notable improvement, which you can see below.

Position Win % Avg. GD Avg. Shot differential Possession
Not No. 6 43.75% +.63 -4.75 49.51%
No. 6 71.43% +1.39 +2.77 55.01%

Bradley is one of the best players on the US national team and the way that he is utilized is important to the team’s overall success. It looks as though Klinsmann has figured out where his captain is best deployed, which could mean that US fans will be celebrating on Friday night.

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