Warshaw: Why Michael Bradley remains a top option for Gregg Berhalter

In case you missed it, Michael Bradley started and played 84 minutes for the US men’s national team in the first game of the Gregg Berhalter era on Sunday night. I thought he played well.

As per usual with Bradley, though, his performance led to polarized opinions.

I’m not here to discuss whether Michael Bradley is good at soccer. I’m not here to discuss whether Michael Bradley should be held accountable for any sins. Those conversations make me want to send tweets that would get me fired. I’m here to say that Michael Bradley’s skill set fits with how Berhalter wants to play, and it/he will – and should – be an important part of Berhalter’s plan going forward.

Bradley offers something that nobody else in the player pool can provide. Bradley has the most chill on the ball. The game moves slower for him. When he has a defender on his back or the midfield is crowded, he doesn’t panic.

A refreshing and frustrating thing about soccer is that there’s almost always an option out of trouble. When players review film to (hopefully) improve upon their mistakes, they can generally find the pass they should have made. They didn’t notice the option in the moment, usually because they got frazzled. A defender nipping at your heels will do that to you.

It’s not about having the first touch ability to make the move or pass, it’s about having the awareness; staying calm enough to evaluate the situation.

There are multiple trainable skills that go into it – checking your shoulders to survey the field, taking up good positions, proper body shape and a clean first touch. But it all molds into one general concept: Staying chill under pressure. At which Bradley is still king in our player pool.

And if you want to play a possession style and build from the back, you have to have that player.

Possession allows a team to pull the defense to a certain area of the field, then hit them in the spaces they vacated. To do that, you have to make the opposition think they can win the ball. You have to put your own players in tough situations. Otherwise, the defenders won’t pressure the ball and leave their zones. You have to be willing to play passes that you might lose.

Michael Bradley is still the best at not losing those balls.

He’s better at it than Wil Trapp, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Russell Canouse or any other top defensive midfielder in the pool. Bradley is the most calm with the ball under pressure.

You could argue about other parts of Bradley’s game. He doesn’t transition to his defensive duties particularly well anymore (though Sunday’s game against Panama was a renaissance for him at it) and he doesn’t win duels as effectively as he used to. He might have lost a step, as well.

But he still offers the superior characteristic at one of the most vital components of Berhalter’s playing style. If you want Berhalter to play a possession style, involving courage and moxie and keeping the ball on the ground through pressure, you should want Michael Bradley in the team.

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