The United States lost 2-1 to Ghana, ending a promising World Cup campaign. This was not bad luck or a loss to a better team. The American wounds were self-inflicted. As Landon Donovan, himself, said they were “naive.” This loss was an opportunity squandered and, unfortunately, much of the blame for that rests with Bob Bradley.
Fielding a 4-4-2 against a 4-5-1 is predictably problematic. With a three on two disadvantage, a team cedes control of central midfield. Holding the ball is hard, especially with two midfielders not skilled at handling it. By pressing, as Ghana did, the opposing team can disrupt any movement along the ground. The U.S. routinely says they have to do better holding possession. Conceding this tactical mismatch is why they don’t.
The U.S. played far better after replacing inserting Edu and Feilhaber and pushing Dempsey forward into a position behind the striker. This setup protects the back four. It lets the U.S. hold possession and assert more control. Their game becomes less predictable. Bradley and Dempsey have freedom to make devastating runs through the middle. Donovan and Feilhaber can move around and create. We saw this in the second half, when the U.S. dominated play for stretches and showed ingenuity in attack.
Bradley did fix the problems against Ghana, taking off Torres and Findley, but he also started them. It would have been forgivable, had the identical situation not happened against Slovenia. In that match, Bradley started a similar lineup he did against Ghana, and the team faltered. He made the same changes to begin the second half. It as the best half theU.S. played during the World Cup. Mistakes are part of the human condition. Repetitive mistakes are unacceptable.
The strength of the U.S. team is attacking midfielders. The U.S. had arguably the worst striking quartet left in the tournament. What plausible justification is there for leaving the team open to tactical disadvantages to have one more striker and one less attacking midfielder on the field?
The United States won their group. They acquitted themselves well when pressed, but they also put themselves repeatedly in those situations. England was the only match the Americans played as an underdog, yet they failed to win three out of four matches. They led for only 206 seconds the entire tournament. They were a mad stoppage time goal against Algeria away from abject failure.
Bob Bradley performed adequately. He qualified the team for the World Cup. He advanced them to the knockout stage. However, this is not 1994. The U.S. has players playing in Europe’s top leagues. Though not at all easy, qualification and advancement from a group with a favorable draw should be an expectation not an achievement. We can praise this team for their resolve, but they should have gone further. The question should not be whether Bob Bradley did enough to keep his job, but how far he can progress the U.S. the next four years.
The U.S. team continually hits a ceiling of its own creation. To punch through it will require new ideas, a fresh outlook and, given the dearth of professionalism in the American ranks, a foreign coach.