The United States has a problem in midfield. That problem has two names: Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones. Simply put, after their struggles against Panama on Tuesday night, the USMNT can no longer afford to play them as a partnership in midfield, and it may be time to drop Jones from the national team entirely.
This isn’t being said to be cruel or vindictive. It’s said out of a need for honest conversation about a long-problematic part of the United States national team squad. For several years now, Bradley and Jones have been a regular source of stress and worry for the U.S. that occasionally gets papered over by a fantastic goal from one or the other of the pair.
But when they’re not scoring goals, they struggle to be a useful part of the team, and that’s left the USMNT struggling for any kind of midfield coherence every time Bradley and Jones are together in the starting lineup.
Essentially what happens is this: Jones doesn’t have the legs he once did and never had spectacular positioning. He pushes too far up the pitch to support the attack, and he can no longer get back to help defend the resulting counterattack when the Americans turn the ball over. In the right midfield with the right partner, that can be covered up and dealt with. But unfortunately, Michael Bradley isn’t that partner.
That’s because Bradley has his own positioning woes these days. He tends to do too much floating around watching play develop instead of reacting to it in a useful way. He gets too busy trying to fill the space Jones leaves behind him and forgets to worry about his own responsibilities, leading to an opposing player sauntering right through the hole he left. That puts the USMNT defense under pressure, and he does the same thing to the men behind him multiple times per match.
It’s a problem.
The problem gets lessened significantly when Bradley is in a midfield without Jones — he was much better after Kellyn Acosta entered the match in Jones’ place against Panama. It’s getting harder and harder to see what Jones brings to the national team besides experience. Experience does not outweigh the kind of performance he put in on Tuesday, and it might just be time to consider his role on the team moving forward.
When it comes to Bradley, Bruce Arena needs to make it clear that there’s only so much mediocrity he can take before his spot in the lineup needs to be considered. There’s a lot of good that Bradley brings to the team — he’s a good captain, a solid leader with a lot of experience, and when he plays well, he’s one of the most talented players on the team. His best passes from deep are better than any other American can produce. But it’s been years since he’s matched his club for his country on a consistent basis.
At their best, Jones and Bradley were two of the top players on the USMNT. Both have given the team a lot during their careers. But those days are long gone, and either player on his own is only marginally useful of late. Together they’re an outright liability, and the USMNT can no longer afford to carry them.