For the first time in his career Michael Bradley was named U.S. Soccer’s Male Player of the Year. Bradley had three goals and six assists in 18 appearances for the USMNT in 2015 and earned his 100th cap at this past summer’s Gold Cup. He beat out teammates Fabian Johnson, Clint Dempsey, Brad Guzan, and DeAndre Yedlin for the award.
Whether this award is important or not, Michael Bradley should never have won it.
There is no doubt that in the year 2015 Bradley was the on-field face of U.S. Soccer. However, this award is based on your on-field play, and in 2015 Bradley’s on-field play was the opposite of award worthy.
In 2015, Bradley became the face and leader of the USMNT. In 2015, coming off a tremendous 2014 that saw the U.S. outperform expectations at the World Cup and bring about a lot of optimism from their fans, the USMNT had one of its worst years in recent memory. Those two statements, are not unrelated.
Ever since Bradley left AS Roma in Europe to take the money with Toronto in the MLS, his form has suffered. Prior to the winter of 2014, Bradley’s performances with the USMNT seemed to be getting better and better with every game. Once he moved to the MLS, his performances went in the opposite direction.
Bradley’s play at the 2014 World Cup stood out for all the wrong reasons and he often had to be bailed out by his central midfield partner Jermaine Jones. Since the 2014 World Cup, his performances haven’t gotten any better.
With Clint Dempsey being left off the USMNT roster for many of their post-World Cup friendlies, Bradley assumed the U.S. captaincy. Things seemed to start bright for Bradley when he scored a beautiful goal from an in-swinging corner kick in a January friendly against Panama. Unfortunately, that was also Bradley’s highlight of 2015.
After Dempsey was involved in a dust-up with an official during a U.S. Open Cup match, Bradley was named the full-time captain of USA. He led the team through several lackluster performances that culminated in a fourth place finish at last summer’s Gold Cup, a tournament the U.S. was favored to win.
With the U.S. losing its automatic Confederations Cup berth, the team took on Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup in October. The U.S. had a few tuneup friendlies to prepare for that crucial October match. While it certainly would’ve benefited the U.S. to have their full squad to play as many games together as possible before the Mexico match (especially with Bradley’s midfield partner Jones missing the Gold Cup with an injury) Bradley chose to skip the team’s September friendly with Peru, choosing instead to remain with his club team.
A month later the U.S. lost to Mexico in a match where once again Bradley was a non-factor and looked lost in the middle of the field.
Naming Bradley as the Player of the Year just shows the U.S. is accepting of the mediocrity Bradley brings. In 2013 Jurgen Klinsmann saw so much hope in Bradley that he wanted to mold the team around him. It made sense at the time because Bradley was that good.
This has now become one of the biggest problems for the USMNT. Bradley’s form has dropped and there’s no one to keep him in check. As the captain, Bradley has to start every match even though many times he fails to control the ball and struggles to even make simple six-yard passes. After his great goal against Panama, every time the U.S. got an in-swinging corner Bradley would go for goal instead of crossing it to his teammates, even though that’s a trick that very rarely works. With Bradley as it’s leader, this was the new USMNT, and as the results showed it wasn’t a better USMNT.
Truthfully, 2015 is a very tough year to pick a player of the year. DeAndre Yedlin never should have been in the running. Brad Guzan had a horrible Gold Cup and is arguably at fault for the U.S.’s loss in the semi-final against Jamaica. We all know Fabian Johnson is the best player the U.S. has, but he was jerked all over the field this year and didn’t have the greatest year.
That leaves Dempsey. The striker was (understandably) left off the roster for their early season friendlies since he’s getting older and the U.S. is trying to find new young strikers. The best way to do that is to play them instead of Dempsey. However, when push comes to shove and the U.S. needed their best strikers, Dempsey was there and delivered, scoring six goals to lead the Gold Cup in scoring.
The U.S. Player of the Year should be a player who shows up every time he puts on a U.S. shirt. When Dempsey was the leader of the USMNT, they were a team on the rise that were climbing in stature and earning respect around the world. In their year under Bradley, despite wins against the Netherlands and Germany, the team is becoming ridiculed even in its home country.
It may not be flashy and it may not be good for the future, but Clint Dempsey should have won this award over Bradley. Bradley as the Player of the Year is not a good sign for U.S. Soccer, and shows that this team will have a lot of problems to fix in 2016.