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Free Michael Bradley

File: Brad Davis, Michael Bradley and the rest of the U.S. Men’s National Team run drills during their training session at Sao Paulo FC on June 11, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Today’s obsession will be the USA-Germany World Cup match in Brazil, where we will happily settle for a draw, even a spiritless 0-0 snoozer, as this result would ensure both teams advance to the knockout round and mean a more relaxing game for everyone concerned. I think we can all agree that the last USA game, against Portugal, was too intense and distressing. I’d like to see the match today proceed without all that running around. Let’s be gentlemen out there. Let’s pause for amiable conversation in the pitch. Strikers should ask permission from the goalkeeper before toe-tapping the ball gently in the direction of the net.

You’ll know the two teams are playing for a draw if they show up in uniforms that are accessorized with beer holsters. I believe in soccer this is known as a “friendly.”

Our coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, is German. We’re playing, as I have previously noted, Germany. As in the country where Germans live. Indeed, Klinsmann not only played soccer for Germany, he coached the German team in the 2006 World Cup. Here in Washington this is known as having good connections. This is Jurgen’s moment to step up and deliver. Good sportsmanship sometimes means you shake hands and say “good match” before the actual contest.

I think we can all agree that our boys could use an easy day after the disastrous end of the Portugal match. Never in the history of the United States has a tie been more painful, and in that statement I’m including the Korean War.

In American sports there’s a position known as Designated Goat, and the player serving that role after the Portugal contest has been Michael Bradley, the 26-year-old midfielder who, when he missed an open shot on goal the other day, and clasped his face, looked dismaying like the Screamer in the Edvard Munch painting.

Bradley hasn’t had a stellar World Cup. But a W against Portugal would have made that a footnote. Instead, with less than a minute left in stoppage time, Bradley got to the ball but was manhandled badly and lost possession. Seconds later, as millions of Americans found themselves unable to breathe, the brilliant Cristiano Renaldo had the ball and was streaking down the right side of the pitch. Now only half a minute remained in stoppage time. There was time for one more pass. And you saw what happened. Renaldo delivered an  immaculate cross to the head of the sprinting Silvestre Varela for the dreadful equalizer.

How many millions of us said, in that moment, “I don’t believe what I just saw”?

“Gutted” is the adjective that seemed most apt. I’d normally have voted for “gobsmacked” but this was way beyond gobsmackage. You can be gobsmacked and then shake it off and order another martini. No, this was something more medieval than that.

My best soccer source (someone who actually understands the sport) offers this analysis:

Michael Bradley was mentally exhausted.  In the 92nd minute he failed to support Jermaine Jones.   Jermaine had the ball and needed Bradley as an outlet, but Bradley never showed for him.  We lost possession, but nothing came of it.  Honestly, I thought that would be enough of a wake-up call to Bradley that he could find the mental toughness to play the final three minutes.  But in the 95th minute, he needlessly held the ball when he could have made a simple pass to keep possession.  He was stripped and we saw what happened next.

Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel wrote that Bradley “was almost immobile in the final few minutes, just completely spent after competing in oppressive heat and humidity.”

That’s gentle compared to some of what has been said on television and on social media. “Michael Bradley With Perhaps the Most Epic Choke Job in USMNT History” was one Internet headline. “Michael Bradley and US Soccer: Good People Choke, Too,” wrote another blogger:

His turnover at midfield at the end of the game was horrific. That ball has to be sent to the corner flag. It’s as if Sidney Crosby had the puck in his own end with four seconds left with a one goal lead but he doesn’t want to ice the puck. It is a decision you hope a junior varsity soccer player will make. By the time a player reaches varsity soccer, it’s inexcusable for a midfielder to hold onto the ball in a double-team at that point in the game. The die-hard, knowledgeable soccer fan struggles to come to grips with the fact Michael Bradley choked.

But Bradley has also had defenders, including ESPN’s Adrian Melville, who points out that the USA team had three defenders in the penalty area when Varela scored. See also this new post from Slate’s Josh Levin that features Bradley’s own comments about the match. Another defender is Roberto Martinez of ESPN: See Martinez’s breakdown of how the play developed (worth waiting through the ad). Bradley was 65 yards from his own goal when he lost possession. Six other American players were at that point closer to the U.S. goal, five of them on the American half of the field.

They succumbed to “ball-watching.” Geoff Cameron in particular was mispositioned, watching Renaldo rather than marking the sprinting Varela directly behind him.

The problem is star power: Renaldo’s the best player in the game and the Americans subconsciously were transfixed, wondering what he’d do. This is the diabolical power of celebrity.

Today, let’s not have any drama of that sort. Nil-nil sounds good to me.



Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."

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