In Major League Soccer, coaches often have a dilemma of either playing their best players, or their best team. This is magnified even more when a highly paid DP has to be benched. Toronto has two outstanding strikers and a midfield core that needs to be properly balanced.
Greg Vanney has chosen to pick a midfield three of Jonathan Osorio, Will Johnson and Michael Bradley. This has meant that Osorio and Johnson have been deployed as box-to-box midfielders in front of a holding Bradley. In the first three games of the season Vanney's plan has seemed to work out as Bradley has looked up to his new role.
When playing a position or a role within a team, comparing oneself and aspiring to emulate the best is what an athlete should try to do. Bradley being deployed in a holding role should look at the greatest holding midfielders in the world like Claude Makelele, Sergio Busquets and Michael Carrick in order to try and bring out the best within his game.
In an interview conducted with FourFourTwo magazine Michael Carrick disclosed the responsibilities of a holding midfielder. Here are the following requirements of a defensive mid according to Carrick. By looking at how Bradley compares with the tenets of being a holding mid, we will see if he really is a good fit at the base of the midfield for Toronto FC.
Know your job
"If you're playing the holding role in a central three in midfield, you're screening the two centre-halves and stopping the service getting to the opposition's forwards. If the game is being played at 100mph, don't get carried away with what's happening - positioning is the key." - Carrick
Bradley has generally got this down pat so far this season. He always positions himself as the deepest of all of the midfielders. He constantly moves himself offering passing lanes for the defenders and his midfield compatriots.
Work with your defence
"Angle your body so you're in a position to cut out passes to their centre-forwards, but also be able to face the play. If the opposition get the ball in between you and your centre-halves, they're running forward and you're running back - and then you have a problem." - Carrick
Bradley has to operate as a 3rd centre-half at times when playing the holding mid role. He is required to shut out the passes from the oppositions midfield to the forward line. Forwards look for 1v1 match ups in order to try and score a goal. Last game against NYCFC Bradley decided to press Andrea Pirlo away from goal. But Pirlo the maestro found a pass that a move later led to a NYCFC penalty. Bradley has to learn to run less and think more in order to help the defence.
Discipline is key
"Avoid getting dragged out wide, leaving space in the middle for players to run into - this puts your centre-backs under pressure. Sometimes the danger is out wide and you've got to deal with it, but make sure you've got cover." - Carrick
This is really an attribute that Bradley will have to develop. Bradley was born to be a box to box playmaking midfielder. He can contribute all over the field. Bradley right now is deployed in role where he has to do the dirty work in order to let Johnson and Osorio go about their jobs.
Press space, not players
"Shut off the angles. If you press the player on the ball you're creating space in behind you and they can pass into that space. Force the opposition to play the ball where you want. Do this by stepping off the player you're marking and drawing them into a pass, then trying to intercept it" - Carrick
The issue of pressing space instead of players is the biggest one that Bradley will have to overcome. Be that a tactical adjustment that Vanney will have to enforce or a mental adjustment that Bradley must make this is something that Bradley will need to start doing.
Make yourself available
"As a holding midfielder you have to be in a position to receive the ball and influence the play, but at the same time being in a position so that if the play breaks down, you're covering." - Carrick
Being available for a pass is one of Bradley strong suits. A holding midfielder can never be static. A defensive midfielder must be roaming all the time creating space and passing lanes for the rest of the team.
Pick the right pass
"Sometimes a 10-yard forward pass can be better than a 60-yard forward pass that doesn't go anywhere. The short pass might take three midfielders out the game and your attacking midfielder running at the back four." - Carrick
Finally, Bradley does have the ability of not only being able to pick the right pass but the man can make any pass imaginable. So playing in a defensive role might take away some of his exceptional passes but when under pressure, on TFC there is no other player that can find the pressure receiving pass.
2016 MLS Season Stats
|Player||Minutes||Tackles Per Game||Interceptions Per Game||Clearances Per Game||Passing Percentage|
Now based on stats provided by WhoScored.com one can see that Bradley actually stacks up pretty well in relation to other MLS defensive mids, although the sample size is small. In summary, while Bradley does have most of the tools required to be a pretty solid holding midfielder, there are still aspects of the job will need to work on.
Bradley's skill set might suit him to play further forward up the pitch. But with TFC's pretty talented roster and midfielder, Vanney has decided to use Bradley as an anchor man rather than a playmaker. Bradley has looked pretty solid this season and TFC will need him to stay strong and develop in order to go far in the regular season and the playoffs.