If there was anything positive to glean from Argentina's thumping of the United States Men's National Team in Houston, it's that it wasn't all Michael Bradley's fault.
Make no mistake - Bradley was not good. He continuously turned the ball over. His passing percentage was a lowly 72% (38/53). And his coveted long ball, which so often leads to scoring attacking play? Only 5 were on target through 90 minutes.
And yet, it would be absurd to place the blame squarely on his shoulders. Everyone on the team played assorted shades of poor. We're talking about a match that featured a whopping total of zero shots (let alone any on target), so it's safe to say that while Bradley didn't fix a bad situation, he probably didn't make it considerably worse.
The USA Men's National Team was so thoroughly outclassed by Argentina that it's a wonder there was ever any optimism going into the match (but, oh, there was, and it was very stupid).
So, yes. It was a hideous match for the US. But now that the tournament is behind us, how did our illustrious Captain perform?
At his very best, Bradley's play would earn a B+.
In the matches against Paraguay and Costa Rica, Bradley demonstrated consistent and solid fundamentals. And in many ways, this was all that was ever asked of him.
Coach Klinsmann continued to position Bradley deep in the central midfield where he as a consistent dump when attacks up the sides failed to progress. In these two matches, he played that role well, regularly switching the play or continuing back to his defensive line. And while his pace wasn't exactly on par with DeAndre Yedlin's, he still managed to pull back and help defend when the pressure was on.
While Bradley was never a major attacking force, he did play a critical role in the goal against Paraguay.
But... there were turnovers. Not a hideous amount against Costa Rica and Paraguay, but enough to say that they were a common issue across all the matches.
Which brings us to...
When Bradley was bad, he was really, really bad.
The Argentina match no doubt marks a low point for The General in the tournament, riddled with poor choices, inaccurate passes, a bevy of turnovers, and a toothless contribution on the attack.
But it wasn't just against Argentina. Bradley underperformed against Colombia (twice) and, arguably, in the win against Ecuador in the knockout round.
In the first Colombia match, the US looked outclassed and overmatched, demonstrated in the shutout 2-0 victory. Clearly the USMNT had walked into the tournament with big ideas and little gameplan. Klinsmann was (irrationally?) criticized for focusing too hard on starting his veterans and refusing to commit to a diversified strategy.
Things went better in their third-place rematch, in which Bradley turned his play around back to his B+ tournament self, hitting the fundamentals well and contributing off set pieces.
Against Ecuador, he was a split personality. At times he was on truly on point and productive, yet at other times he was a tactical mess. That the US made it out of such a high-pressure match, with yellow and red card woes abound, was a minor miracle. They were in a constant defensive scramble once down a man.
Then again, that may very well be the biggest positive for Bradley to take away from Ecuador - that they found a way to win at all.
Honestly? The fans.
I realize I'm a rare breed up here. I'm from the USA (New Jersey, actually, like our captain), but I now live in Toronto as a Canadian permanent resident and diehard TFC fan. And, who knows? Perhaps I've picked up a few habits from living up north, such as an even keel, getting used to underperformance, and trying oh-so-hard to focus on the positives.
But, even still, I'm a fan. I want the USMNT to kick ass, to win tournaments, to elevate the game across the nation. And while I share some of the negative sentiments that quickly spread across Reddit, social media, and beyond following the Argentina defeat, I found much of it to be reactionary and absurd.
US fans' bloated assumptions in the Copa America did not help. As matches were won, we got greedy. We developed not just hopes, but confident, victorious expectations. And when those dreams were shattered, fans took it harder than they probably should have.
The criticism on Bradley was especially vitriolic, as it nearly always is. As a focal point of the USMNT's strategy for many years running now, he's bound to draw ire and criticism when things don't go well, and this was no exception. Fans were unusually cruel to his play, some even calling for his benching in major games moving forward and an eagerness to move on.
So... Does He Still Have It?
No doubt, Bradley's tournament was sub-par. Especially by the high standards he sets for himself. But bad games happen and bad tournaments happen.
One thing that was for sure throughout this Copa was that Bradley's performance ebbed and flowed with the quality of the team's as a whole. And given the role he was playing at CDM, it's unsurprising. It's not a sexy role and it doesn't push the depth of his skillset. So a below-average tournament is as telling of the state of the USMNT as it is of Bradley's international quality.
The most worrying development were the few matches where Bradley's intelligence and fundamentals seemed to completely come undone. We've seen him panic before and lose focus when he tries to lift the team on his back. But new lows were reached against Argentina.
Moving forward, there can be only one question for TFC fans - how much of Bradley's poor play will stay in the United States and how much of it will he track back to BMO Field?