Alexi Lalas explains why calling up Michael Bradley isn’t in USMNT’s best interest

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Alexi Lalas and David Mosse break down why including familiar veterans in the USMNT could be a detriment for the American team on the State of the Union Podcast.

- Hello, people. It's Alexi Lalas, and welcome to the State of the Union podcast. We're going to be talking about Michael Bradley and his inclusion in the most recent US men's national team roster. My good friend David Mosse will be here momentarily. But first, as always my State of the Union.


- The national team is not a meritocracy. There is no formula that spits out 23 names, because a national team isn't the best 23 players. It's the best group of 23 players. It's a subjective opinion of human beings who pick who he or she feel will best help them win. And when it comes to looking at a player's club performance, form is often fallacy. US men's national team interim coach Dave Sarachan, and, I suppose, newly appointed GM Earnie Stewart, are the current humans that have called in veteran captain Michael Bradley to the latest US camp. When last we saw Bradley, he and his colleagues were architects of the single biggest failure in US soccer history: not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. Now even in the best of times, Michael Bradley is a lightning rod for differing opinions. Over the years, I have been a Bradley supporter. I still am. I have said that he can be world class. And despite an abysmal season with Toronto, he still can be. But I don't believe he should be part of this next cycle. From a young age, Michael Bradley was given national team opportunities, even at the expense of others who maybe at the time, quote unquote, merited those opportunities. Now it's time to do the same. The US doesn't play a World Cup qualifier for at least two years. Michael Bradley will be 35 years old in 2022. It's not that Michael Bradley can't do the job. It's that, given the opportunity and time, maybe we can find someone who can do it better.


- All right, there you have it. My State of the Union for this week. Mosse, thoughts?

- Well, first off, let's be upfront about what inspired this State of the Union. This was a response to Grant Wahl, who took a shot at you on his podcast regarding this Bradley issue. This is like a rap battle. You're Eminem, he's Machine Gun Kelly. You two are going back and forth on this, so I'm eager to see his response.

- Well, I hope it stays a war of war of words, because Grant has, I think has the reach on me. He's-- he's tall and gangly and wirey.

- Well, as far as Bradley. Listen, I've said this before on this podcast. To me, the only thing that's giving any meaning to these friendlies right now is the opportunity to evaluate some of these young players on an individual basis. When you don't have a coach, I don't think you can read anything into tactics, or style of play, or building a team. It's all about evaluating these young guys, and I don't need to evaluate Michael Bradley right now. So to me, this makes no sense, regardless of his club form. Now, as we move forward in this cycle and you hire a coach, you're going to eventually come upon games where the result does matter. Gold cups, qualifiers, and such. And then it's going to be less about developing players, and more about putting out the team that you think gives you the best chance of winning that day. And we'll see where Bradley is, we'll see where the young players are. But even then you think Bradley's club form isn't going to be as much of a determinant factor? I mean let's explain this form as fallacy concept a little bit more. What do you mean by that?

- I've talked about this before. If you have a player that is tearing it up for a club team, it doesn't necessarily mean that when you pluck that player out, and then put him into the international environment with the national team, whatever your national team it may be, that it's going to translate, OK? It doesn't mean it's not. And certainly you're hedging your bets when you have a player, especially when it comes to scoring goals in particular, they talk about being, you know, he's in form, he's in form, scoring goals. Bobby Wood has had a good week, he's scoring goals, so is he in form? What about the previous week? But it also doesn't mean that you have a player who isn't necessarily tearing it up, isn't even necessarily looked at as being that good. You could bring him or her into the national team and that player could perform.

And you know that's why I say, inevitably, and it's just -- it's not just the US men's national team, or it's all national teams, we have this debate. It's part of what we love about the sport. It's this person should be in, this person should be in. But it's always in the context of, this person deserves to be called in. This one, this person merits a call up. Why didn't he or she get this call, a call up? And that's where I come down to, there is not this formula, this -- this algorithm, whatever you want to call it, where you put in the data from the club situation, and then it spits out, well, these are the 23 players that we have. Now, some day that may happen with analytics, and with robotics, and all that kind of stuff. And it will take the whole human element out. And this is the best possible way to hedge our bets for winning, and these are the 23 names that are spit out. Until then, it still is human beings. And it's human beings with baggage, with opinions, with, with history. Human beings with biases, all of those different things. And so I think that's, that's important to know. So when you get all up in arms that this person who you like or you don't like isn't or is called in, and you bring in merit, or you bring in this person deserves it, just understand where this decision is coming from. Your opinion as to who the best player is might be very, very different from the other opinion. And the other opinion matters most. In this case it's Dave Sarachan, and as I said slash Earnie Stewart.

And to get back to your point, yes, it is a little weird here that we still don't have a coach. This is an interim type of situation. And so we could wash the entire thing away and say, well, until you hire a coach, we're not going to talk about the men's national team. We don't want to do that, because time's ticking. And if, what I am submitting to you, if it's going to happen, you have to have the players, give them the opportunity, and use the time that you have been gifted, this silver lining that you had -- and keep in mind we've already wasted a year -- use that time to get those players up to speed. So that when that day rolls around that you're talking about right now, where it does matter, and that's going to come sooner, sooner than we think, that you may have a player, who right now isn't as good as Michael Bradley, but at that point, given those opportunities, could be not just as good, but better.

- Yeah, I tend to agree with you that people overrate club form sometimes. Most national team coaches, when there's a big enough sample, put more value in a guy's national team performances than what he does for his club. Because they say, what's really relevant is what he does with me and the way I use him. And also, most national team coaches, as much as they can, strive to build a team. It's never going to be like a club that trains every day, but if there's some consistency in who you call in, and they play enough games together, you can develop some degree of cohesion and chemistry. And in order to do that, you have to make some decisions about, I just fundamentally like this guy more than that one, and I think he fits in better. If you're constantly reacting to a player's form at that given moment for their clubs you're going to be changing so much that you're never going to be able to build a team like that, so yeah, I agree with you. I think, you know, I experienced this with Firmino and Jesus. And it's not the best example, because in retrospect Firmino should have started. But you know, a lot of Liverpool fans were just looking at it, Firmino's been better this season for Liverpool than Jesus was for Manchester City. And I was trying to explain, well, there's other factors at play. Jesus has played better for Brazil, he has a better chemistry with Neymar, he seems to fit a little better.

- There's no other factor! Unless Liverpool is playing in the World Cup, there is no other factor.

- And, you know, that style of play he seemed to fit better. So I think Tite's reasoning was sound, but it didn't work out, obviously. But I think people need to understand, I think people always go to the club form. And to your point, yeah, they think, you know, because this guys out performing this one at club level then he should play ahead of him in the national team. It's not always that simple.

- Well, you mentioned our good friend Grant Wahl, and he is a good friend, and just a wonderful writer. And we have -- we are privileged to have him as part of the Fox team often, and he has been for a number of years. And so, take it with a grain of salt. We're not fighting. We do disagree, and we often disagree about a lot of things. And, you know, his point was, and I'm not going to deny this, the whole -- and we've talked about this on previous podcasts, the whole baby with the bathwater type of thing. And, you know, his point was, what happened in 2017, this epic failure of not qualifying for the World Cup. It informs the way that I look at players now. And I look at them differently if they are associated, if they are scarred, if they are tarred with this incredible failure. And should it matter?

I think it should, and I've talked to this, about this before, where this is such a epic failure, and it's such a seminal moment. And everybody agrees that it is a seminal moment for different reasons, and everybody disagrees as to what the changes should be, but this group of players. We talk so much about responsibility, and ownership, and living up to whatever code or whatever beliefs that we have when it comes to representing your country. And there should be ramifications. There should be responsibility. And as, as I said before, it doesn't mean you don't call in Christian Pulisic. But someone like Michael Bradley, who has had his time, and as I said before, while in the immediate he certainly could help, in the long term, giving these opportunities, I think, is going to pay dividends.

And the ironic thing is Michael Bradley, in particular, was given opportunities. And some have argued that he was given opportunities that others wouldn't be given. And this is where that whole nepotism thing. I'm not, that's not what I'm saying. I think Michael Bradley, and I -- and as we all know, when I gave my list of the top 10 field players in American international history Michael Bradley was among them. And people disagreed with me when it came to that. So I think Michael Bradley has earned everything. But you cannot deny the fact that at times, especially when your father is coach, sometimes you are going to get the benefit of the doubt. And I know if Bob Bradley was here, he would take me to task, and he would say no, no, no, he earn -- he earned it all. But really, it doesn't matter. Because once again, in that case, it's Bob Bradley's opinion, OK? It's not about what you deserve. Or what you merit. It's Bob Bradley's opinion. And if it is influenced by the fact that that is his son, and in that moment he gave Michael Bradley opportunities, and playing time, and patience. That's what I'm asking for at this moment. I'm asking for some of these young players to be given the opportunity and the patience to develop into what Michael Bradley developed into. Even at the expense of some others that you and I and others may believe merit, quote unquote merit, or deserve, it more.

So, you know, ultimately, this is going to be interesting, because I'm heading down to Florida for the game against Colombia, which you can see on Fox. And Michael Bradley is going to be a part of this team. As I said before, I don't think Michael Bradley should be part of this next cycle. I also don't think, if you're going to bring Michael Bradley in, you've got to play him. You have to start him. You have to have him be the captain. I know Wil Trapp has been being the captain, but I don't want a Michael Bradley in with the national team sitting on the bench. For me, he does no good, and I know leadership. I'm going to let you in on a little secret about leadership and veteran, veteran experience, and all that kind of stuff. It's not as important as people make it out to be. Honestly, I -- I kid you not. There are moments where leadership and veterans can help, but they are few and far between. And it's not as important, especially when it comes to the international game. And I'm not discounting the fact that understanding the environments you're going into, qualifying and CONCACAF and all that isn't important.

But Michael Bradley, that's all to say, you know, for example, yesterday they asked me for my lineup for the Colombia game. I had Michael Bradley starting. He should start, he should captain, he should sit in front of that back four in what I believe is his best position, I think. And as I said before, I think he's world class when he is in a withdrawn type of midfield position. I think he gets into trouble the further he gets up the field.

I don't know what Dave Sarachan's plan is going forward. But he has obviously called in Michael Bradley. He has called in Brad Guzan. And he's a little bit of a different situation, because I think that Zack Steffen, the current goalkeeper, it's his to lose. And so Brad Guzan is going to be that kind of sage veteran, kind of just sitting there, which I'm not sure is going to make Brad Guzan happy. But that's, I think, the role that is going to be left him. I don't see that role for a Michael Bradley.

- Yeah, I was going to say, because I think Bradley's current club form is completely irrelevant here. The one argument somebody could make, which is one I think you and I would reject, but is that there is some benefit to these young players having Michael Bradley around to learn from. But you don't buy into that at all.

- No, I never, I never learned from older players. To the extent that it was this ah moment, oh, now I get it. Now I understand how to kick the ball. And they're little things, and once again I don't want to devalue the little things, because they do matter. But it was not anything that I wouldn't ultimately learn, and learn quickly. So I didn't necessarily need them around.

- Now the other big subplot surrounding this game, unfortunately, is the players that have pulled out. Three of the best young guys, Pulisic, Tyler Adams, and McKennie will not be there. Look, call me naive, but I don't think any of them would fake an injury to get out of playing the national team.

- I would hope not. It would break my heart if that was the case.

- Do you think there's anything to the fact that you pick up an injury right now that's not that serious, but you're less than 100%. If it was a big qualifier, you perhaps would tough it out. But because it's only a friendly, there's not a coach in place. You think, well, the club is a little bit more important right now, I'm actually playing competitive matches there, so I need to make sure I'm healthy for that. Do you think that might enter the equation here? And if so does that bother you?

- If you're Michael Bradley you do.

- But not Pulisic, McKennie, or Tyler Adams?

- No.

- You take any opportunity.

- You, I don't care who you are. Pulisic, McKennie, anybody. You are not guaranteed anything. This is that moment. This is that moment when you show why you deserve to be there. This is that moment when you do take ownership of this team. And you say not on my watch. This is that moment when you come in, and you say it means something to me. I will fly across the earth in order to represent my -- represent my country. So no, I don't I don't think that that happens. If you're Michael Bradley, because like you said, you know who he is as a player. With these younger players, you've got to stake your claim, even if you're staking your claim through injury. And -- because that claim might not be there. And the other part of this is that there is depth. There are players, there's other people that will gladly take that flight, that will gladly show up even not 100%, and will stake their claim. And once that's -- once that claim is staked, sometimes it's hard to win it back, regardless of who you are, regardless of what you're doing.

So let me, let me finish with this though. My State of the Union was about Michael Bradley. And it could be about other players, and I've said this about -- I just used him as an example because he was one of the ones that got called in. Do you think that Michael Bradley should be part of the national team?

- Now definitely not, and probably not in the future. But only because I really rate some of the young players the US has at that position. So I don't foresee a scenario a year or two from now where Michael Bradley is the player that gives you the best chance to win games. But I'm willing to have an open mind then. I think at some point we're going to move away from this phase of just giving young players opportunities, and actually trying to put the best line up on the field to win that game right in front of you. And there is a scenario, perhaps, where depending on how Michael Bradley is at that point, and how the young players develop, where you could, I suppose, make a determination of Michael Bradley still is that guy.

- Well, you know what this means, Mosse. This means that Michael Bradley is not only going to be involved, he's going to captain the team. He's going to be the leading goal score in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Lead the team to Qatar in 2022, and raise the World Cup, because there's nothing that gets the Bradleys fired up more than any type of criticism. And that's what makes them great, and that's what has made them to be successful. And Michael Bradley is no different. So I am looking forward to seeing what Michael Bradley looks like in this scenario. But as I said before, I do believe there should be a break. I do believe that this is the moment to make that break. And as you have said, I do believe there are plenty of players that, if given the opportunity and time, can take a hold of that and become, not as good, but even better than Michael Bradley going forward.

All right, anything else before we leave?

- No.

- All right, moving on. Agree or don't agree, doesn't matter. We want to hear from you. Leave it in the comments. As always, size the day!