SAO PAULO -- U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley's performances during the American team's first three games in Brazil have left the 26-year-old facing criticism from many fans and media members. But on Friday, coach Jurgen Klinsmann insisted that the U.S. would not have survived the first round without him.
"I am very, very satisfied with Michael in this tournament so far," Klinsmann said a day after the Yanks secured their spot in the round of 16 despite dropping a 1-0 decision to Germany.
U.S. INTO THE ROUND OF 16
- Doug McIntyre: Battered, bruised, through
- Jeff Carlisle: U.S. grades
- Chris Jones: U.S. ride their luck
- Klinsmann: "Now we really get started"
- Will the perception of U.S. soccer change?
- Tactics Board: Organized U.S. restrict Germany
- Social media: Reaction to U.S. progress
"We came through this group because of his influence on the field."
Bradley, playing a more advanced role than he did during World Cup qualifying and in South Africa four years ago, is among the tournament leaders in terms of ground covered. But playing out of his usual deeper-lying, more defensive spot has also made some of his mistakes more glaring, none more than when he was dispossessed on a play that led to Portugal's late equalizer in Sunday's 2-2 draw in Manaus. The U.S. were less than 30 seconds from securing a win in that match, one that would have qualified them for the knockout stage after just two games.
Instead, they went through only after Portugal beat Ghana in their Group G finale.
Klinsmann, though, praised the Toronto FC star's leadership and insisted that his overall game has been strong.
"The defensive work that Michael puts in is absolutely outstanding," Klinsmann said a day after the U.S. returned from Recife, site of Thursday's defeat. "It is one of the reasons why we barely gave away any chances for Germany in that game, and Portugal the same thing."
According to FIFA's statistics, Bradley has covered more distance than any other player at the World Cup. The 23.6 miles he has run during matches are three-quarters of a mile more than any other player in Brazil, and nearly three miles more than the next American, Kyle Beckerman.
Still, with a talented Belgium squad now standing between the Americans and a potential date with Lionel Messi's Argentina in the tournament quarterfinals, Klinsmann is demanding more.
He believes Bradley can offer additional aid to a U.S. attack that has managed four goals in three games by providing better support to striker Clint Dempsey, who was often left to fend for himself up top against the Germans.
"I know that he has another gear in him," Klinsmann said of Bradley. "We know that he can add something extra going forward -- he needs to help the team by shifting higher up. If we can get Michael more into that role behind Clint, I think we are even more dangerous then. So there is more to come, but so far I am very happy with his performance."