Why Is Everyone Saying That the U.S. Draw Against Portugal Was Michael Bradley's Fault?

The stadium scene.
June 26 2014 12:09 AM

American Goat

The problem with blaming Michael Bradley for the U.S. draw against Portugal.

Michael Bradley
Michael Bradley, pictured here doing something that probably cost the United States the game against Portugal.

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Minutes after the United States’ come-from-ahead draw against Portugal, ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap asked midfielder Michael Bradley the same question that millions of people were shouting, or muttering to themselves, or posting in expletive-and-exclamation-point-laden screeds on message boards devoted to soccer and/or animal husbandry: What happened at the end of the game?

Josh Levin Josh Levin

Josh Levin is Slate's executive editor.

Bradley unspooled his response over 65 seconds, or about eight times as long as it took for the ball to travel from his feet to the other end of the field and into the American net. I heard Bradley’s instant autopsy of Portugal’s bald-eagle-murdering, apple-pie-befouling, game-tying header as one half of an ongoing conversation. On one side of that dialogue are athletes, who are constantly asked to explain the thought process behind their unconscious actions. On the other are sports fans and sports journalists who, in the aftermath of this week’s Game of the Century, are looking to translate the final score into an individual accounting of credit and blame.

At first, Bradley chuckled, as if to acknowledge that Schaap had asked the right question, one that was impossible for him or anyone else to answer.

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“Obviously, the end of the game, we're trying to move ourselves out and make the game as difficult for them [as we can],” he said.

Bradley is taking us back to the end of the second half—the fifth minute of extra time. The game is almost over. The ball is in the Portuguese half of the field, and it’s heading straight for the American midfielder.

"The ball popped up, and [I] was able to make a few quick steps and get there,” he said.

As you can see in this moment-by moment breakdown by Business Insider’s Cork Gaines, Bradley is all alone … for about half a second. In a blink, four Portuguese players converge.

“It was tight,” Bradley said. “Unfortunately I wasn't able to make a good enough play and keep it for us or get a foul. And so obviously at that point then, the ball turns over, and it's up to us to deal with the situation.”

Bradley acknowledged that he should have done better—that he didn’t make a good enough play. His first touch was poor, allowing the ball to bound into a precarious position. He was then pushed off the ball by an aggressive Portuguese defender, and the break was on. As Bradley said, it was then up to the whole U.S. team to stop the counterattack. They didn’t. The Americans had pushed too far forward, leaving themselves vulnerable in the back. In full retreat, the U.S. defense could do little to stop a perfectly placed cross. Header. Goal. Tie game.

“Certainly, the way it ends, you rack your mind thinking, ‘Can you do this better, can you do that better?’ ” Bradley continued, rocking his head back and forth, stopping every few seconds to think of the right word to convey his thoughts. “But the reality is still that, over the course of a game, there's a million of these kind of plays, and you can't let these plays—they go on in the course of a game, and so there's nothing else to it.”

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