Michael Bradley Admits: 'It Wasn't My Sharpest Night'
Why is the 26-year-old midfielder the most indispensable member of the United States men's national team? Read this profile and you will understand what makes him the heart and soul of this World Cup squad.
BY John Godfrey PostedSAO PAOLO—Full credit to Michael Bradley: He knows when he has had a poor game, and he readily admits that his performance against Ghana wasn't up to snuff. Extra credit to Bradley for facing the gaggle of media here in Brazil's biggest city. He could have begged out—like a few of his teammates have done—but on Friday the 26-year-old midfielder met the press at FC Sao Paolo's training facility and fielded questions about Monday's win, Sunday's match against Portugal, and plenty more. “I’m certainly honest enough and hard enough with myself to know that it wasn’t my sharpest night," he said at FC Sao Paolo's training facility, "but unfortunately, they’re not all going to be. On those days its still about finding every possible way to help your team." Whether he's the Man of the Match or just another guy running around chasing a Brazuca, Bradley never dwells on his own performance for long. He always circles back to the team, the unit, the collective goal, and that's a huge part of why he has ranked atop the ASN 100 since December 2012. "We realized at a certain point that it wasn’t going it be a night for making a million passes or necessarily playing the most beautiful soccer," Bradley said, "but it was about run and attack, closing down, and making the game hard on Ghana. I think in those ways, every guy on the field came away with really high marks." The U.S. gutted out a win thanks to an early Clint Dempsey strike and a late John Brooks header, but aside from those two moments, Ghana dominated the match. The players could get down on themselves about that, but Bradley sees it as a positive. "When you talk about the best teams, there’s an ability to win games in all different ways," Bradley continued. "You obviously can’t pick and choose but still, you never want to play your best game first. You want to feel like as the tournament is moving on, as the tournament is progressing, the team—and every guy—is continuing to grow and get better and get stronger." The feeling around U.S. training camp is that the United States will have to get better and get stronger in order to earn a result against Portugal on Sunday (6 p.m. ET; ESPN). Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said as much after the Ghana match, and Bradley reinforced that Friday. "Portugal is obviously a very different team than Ghana," he said. "They have a good mix of skillful, technical players, but still guys who physically are strong, are fast, guys who jump well. Like I said before, it’s important to prepare the game in the best possible way. We feel like we have a good idea of who they are, of how they play, what makes them tick. At the end of the day it’s still about what happens when that whistle blows, and there’s no way to predict that. Do we get an early goal? Do they get an early goal? These are the things that nobody has any idea. So it’s just about the overall mentality that says no matter what happens, we’ve prepared in the best possible way and we’re ready to, over the course of 90 minutes, to do anything, and to respond to anything that happens." Anything or, in the case of Portugal's ravaged roster, anyone. Three Portuguese starters—injury victims Hugo Almeida and Fabio Coentrao as well as red card recipient Pepe—will miss the match in Manaus. And then there's Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid winger's balky left knee has been one of the biggest stories of the 2014 tournament. Will he play? Won't he? Did his doctor discourage Ronaldo from suiting up? What, What, WHAT? Bradley refuses to partake in Brazil's parlor game of the day. “At the moment we certainly expect it, he’s going to play," the Princeton, New Jersey native said. "A game of this magnitude, of this importance for both teams, you’d always expect that the best players are going to find any way to be on the field." And Ronaldo is Portugal's best player—by a wide margin. “He’s a complete player," Bradley said. "When you look at the game today, there’s such a premium on the physical aspect of the game—speed, strength, endurance. He is a guy who checks all of those boxes, and then, when you talk about his technical ability, the way he shoots with his right foot, his left foot, how good in the air he is. "He’s somebody who can make a difference at any moment.” Conventional wisdom says that even with Ronaldo, Portugal—in dead last in Group G—is a wounded animal, a desperate team that will have to gamble to make it to the knockout stages of the tournament. And this is not necessarily an advantage for the Stars and Stripes. "As far as playing Portugal right now, there’s two ways to look at it," Bradley said. "One is that they lost 4-0, they played 60 minutes down a guy, a few injuries, it would be easy to look and say this is a good time to play. "But the other side says that it is, in some ways, a desperate team that is playing for their lives because they need a result. We have to respect that. We have to understand how much they’re going to put into it. "The main thing still is about us. We talked five minutes after the Ghana game ended about being excited and proud of the way we started off but also realizing that one game doesn’t mean anything. If you’re not able to follow up the first game with a good result, then the first game goes right out the window and all of a sudden you’re going into game three with needing a result or looking at the other game. "There’s enough presence, enough leadership, enough guys who have been around in our group to make sure that we’ve kept a good, solid focus. There’s pride and excitement and energy, as there should be about the way the first game went but at this point, it’s all about Sunday.” Although Bradley is the embodiment of a team-first guy, the sort of player who sees the world separated into two groups—people who are with him and those who are against him—he didn't diminish the importance of the enthusiastic crowd that spurred the Americans to victory in Natal. "When we were standing on the field in Natal before the game against Ghana and the entire stadium is singing the national anthem, it gave you goose bumps," Bradley said. "It’s what you dream of, playing in a World Cup in a stadium full of American fans. To have that stadium be in Brazil, but still full of American fans, is something pretty special. "When we got back to the hotel and heard about Grant Park in Chicago having 10,000 fans out to watch the game, and friends and family are sending pictures and videos of what’s going on, it can’t help but push you on, because we want to make every person watching back home proud of us and proud to watch our team." John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now and would love to hear your thoughts on Bradley's actions and words.
June 20, 2014
June 20, 2014