KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Michael Bradley doesn’t do powerless. He’s the type of player, the type of man even, who seems to have everything under control.
So when a thigh injury sidelined Bradley back in early September and forced him to miss the United States’ two World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica, he did everything he could to feel like he was still a part of what was happening on the other side of the globe.
Back in Italy, thousands of miles from Kingston and Columbus, he did what has become habit for many US fans on game day: He found a stream online and watched nervously as his teammates fought to keep their World Cup dream alive.
“At that point, you are as powerless as anyone else, so you’re watching the game, rooting for the guys and obviously it’s not easy,” Bradley told MLSsoccer.com on Monday. “Emotionally, you’re so vested in it. After a difficult first game, I was really proud of the way the guys responded.”
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Of course, Bradley is referring to the US’ first-ever loss to the Reggae Boyz, one that was followed by back-to-back white-knuckle victories to put the Americans on the precipice of the Hexagonal. With a draw or win against Guatemala on Tuesday night (7 pm ET, ESPN/TeleFutura, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), or good fortune when it comes to tiebreakers, that place will be secure.
Meanwhile, much of the buzz surrounding the team is focused on who isn’t there rather than who’ll actually be in the mix at Livestrong Sporting Park.
Jozy Altidore was left out, shocking fans and media alike. Landon Donovan, Brek Shea, Edgar Castillo and Fabian Johnson succumbed to injury or illness. But little attention has been devoted to the return of the man who is almost certainly the team’s most effective midfielder, and perhaps player.
Bradley is no longer the coach’s son and he’s not on the fringes of the team, hoping for a chance to show his quality. He’s a leader, part of the US’ backbone. He’s the player chosen to speak to media before the team’s biggest game in nearly two years. He’s an indispensable part of the US program.
And he knows that comes with certain duties.
“I think if you compare to two years ago, the team is certainly younger,” Bradley said. “It’s the responsibility of a certain group of players to take more on, to try to play a bigger role on the team as far as helping the younger players, helping new players when they come in.”
All this from a player who turned just 25 at the beginning of July, and one his teammates know they can count as the fight to move onto the next step of qualifying looms.
“He’s a guy you want next to you when you’re going into battle because you know he’ll run through a brick wall for you,” Clint Dempsey said. “It’s great to have his quality back on the team. It gives us a boost.”