SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras – Given his royal lineage in the American game, it’s fair to say that Michael Bradley was born for a leadership role on the soccer field.
And as generational change forces itself on the US national team, Bradley is also pretty clearly the guy stepping up to fill the void left by the now more frequent absences on and off the pitch of the likes of Landon Donovan, Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu.
The signs of Bradley’s emergence are everywhere.
On Tuesday in Honduras, the Roma midfielder accompanied Jurgen Klinsmann to the pregame press conference ahead of the Honduras match -- a role often filled in the past by Bocanegra, Donovan, or Tim Howard.
There, the coach was asked to address the issue of who could fill Donovan’s shoes in terms of leading the team.
“It begins with the person sitting next to me,” Klinsmann said.
Where Bradley is concerned, stepping up includes not only the constantly expanding influence in central midfield for club and country, but also a more vocal role on the field for the US. Despite an unusually quiet match in the 2-1 loss on Wednesday, Bradley could still be seen organizing and encouraging his American teammates as they struggled with the conditions and a rabid Honduran attack in San Pedro Sula.
After the match, Bradley was the last to leave the mixed zone interview area, hanging around to face reporters looking for explanations long after the rest of the team had boarded the bus.
There, in full leadership mode once again, he diplomatically lent some perspective to the setback in the Hexagonal opener.
“All of these moments are moments where different players are able to grow into the team, to gain experience,” the 25-year-old said. “On that end we have to continue to keep a strong mentality, and to really address that determination and that belief that those on the team need to have.”
Such aplomb with the press has been a gradual development for a player who had – with some justification -- often been characterized as brash and confrontational in his early years with the national team.
But Bradley has long since abandoned the role of the teenager with a chip on his shoulder, eternally aiming to overcome the notion that his spot on the national team had something to do with his father. Instead, he has grown into one of the best players in the region – feared and respected by opponents from Panama to Canada.
Fully matured, Bradley has inevitably become a point of reference for his US teammates. In 2013, the qualities and the experience the midfielder now brings to the national team setup will doubtlessly prove invaluable as the team battles through a year of qualifying.
“We know that there are 10 games. There’s gonna be ups and there’s gonna be downs, but at the end of the day what we want to do is qualify,” Bradley explained. “Along the way we’re going to need every guy. There’s gonna be injuries, there’s gonna be suspensions, and at the end of the road we’ve got a World Cup to play.”
Wednesday’s setback in Honduras smarts. But as Bradley continues to emerge as the primary leader of this new generation of the US national team, it’s easier to envision the Americans overcoming the obstacles that remain on the road to Brazil.