KANSAS CITY, Kan. – When presented with the facts of recent MLS All-Star Game history – three MLS losses in the past four editions, and a combined score line of 14-6 overwhelmingly in favor of the visiting European clubs – Michael Bradley offered only one fact that mattered.
“Not to nit-pick,” he said in the postgame press conference on Wednesday night, “but didn’t they beat Chelsea last year? We all knew that, so for us, there was motivation to come here.”
It’s not surprising to hear a former MLS man defend the league where he cut his teeth as a teenager nearly a decade ago. But his justification for doing so provided a telling window into why Bradley and his AS Roma team turned the screws on the MLS All-Stars at Sporting Park, topping them 3-1 in a game that favored the Serie A side in nearly every statistical category.
Bradley knows the league. He knows the players. He knows that the quality is improving year by year. And he wasn’t willing to be the second straight All-Star opponent to go down.
“It’s motivation to come with your club team and play against these guys knowing that there’s a lot of good players and they’re going to be up for the game as well,” the US international added. “I think especially for the first half, the first 60 minutes, the game had good pace. It wasn’t a typical friendly game. It wasn’t a typical All-Star Game. There was some real pace to it – both teams tried to close each other down.”
The onetime MetroStars prodigy was all business on Wednesday night, putting in a workmanlike 90 minutes, completing all but one of his 58 passes and helping to prevent the MLS All-Stars from registering a single shot on goal until past the hour mark.
And on the night of his 26th birthday, he also put the icing on the cake in Roma’s final tally. In the 68th minute, Bradley threaded the needle between two defenders with a crisp pass to fellow midfielder Kevin Strootman, who set up Junior Tallo for the Giallorossi’s third goal of the evening.
Bradley’s famous intensity and fiery demeanor are there for all to see, and his teammates took their cues from him on a night that celebrated professional soccer in Kansas City.
“Of course against the All-Star team and for him on his birthday,” Strootman told reporters postgame. “It was a special night. I hoped that he would score one goal. Unfortunately he didn’t, but I think he had a great night.”
Roma hope Bradley’s fire and competitiveness will help spur them in a crucial 2013-14 season in which they will try to rebound from a sixth-place finish last year and one that sees them absent from European competition for consecutive seasons for the first time in 19 years.
So don’t try to tell him that European teams are supposed to beat the MLS All-Stars. Roma need to take every match as seriously as this one, he said.
“We knew what to expect coming into this game,” he explained. “We knew that they were going to be into it, we know that they had a lot of good players. We respect them and we were committed to getting a result.”
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com.