GLASGOW, Scotland – Michael Bradley somewhat grew in stature even while he was gone from the US national team last month, when the club noticeably missed the AS Roma midfielder’s presence in the center of the field against Jamaica and Panama.
Now with a successful year winding down for the USMNT, coach Jurgen Klinsmann has gathered Bradley and 22 other players here, and with seats on that plane to Brazil up for grabs there is a nearly visible spring in the step of players aiming to punch their ticket.
With friendlies against Scotland on Friday (3 pm ET, ESPN2/UniMas) and Austria on Nov. 19 (2:45 pm ET, NBCSN/UniMas), this week could be the final opportunity for many of them to impress.
But surely Bradley, so often central to Klinsmann’s tactical gameplan, is certain of his place in the squad for next summer’s World Cup, right?
“No, not at all,” the 26-year-old told reporters as the US trained for the second day at Rangers’ practice facility. “We all know how quickly things change in football.
“An injury, bad run of form, anything can happen. It’s the same for me as it is for everyone else here. If I impress in training and in the games, then the rest takes care of itself. But I need to keep doing that. There are not many games between now and the World Cup. We’re all looking to use every chance in that time to move up the ladder.”
Having picked up an injury in the warm-up before the 3-1 defeat to Costa Rica, Bradley missed out as the US finished their Hexagonal campaign on a high note, with wins over Mexico, Jamaica and Panama.
So is he indispensable to the USA?
“Sure, I was disappointed to miss those games but I wouldn’t say that, necessarily,” Bradley insisted. “This team has always been about the collective group. No matter who’s on the field and who’s selected we know we’re going to have a team that is committed to putting in a performance that really reflects the group, and that’s what has happened over the past month or two.”
With qualification now out of the way, Klinsmann and his players can fully focus on preparing for the World Cup and Bradley, just like everyone else, has cast his thoughts ahead to next summer.
“It’s good to be back in the [USMNT] camp,” he added. “It’s actually quite a special group of players. You can feel that in training and the results have followed. The team spirit is always great and everyone gets on well. It shows on the field.
“When you start looking at the pots, looking at the potential draws, you start start to realize that it’s going to be a good World Cup. There’s not going to be any easy groups, that’s for sure.”
Bradley has been forced to watch mostly from the sidelines as his Roma team set a club record for the best start to a Serie A season, winning all of their opening 10 fixtures, conceding just once in the process.
“It’s been a great start for us, but of course it was frustrating for me to be hurt for eight weeks right as the season got going,” he said. “But I’ve come back into the team in the past few weeks and it’s been good to come into a team doing so well.
“It’s never nice to be out with an injury, but Roma are now fighting at the top of the table and that ups everyone’s levels, including mine.”
The US are looking to put the finishing touches on a record-breaking year, following the Gold Cup triumph in the summer, comfortable qualification from the Hexagonal and a 12-game winning streak stretching over five months.
But this week's friendlies are designed to put those achievements into perspective against a more exacting standard of European opposition.
“If you compare these two teams [Scotland and Austria] to certain teams in CONCACAF then yeah, this probably is a step up in quality,” he said. “But we’ve had experience of playing against other top teams over the past year, like Germany, Italy, Russia, so for sure we look forward to these games in Europe. Good atmosphere, good stadium, good opposition.
"It gets us ready as a group for the World Cup.”