TORONTO – Michael Bradley is back.
And Toronto FC is hoping the American general will be the added piece they need to secure a win against D.C. United on Saturday at BMO Field.
Bradley returned to Toronto FC training on Friday, just days after the US national team were eliminated by Belgium in the World Cup Round of 16. Bradley told MLSsoccer.com he is ready to go and is available for selection on Saturday against D.C. United (7 pm ET, MLS LIVE, TSN2 in Canada).
He also took time to reflect on his team’s World Cup journey.
"Regardless of who you are, regardless of which team you play for, 32 teams go to the World Cup and only one leaves happy,” Bradley told reporters at BMO Field. “When we look back at those four games, especially the Round of 16 match against Belgium, there's disappointment for sure. There was more there for us. But that's sports. That's the way it goes. You realize in those moments how fine the margin is between going home and going on.”
Bradley’s disappointment was eased when he described the fan support he received from Americans at home and in Brazil. He said he and his teammates would share pictures and videos with friends and family back home in the US. And while they knew there would be supporters in the stands, the turnout left Bradley stunned.
"We were incredibly lucky with the support we had,” Bradley said. “The support we had in Brazil was unbelievable. Before the tournament, obviously, you read different things, like most tickets were sold to people in the United States, but you're never sure exactly what it's going to mean as far as support in the stadium for our team.”
Bradley said on the eve of the first game, the team got word from a local newspaper that reported that 25,000 to 30,000 fans had descended on Natal for their game against Ghana.
“We were thinking, well, maybe we have a chance to have a home crowd, and when we walked out onto the field and the national anthem starts, the entire stadium was singing,” Bradley said. “That's a special feeling, to be playing in a World Cup representing your country thousands of miles away from home but having an entire stadium full of Americans; it pushed us on in such a big way."
The US defied all expectations when they advanced out of dreaded Group G and even staying in the game against Belgium for the full 120 minutes. This was a US team that just did not quit.
"For every guy on our team, there's a huge sense of pride for the way that we went about it when the spotlight came on the brightest,” Bradley said. “For every guy who was there, the commitment, the determination, the willingness to leave everything on the field in every moment was incredible. I think we combined that in a lot of moments with good football and defended well. I think every guy who was a part of that should feel proud of what went into it, of what we were about when everything was on the line."
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Finally, Bradley looked back on the lessons they gathered as they take on new challenges in the years to come. He said the team continues to improve and younger players who made names for themselves such as DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks and Julian Green now know what to expect.
"They continue to get better and personalities start to come out more and more and the impact that they're having becomes even greater,” he said. “The older guys are now asked to take on a bigger role and be stronger leaders and better players. It's an exciting time for our national team.
“Over the next few years, there's a lot of big stuff coming up, an important Gold Cup next summer, two years from now the Copa America in the United States, three years from now hopefully a Confederations Cup and then obviously in four years another World Cup. The team will evolve as it always does but the core group is there and has shown that, in big moments, it knows how to play and compete and it will just get better and better."