Michael Bradley on US-Panama clash: "Games don't get much bigger"

ExtraTime Radio Podcast

Michael Bradley on US-Panama clash: "Games don't get much bigger" -

LISTEN: Friday against Panama is a must-win game. Don't let anyone tell you any different. The guys preview the US national team's second-to-last World Cup qualifier from top to bottom, then invite Panamanian journalist David Sakata (18:49) on to re-live the national nightmare ushered in by San Zusi's goal in 2013. Stick around for MLS banter and the mailbag. Subscribe now and "Like" our Facebook page so you never miss a show! Download this episode!

ORLANDO, Fla. – For US national team captain Michael Bradley, Friday’s critical World Cup qualifier against Panama (7 pm ET; ESPN2, Univision, UDN) could be a defining moment of his career.

With the US in fourth in the Hexagonal and needing a win against Los Canaleros to give themselves a good chance of securing an automatic World Cup bid heading into Tuesday’s final qualifier at Trinidad & Tobago, Bradley will face plenty of pressure at Orlando City Stadium on Friday night.

The Toronto FC midfielder knows that, of course. And he welcomes it.

“Games don’t get much bigger,” Bradley told reporters on Wednesday. “From the get-go in this Hex we’ve been in a situation where our backs have been up against the wall, and we’ve played games where we need to win, we need points. There’s been a real sense of urgency.

“Obviously, you get to the end, and our margin for error is virtually gone, so we understand what’s at stake… we’re excited by the opportunity to have all on the line. As athletes, as competitors, the chance to represent your country, to play in the biggest games, there’s nothing better. We’ll have a group of guys who are ready to go for it in a fearless way.”

The week heading into Friday’s match has been a significant one for the USMNT captain. Last Saturday, the 30-year-old midfielder helped guide TFC to their first-ever Supporters’ Shield after a 4-2 home win against the New York Red Bulls.

Days later, however, Bradley finds himself in a different scenario with the stakes much higher for the Yanks. They’ll face a Panamanian side that’s not only in front of the USMNT in the Hex standings, but close to securing their first-ever World Cup berth.

“They’re a good team, a core group of guys that have been together for a long time. They’re consistent on how they play and they way they go about it. They have a group with a real mentality,” said Bradley. “… We expect a very motivated group of guys that are going to come in here and be ready to give everything to keep their dream of going to the World Cup alive.”

Being in tough situations is common for the team’s core of veteran players, and the USMNT’s younger group leans on their experience ahead of games like Friday’s.

“Michael [Bradley] is awesome. He kind of provides everything for you. He provides the calmness when things are building up, like right now, when the pressure is on,” said 22-year-old D.C. United and US midfielder Paul Arriola. “He just lets you relax and play your game… It’s great to play with him in the middle, he really takes care of the center part of the field. He’s good at releasing players and his communicating is amazing.

“I feel extremely confident when I hear him tell me to go left – I don’t think for a second – all I do is listen to him because I know he’s the eyes behind me, and that’s something that also in my short career I haven’t had much of. The type of captain and player like that, that’s able to pump you up, and also have such confidence that what he tells is the right thing to do. So, it’s great to play with him, and it would be amazing if I’m able to step on that field on Friday to help the team win.”