US look to Michael Bradley for veteran leadership in Gold Cup opener

ST. PAUL, Minn. – For all the talk of US men's national team coach Gregg Berhalter trying to usher in a new era of American soccer, the team he fielded for a first competitive match in nearly two years Tuesday had one very familiar element: Michael Bradley as its captain.

In his first competitive match for club or country in exactly a month, Bradley went 62 minutes and helped guide the US through some early anxiety to a 4-0 victory over Guyana at Allianz Field to open Group D play in the Concacaf Gold Cup.

And with a team heavy on youth, and one that has publicly embraced the task of changing outsiders’ perceptions of the US program, Berhalter said giving Bradley the captaincy was common sense.

“The decision to make him captain tonight was an easy one,” Berhalter said. “When you talk about nerves of a first game in a tournament, Michael’s been through this probably a dozen times. I told the guys to lean on him. Talk to him about his experience. And that’s why I went with him today.”

Bradley said Berhalter’s choice may have owed partly to a conversation the pair had when Berhalter first took the job.

“Gregg and I spoke when he took over in December, and I said that, whatever he needed from me along the way, I’d be ready to give him and the group everything I have,” Bradley said. “Today, for different reasons, he wanted me to be captain, and I was very proud to do that.”

The bigger sticking point was just how far Berhalter would push the 31-year-old in his first game back from a mild hamstring injury sustained with Toronto FC. In the end, his night lasted long enough to spray a gorgeous ball to set up Tyler Boyd’s first goal, the US’ second.

“I think the biggest concern was just pushing the minutes,” said Berhalter, who also removed Christian Pulisic just after an hour for similar reasons. “We know he hasn’t played in a while. And to go into the game with basically two planned subs is also very difficult.

“You don’t like to go into a game like that, but that is what it is. He’s been out a while and we wanted to protect him, and we planned to take both him and Christian off at a certain time.”

Bradley had been involved in most aspects of US training. But as recently as Sunday, he was still testing the injury by running sprints. In that context, the duration of his performance may have been more important than any individual play.

“Physically I felt very good, which, when you’re out for a few weeks, that’s at least initially the most important things,” Bradley said. “I’ve had a week to 10 days of good training, of good buildup into this, and tonight to now get back on the field and get a good 60 minutes under my belt, that part was really good.”