HARRISON, N.J. — As the son of a professional coach, Michael Bradley had a childhood that prepared him for a career in soccer — and not just in the sense of x’s and o’s.
Born in Princeton, N.J., he grew up in nearby Pennington while his father, Bob, coached the men’s team at Princeton University. When Bob was hired by the Chicago Fire, the family relocated to suburban Chicago, where Michael’s playing career blossomed, prompting yet another move. At the age of 15, Bradley relocated to the Bradenton Academy in Florida to enter the US U-17 residency program.
Each new destination brought a new club for Bradley — with new teammates, new coaches, and new adjustments. Those experiences would serve him well as he climbed the ladder of professional soccer, first in MLS with New York as a 16-year-old, then in the Dutch league with Heerenveen, and on to Germany, England and now Italy, where he signed for Chievo Verona last season. This season, he remains in Italy, but faces another new situation, having signed with legendary Serie A club AS Roma.
It’s a challenge, like all the others, that he relishes.
“When you come into a new team, it’s your responsibility to integrate yourself as quickly as possible,” he told reporters after Roma's 2-1 win over the El Salvador national team Friday night at Red Bull Arena. “To show everybody in the club that you’re a good player, you’re a good person. For me, that’s the challenge: trying every day to show the coaches, the players, the supporters, everybody that I’m a guy who has a lot to give.”
He’s been with Roma for less than two weeks, but has already shown glimpses of what he has to give: in three games on the club’s preseason tour of the US, Bradley has an assist and a goal.
He helped set up Erik Lamela for Roma’s third goal in a 4-0 rout of Polish side Zaglebie Lubin at Wrigley Field last Sunday, and he scored the opener in a 2-1 over Liverpool at Fenway Park on Wednesday. On Friday night against El Salvador, he put in a solid 45-minute shift as the Italian side dominated the first half, outshooting the CONCACAF nation 14-2 in the opening stanza.
His coach, Zdenak Zeman, is not surprised at Bradley’s early showing.
“We knew what his abilities were when we went after him,” the veteran Czech manager said, “and he is showing his quality with team now.”
Bradley is playing in his accustomed central midfield role for the Giallorossi, sometimes sitting deep as a holding midfielder in front of the backline, sometimes ranging forward and joining the attack. Against Liverpool on Wednesday at Fenway, he was in the latter role. Saturday night against La Selecta it was the former. Bradley patrolled the area in front of Gabriel Heinze, Nicolas Burdisso, Alessio Romagnoli and Rodrigo Taddei, winning balls, breaking up attacks, and presenting a passing option as his team built out of the back.
His box-to-box versatility will serve him well in his quest for playing time this season, and he’s happy with his first two weeks with the team.
“I’m enjoying every day,” he said. “It’s a big challenge for me to come into a team like this and try to establish myself. At the moment, it’s preseason, it’s trying to get yourself fit, it’s trying to show that you’re a guy who can be counted on when the season comes around. And that’s a process, but, like I said, so far I’ve enjoyed every day.”
As he embarks on his second season in Serie A, Bradley has also gained a keen appreciation for the league and its footballing culture.
“I’ve been lucky enough to play in a lot of places, and for me the thing that you notice first when you come to Italy is the passion, and the emotion that people have for their football. To be a player in that [environment] is something very enjoyable and very special.”
The game on the field he is also finding enjoyable. The modern Italian style is a changing one, and one that seems to fit with his skillset.
“It’s a great combination of tactical commitment and technical ability,” he says. “And then when you throw in the fact that every team has the mentality that they’re going to fight and do whatever they can to get a point or three on every weekend, I think it makes for a very good league.”
After last night’s wild, wide-open game against El Salvador, his new teammates may have a deeper appreciation for how things work in Bradley’s neck of the woods, too. El Salvador were outplayed in the first half, but they came roaring out of the gate in the second, tying the game and creating several golden chances after going back down 2-1, against the run of play.
The Giallorossi saw the tenacious side of CONCACAF in the second half, especially in the 81st minute, when the match, and the El Salvador faithful, took a hostile turn after Elder Figueroa and Panagiotis Tachtsidis tangled and Tachtsidis saw red.
Roma were fortunate to escape with the 2-1 win. Bradley, of course, knows how difficult Central American foes can be.
“The one thing that El Salvador always has that makes them such a good and dangerous team is their commitment, and their ability to fight and to close down and to make the game very difficult,” he says. “And I think you saw that again tonight.”
He’s the lone American on his new side. And while that may make Bradley well-versed in CONCACAF opponents — and, possibly, a go-to guy for information during Roma’s US tour — it doesn’t mean he’s feeling any extra pressure.
“The only pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself,” he says. “I hold myself to high standards, and so every time I step on the field, I want to give everything I have to help my team win on that day. With Roma, this is my new challenge. I enjoy every part of it — every training session, every game. So far it’s been great, and I’m looking forward to continuing it for a long time.”