KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The last time Michael Bradley went up against 11 MLS players at once, he was a teenager with a full head of hair.
The AS Roma midfielder and US national team linchpin has grown up and gone slick since then. So has the league he left behind seven-and-a-half years ago, when he was sold from the then-MetroStars to Dutch side Heerenveen.
And now the two are set to meet again when Roma play in their first AT&T MLS All-Star Game on Wednesday at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan. (9 pm ET, ESPN2, Live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
“I think you look around the league and you see the stadiums being built and the teams that come into the league that have support and fans like they do in Seattle and Portland,” Bradley said at a news conference on Monday. “And I think that this is something that’s great for the league, great for our country and I think the quality continues to get better when you look at the run that the US team made in this Gold Cup.
“I think a lot of that is thanks to the MLS and the quality of the players that are playing here week in and week out,” he added. “And I think it’s a very positive thing with everybody, because at the end of the day we’re all trying to grow the game in this country, make the league better and make the national team better.”
Bradley was 16 when he turned pro and was drafted by MetroStars, who were coached at the time by his father, Bob. He didn't play as a rookie, because of a foot injury, but appeared in 30 matches the following season before becoming the youngest MLS player to be sold to an overseas club.
“I grew up with the MLS,” he said. “I was 9 years old when the league began and I remember watching the first game and the first final and I remember seeing so many of the great players in those early years play.”
All-Star and Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes, an MLS original who won MLS cup with the then-Wizards as a player in 2000, praised Bradley's development from teen prospect to a mainstay with club and country.
“He's very good defensively, incredible going on the counter,” Vermes said. “I think Michael Bradley is a huge, huge piece to them now. He's so good box-to-box and he can play on any part of the field. He can line up on the flanks, he can be in the middle, he can be defending, he can be in the box. He has a great way of connecting all the pieces together."
Bradley has had a solid summer with the US national team, quarterbacking them to a 3-0 record in June World Cup qualifiers and the top of the Hexagonal standings.
Now he'll look to show that same drive at Sporting Park come Wednesday night.
"I think that Michael is in incredible form,” Vermes said. “I thought that he was at another level than anyone else on the field when he played for the national team. He's in such form right now and has such confidence and presence about him on the field that it's fantastic to see."
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.