NASHVILLE – US national team midfield stalwart Michael Bradley doesn't want to underplay the team's accomplishments in a pair of friendlies earlier this month.
Yes, coming back from two goals down to beat the Netherlands 4-3 and holding off world champion Germany 2-1 was a big deal, and "we want to use those games in terms of building confidence," Bradley said at the USA's training session ahead of Friday's Gold Cup warm-up against Guatemala in Nashville (6:30 PM ET, FOX Sports 1, UniMás, Univision Deportes).
But Bradley, now a veteran of international soccer at age 27, knows that what the team faced in Europe is not the same as it what it will see from fellow North American sides.
The Netherlands and Germany are higher-level competition, sure, but the going might be tougher in the summer sweat of the July CONCACAF competition.
"It's never easy going to Europe," he said. "You have to be organized, you have to be committed to being hard to play against. You must be dynamic to put good teams on the back foot. But those games are different from the game we'll play this month."
For starters, the US will be the hunted and not the hunter. The Stars & Stripes have reached the Gold Cup's final five straight times in the competition, winning three titles. Along with Costa Rica and Mexico, the USMNT faces heavy pressure to perform this year, too.
But the playing style in the Gold Cup is also different from what USMNT faced in Europe, too. The US won't see the open lanes for runs and passes it saw in Europe.
Getting behind the defense on this side of the Atlantic is no easy ask, and Guatemala will offer a good precursor to what Bradley expects to see throughout July: "organized defenses, difficult to break down, lots of guys behind the ball."
Friday's game is one Bradley — and most observers — expect the US to win, and the Gold Cup is a competition in which Bradley expects his team to do well particularly after the confidence boost of the European friendlies.
But to meet expectations, the US will have to tackle a wholly different sort of challenge.