It’s a new year, new coach, new World Cup cycle and new era for the US national team as the program convenes in Chula Vista, California this week for the start of its inaugural training camp under Gregg Berhalter.
One very familiar face remains, however: Michael Bradley, the team’s erstwhile captain and the oldest and by far most internationally experienced player among the 28 called in to this year’s January camp.
And though he’ll be 35 by the time the 2022 FIFA World Cup rolls around, the Toronto FC midfielder is every bit as hungry to earn a spot in Berhalter’s plans as his younger counterparts.
“If you asked me right now, absolutely,” Bradley told reporters on Monday when asked about his desire to extend his career long enough to make it to Qatar. “Absolutely. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to. I love to play, I love to train. The way I take care of my self, the way I live my life, my best years are still in front of me. And that’s my mentality every day."
“Obviously there’s no guarantees in football, and even if there were, I wouldn’t want them. But Gregg and I have spoken a few times and one of our first conversations was just that – obviously there’s no guarantees, but we’re also not shutting any doors, either. Take every day, every training, every game as they come, you enjoy it, you play, you compete, you take it as far as it goes. I love that part.”
Bradley flashed a playful smile when another journalist asked if he might hand off the reins and step aside for the younger generation in the next year or two.
“Who, me?” said Bradley. “You’re crazy. You’re crazy.”
With 142 appearances for his country to date – more than the rest of this squad combined – Bradley has now been around long enough to play the same veteran’s role that Berhalter occupied when Bradley checked in for his first USMNT camp, way back in 2006.
“I don’t count caps as I’m going. I enjoy every opportunity,” said Bradley. “Playing for the national team has given me some of the proudest days of my career. I love representing our country and every opportunity I have to come in, to play, to compete, to make the team better, to try to lead, that’s what I love to do.”
He’s now working under the fifth coach of his USMNT career, and despite being widely associated with the team’s past, he’s eager to play his role in its new chapter, whatever that may prove to be.
“It’s life. That’s how football works,” said Bradley. “Whenever a new coach comes in, that coach has a chance to work in whatever way he wants, to choose the players he wants, to get the team to play however he wants, to set whatever tone he wants on a given day. And it’s down to the players to come in with an open mind, to be excited, to be ready to give everything for each other but also for the new coach, for the new staff in terms of showing what you can add to the whole thing.
“So in that regard, this initial part with Gregg is exciting for all of us.”