FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Michael Bradley’s 100th appearance for U.S. national team will be in Tuesday night’s CONCACAF Gold Cup opener against Honduras, captaining the defending champion.
Not that anything is different in the 27-year-old midfielder’s mind.
“I’ve said it a bunch of times and I’ll say it again, I am who I am regardless of whether I’m captain or not,” Bradley said. “Coming into anything that I’m a part of, I’m ready to take responsibility, ready to give everything I have for my teammates and for the team. In any good team, you want as many guys like that as possible.”
Bradley was appointed captain by coach Jurgen Klinsmann last week after Clint Dempsey, a Texan set for his first national game in his home state in four years, was suspended by Major League Soccer and the U.S. Soccer Federation for a confrontation with a referee last month.
“Mikey’s a natural leader,” said goalkeeper Brad Guzan, starting while Tim Howard is on a break from the national team. “He knows, whether it’s communicating, whether it’s his play. He understands what playing for the national team’s all about.”
Goals have always been secondary for the son of former U.S. coach Bob Bradley and nephew of retired big league catcher Scott Bradley. Bradley’s 13 international goals rank well behind the totals of Landon Donovan, Dempsey and Eric Wynalda, but he has become a key leader directing play from the midfield.
Bradley was among five U.S. players on the field every minute of the 2010 World Cup, when he scored a late tying goal in a 2-2 draw against Slovenia. He started all four games at last year’s tournament in Brazil, when he and others were disappointed with his play.
His effectiveness has rebounded following left foot surgery last October, and he was outstanding in exhibition wins at the Netherlands and Germany last month.
“It’s something different, something special, playing for this team and being able to represent something bigger,” Bradley said. “For me, I’ll continue to do that and continue to give everything I have until the day somebody tells me they don’t want me around anymore.”
Bradley started his professional career with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars as a teenager in 2004 and later had a high-scoring spell with Heerenveen in the Netherlands. That led to opportunities in Germany and with Aston Villa in the English Premier League before he became a rare American player in Italy’s Serie A, with Chievo Verona and later AS Roma.
Now he’s back in MLS with Toronto FC, able to see how soccer has evolved in the U.S. along with his growth into a leadership role.
“In a lot of ways, this is the team that I grew up supporting,” said Bradley, who also played in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “Aside from being able to watch different games from Europe, the national team was the team that you got to watch. I guess you grow up watching the U.S. play, watching them play in big games and at a certain point just to have the opportunity to play one game is a dream come true.”
Bradley will be the 16th American male to make 100 international appearances, matching Tony Meola and Joe-Max Moore at the century mark.
“I don’t think he really has to change at all,” midfielder Graham Zusi said. “Like I’ve said before, he’s taken on that role whether he’s wearing the arm band or not. It’s just his personality.”